Boots of Awesome

This situation/event happened back in October of 2012 and I’ve never published it (I hadn’t even started this blog at that point). I can’t sleep tonight for whatever reason and there’s a lot of things happening in my head and maybe if I just write for a bit, I can chill out and then, as Samuel L. Jackson so affectionately puts it, go the fuck to sleep.

M first told me, many moons ago, that she would be leaving on vacation for a week in October…and when she told me this, I naturally had a mini panic attack…but I quickly recovered because I was offered a chance to see K in her absence…because by this time, I had finally let her tear down my wall and trusted her enough to make more than just eye contact with her. (For those of you who do not follow me on a regular basis and/or are new to my blog, M is my primary therapist. She facilitates a DBT therapy group along with K, who is also a therapist, just not my personal therapist…but once I agreed to go to group, K became part of my care team. Group is over now [I “graduated”] but K still remains my “backup” therapist, as you will read, when M is gone/not available. The two bitches are double-teaming me…and I don’t mind at all. But don’t tell them I said that…) This appointment was scheduled many months before it happened and while I knew it was going to happen, I hadn’t given it much thought…until it was time to start thinking about it because it was here. M asked me if I was anxious about seeing K and I said anxious wasn’t the right word…I was more intrigued…curious. I could see our appointment going in many different directions and my awesome mind was running rampant thinking about all of the possibilities of what 50 minutes one-on-one with K might look like (I hoped she had a fire extinguisher handy).

My one-on-one session with K got a whole chapter to itself in my journal. I really wish I could have recorded that session (along with other eye-opening sessions) so I could play it again and again. I wanted to remember every word that was said…the kind words (I don’t hear them often), the validation and the encouragement…I want to hear that “Yes, you can!” and that “You are awesome.” over and over. Like taking a picture of a great/memorable moment…a memory you want to remember and have forever. I want an audio recording so I don’t forget and so I can “look back” and remember meaningful moments…my warm fuzzies. This appointment was bound for something from the get go…I don’t know what but for one, it was my first individual appointment with K and two, when you have an appointment with me at a time that required me to get up before the sun, shit’s gonna be kinda…something. I do not like mornings and I like them even less when I have to be up before the sun is (still being awake as the sun is rising is something TOTALLY different). The night before this appointment, I made the very stupid mistake of setting my alarm tone on my phone to the song “Good Morning!” from “Singing In The Rain.” It sounded (no pun intended) like a really good idea when I downloaded the tone at 2 AM…it didn’t sound so awesome at 7 AM. I heard that first “Good morning! Good morning!” and I was like FUCK NO and hit the snooze button with a bit more gusto than I should have. I’m glad they build phones to withstand beatings like that. It took me a minute to get going but I got up and out the door and managed to make it to the clinic on time without receiving a speeding ticket (which is not as easy as it sounds if you know me at all). I checked in and told the lady to not even give me a clipboard and I just filled out my P90X right there on the counter. (I know that P90X is a workout program…but the form I have to fill out every time I see M, K or go to group has a form number that has a P and a 9 in it and because I’m a smart-ass, I just started referring to the form as the P90X. If nothing else, it makes M and K smile and laugh.) THEN (if an early appointment and it being with K weren’t clear indications, this next moment should have been one of my first solid clues that the day was going to be anything but “normal”) I ran into a former co-worker from the clinic I used to work at as a pharmacy technician. Homicide was preempted because she is an LPN and I actually happen to love her to bits and had ironically just been thinking about her/missing her the previous day and then to see her there in the lobby threw me off for a minute. You usually don’t sit in the lobby of a mental health clinic expecting to run into people you know…and my guess is that we usually hope we DON’T run into anyone we know for fear that our “secret” will get out or be turned into gossip. We were able to catch up for a few minutes before she was called back to her appointment. I sat there, waiting for K, when I realized that I had written my medical record number on my P90X mixed in with my bank account number…323/393…toe-may-tow/toe-mott-oh (clue #2 that that day was going to be off….but also remember that it was morning and I still wasn’t totally coherent)…so I cursed and fumbled for a pen to change the # before K came to get me. I finished just as she swung the door open and asked me if I was ready. This should have been my third indication that today would not be normal because K seemed to be armed and ready for me….hell, even seeing K one-on-one was not “normal” so…screw anything and everything that made me think that day would have been just another beautiful day in the neighborhood (a beautiful day for a neighbor…would you be mine? could you be mine? won’t you be my neighbor? I’m done…sorry…). As we were walking down the hall, I explained my number goof to K in case she couldn’t read it and told her that her only saving grace that day was going to be that she was seeing me in the morning and I wasn’t quite functioning yet, despite being up for about 2 hours at that point…therefore, she would not be forced to endure the full impact that is me after 11 AM. (I, as stated many times, am not a morning person and I think I kind of tend to be a little more incoherent, “prickly” and less talkative when I have early morning appointments. Note to self: ask M if I am a bitch when I come to early morning appointments). I also told K that my own mother had walked out the door as I was finishing getting ready that morning and as she did so, told me to, and I quote, “Cut K some slack today.” (My mom was joking of course…well…in how she said it…she was probably quite serious in telling me to behave/be nice to K).

I tried not to go into this appointment with an agenda or plan of any sort…I wanted to see what would “naturally” happen if you were to put K and me in a room together and close the door. Nit-picking through the diary card was all fine and dandy and took up the first 20 minutes. (And this is probably irrelevant and stupid, but I laughed to myself when I was led into her office and she told me to cop a squat in the black chair because I was GOING to remind her that she said I could have the white chair [which is K’s chair/position when in session…but it looked SO comfy] if I did an awesome job on my diary card and that I could play with the dollhouse if I did an even awesomer job…but I didn’t argue with her and took the black chair…only to watch her sit in her computer chair the whole time…so I’m like…wasted white chair usage! I also noticed the toys in her office. I was all over her office like the rover on Mars because it was all new turf to me. She told me that M has toys in her office, too…but M hides them better than K does. Note to self: seek out M’s toy collection. Like I said…completely irrelevant and dumb….but not unnoticed!) I stated in my “Diary Card Decoder” instruction manual that I knew I would find myself explaining things to K and giving her more details about me and my life and my journey than I would if I were with M because K doesn’t know all that M does and I didn’t know what K knew…so I spent quite a few minutes here and there filling in some blanks. I would also like to note that K said I wasn’t just M’s patient…I was everyone’s…as in the entire DBT team’s patient…which is true if you want to get technical…but I never thought of it like that. It was many many months before I learned that all the DBT therapists had weekly meetings to discuss the group and the people in it. I still don’t know how I feel about that…people that I’ve never met knowing my business…especially since I was clearly a hot topic at one point because of my refusal to speak…and was or am a hot topic now because of my refusal to shut up. K started out by talking about my journey, namely my DBT/group journey because that’s pretty much all she has seen/been a part of. And so we rehashed the “early days” of my DBT journey…when the group was conducted in the head honcho’s office. I don’t remember if K said anything to me that day about what she initially thought of me when she started facilitating that group. She knew I wasn’t talking or making eye-contact or doing much of anything in group besides just sitting there, but I don’t remember if she mentioned any judgments she had made before getting to know me better. She saw that I had a solid wall up and I was making it quite clear, without words, that ain’t nobody gonna tear it down. And so she watched me continue that behavior for a few more weeks…until I walked into group one day after Christmas. I have a “conviction” that we, as group members, don’t know what others take away from a session/group and we, as patients, don’t know what the therapists take away. This is one of those moments. I hadn’t EVER given this a second thought…yet it is K’s defining “J Moment”…the moment she knew that there was more to me and inside of me than what I was showing people. Do you know how she knew that? For Christmas 2011, I asked for (and surprisingly received) a pair of bright pinkish-purple (‘cactus flower’ is the name of the color on the box) Ugg boots. I LOVE these boots…obviously, if they made it on my wish list for Santa. The simple act of me walking into group, wearing those bright colored boots one day (with a closely matching backpack that I had no intention of pairing with the boots…it just happened) is what made K look past my wall…and it was then that K knew there was someone awesome behind my wall.

bootsofawesome

She asked me during our session who, in their depressed emotional mind, goes out of their way to wear something so…bright and joyful and…awesome? After she asked me this, I was like…what was I supposed to be doing, walking around wearing all black? And she said no J, that’s not the point…the point is that you didn’t care what others thought…you loved those boots SO much and they were/are SO you that you wore them until it got too hot to wear them (and then we noted that it was time to get the boots out again because the weather had changed). I was literally rendered speechless after hearing this. Something I chose to wear…something I didn’t think twice about wearing regardless of how I was feeling…was the defining moment for K and is what led her to believe that there was some awesome somewhere inside of me. And it was that day that K set her sights on me and decided that she was going to fight for me and not give up on me. A whole year had passed…ten months without words…two plus months flooded with words…and many more days passed where I asked myself how in the hell K got to me. How did she break down my wall? Why didn’t she give up when I pushed her away? Why was she so persistent but not obvious about it? Because I chose to wear a pair of bright pink boots. And those boots told K that there was more to me than just tears, than willfulness, than a wall…there was/is some awesomeness in here just waiting to be let out. (Cue appropriate song here: “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper) I don’t think it’s all out or that I am all better…but I concede that I am a bit better than I was two years ago. I’ve told M before (maybe K, too…I don’t remember) that she will never look at a starfish the same way ever again. I will never look at and wear those boots the same way ever again. They are no longer just made for walking. As I sit here on my bed, looking into my closet and seeing my shoe rack…I can easily spot those boots because of their color. And I see them now very differently than I saw them before my one-on-one session with K. I see ruby red slippers now. I see indirect opportunities to let some of my awesomeness out just by wearing those boots. I now call those boots my “Boots of Awesome”. And I now also get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I see them or wear them, knowing that it was those boots that led me to K, however directly or indirectly. If I had never wanted and received those boots…would K have seen what she saw in me that day a year and a half ago? Everything happens for a reason. (Anecdote: I wore those boots to an appointment and group the day after my appointment with K and yes, I purposely chose to wear them because of their new-found meaning…but unlike before, I walked with my head held a little bit higher and I also now paid more attention to people’s reaction to them. In the few short hours I had the boots on, I received no less than three direct comments about my shoes, said in some variation of, “I like your boots.” [This included one from K…but I think her comment had a double meaning. “I like your boots, J.” translated into, “I like your boots and I know you’re wearing them because of our conversation yesterday and I am glad that you were listening and I know your are choosing to wear them to flaunt your awesomeness, if only indirectly, and I think that’s awesome.”] But I also observed other people commenting on my shoes indirectly. One incident involved two girls in the lobby of the clinic…one pointing out my shoes to her friend and a few similar incidents at the mall later [peripheral vision is an amazing thing..so don’t think I don’t see you when you point at me {or my feet} and whisper]. In my head, as I noticed this, I was all, “You better be talking about the awesomeness of these shoes and not talking smack about the chick wearing them…but thanks for noticing anyway.”)

I told M (and K indirectly via a dissertation) to NOT ever make assumptions about my progress or about how I’m feeling based on my behavior because yes, I can walk into group and take it on like it’s open mic night…but I still rehearse my death every single day. This is the point during the session where K turned out to be absolutely right, offered me a new perspective and touched on a subject M and I had only briefly touched on before: fear.

Therapists and their metaphors…I swear to God…first I got a boat, then I got a cliff, now I have a ladder and a door. The door is my own door that is currently “open” to suicide…as in I choose to let that still be an option for me. The ladder is my…how do I put this…my getting better/healing scale? A mountain to be climbed and conquered? With rung one being not really okay sorta kinda working on things…and the highest rung being all out better and awesome and no longer requiring therapy. K again brought up another group moment that I never thought twice about. This was many months before my incessant talking began, when our group was down to about five people. I don’t remember everyone who was there that day but K noting that I had even talked that day tells me that they were people I had been around for some time and I was comfortable enough to talk in front of them. And K reminded me that, on that day, I had brought up a recent epiphany of mine wherein I acknowledged/admitted I was a little scared to get better because I didn’t want to get better and then be constantly looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next heartbreaking moment to happen. Why bother to get better when you know there are going to be more things in the future that will knock you back down? Is it not easier to just stay down and endure that pain while you are already on the floor than it is to get up and better and fall back down to the floor? I don’t want to be on that top rung of the ladder and fall through the open door of suicide. I would rather stay “unhealthy” and “comfortable” by staying close to the choice of suicide like it’s a security blanket and wavering between rung one and two or not even holding on to the ladder at all instead of giving myself even a CHANCE to get better and climb higher…because if I fall off the ladder from rung one, it won’t hurt nearly as much as it would if I fall from rung ten. And K was/is absolutely 100% right. She knows it. I know it. And she knows I know it. Her final question to me that day was this: What would it take for me to close my suicide door (maybe even lock it and throw away the key) and climb up to rung ten on the ladder? And I honestly told her that I didn’t know. She then said something that implied I WANTED a better a life and to move forward and continue life. And I interrupted her and said no, that’s not what I want. If you ask me right now what I want…I will tell you I want to die. I don’t want to get married anymore…I don’t want to have children…I don’t want to explore the rest of this life. And K again rendered me speechless by telling me I don’t want those things because I have my suicide door wide open and I’m barely hanging on to the ladder. Getting better scares me and I want a clear, unobstructed escape route in case things get bad. Goddammit…she’s right. JOHNNY! TELL HER WHAT SHE’S WON!

I later wrote a letter to K and firstly, thanked her for the headache I got from thinking about that session all day (literally…because I had been up all day) and I wanted to thank her for not giving up on me and for seeing past my wall of “dark colors” and seeing instead, my bright awesome colors…my “true colors”. I had absolutely no idea that anyone could see that in me at that point in my journey. And yet I am still floored that K saw it at all, much less at a time when I was trying my HARDEST to not let my “true colors” show. When I thought I was really good at hiding is actually when I slipped and let someone see that there was more to me than doom and gloom. Who knew?

Here is a reminder of J’s philosophy on life: all things happen for a reason…there is no such thing as luck or accidents or coincidences. Yes, I initially freaked when M announced her vacation, but I was offered a chance to sit down with K, one-on-one, for the first (and probably the last) time…and I took it. I took it not having a single fucking clue what I was getting myself into or what I would take home with me that day. My mind was running rampant about what a one-on-one session with K might be like…and through ALL of the scenarios I envisioned…what actually happened was not EVER one of those scenarios or even close to anything I imagined or came up with. Is it not true that the things we worry and think about most are often the things that never happen; the things that actually happen are the things that never cross our worried mind and blind-side us? I feel speechless yet I’m filling up this blank white space with words. I go to type or open my mouth to say something about that session…and I pause at the beginning of every sentence and at every attempt to find the right words. Neither K nor myself liked the idea of M going on vacation…but in what other instance would it have been possible for the two of us to have had that time together? The appointment was made to keep my sanity in check and allow me to have my verbal/physical Xanax in the form of another person I trusted…but what I walked away with (aside from a headache) is a moment where I’m like…fuck. I don’t have any other words, I’m sorry. And it’s not a bad fuck…just like a…fuck…a stunned “fuck”…I’m floored, I’m speechless, I’m grateful. K knew more than I gave her credit for…and she knew it long before I knew it and before I ever even said a word to her. And if we hadn’t been given that time together, would I have ever known about her J Moment? Would it have made a difference before now if I had known? Would it make a difference if I never knew? Would I have been touched the way I have been? While I knew I was scared of getting better before, would I have been able to discuss it like I did today? So honestly? K hit the nail on the head and I give her full credit for swinging the hammer. I had been aware of being scared…even bringing it up to M…but no one had ever talked to me about it the way K did that day. (Don’t take that sentence to mean that M and I didn’t do this theory justice, that we didn’t talk about it…because we did…just not in depth. And sometimes, hearing it and talking about it with someone else/someone “new” gives you a new perspective.) Not only did I believe K and I were given that time for a reason…the no accidents/coincidences conviction continues when I tell you that that day only got better (or more eerie, depending on how you want to look at it). Guess what song I heard after I got in the car and turned the music on. Are you ready for this? “Reach” by Gloria Estefan. No big deal, awesome song…so what? Read:

Some dreams live on in time forever
Those dreams, you want with all your heart
And I’ll do whatever it takes
Follow through with the promise I made
Put it all on the line
For what I hoped for at last would be mine

If I could reach, higher
Just for one moment touch the sky
For that one moment in my life
I’m gonna be, stronger
Know that I’ve tried my very best
I’d put my spirit to the test
If I could reach

Some days are meant to be remembered
And those days, we rise above the stars
So I’ll go the distance this time
Seeing more the higher I climb
That the more I believe
All the more that this dream will be mine

(Remember here that I have a very “special talent” for finding the most appropriate songs for the most appropriate situations…and/or they find me…this was one of those moments…I was like, “Really?!”) This song may have been written and sung for Olympic athletes many moons ago…but who’s to say I’m not competing in my own version of the Olympics…competing against my heart and the world to win a gold medal? When people ask me what it is I want, what my goals are, I answer, “Death.” And even though I give you that answer, I hope you know me well enough to know that deep down…maybe wayyyyyy deep down…I really do want an awesome life…marriage and children and all the perks of growing up and growing old. That’s the American dream, is it not? When I say I don’t want those things anymore…it’s because I don’t think I can have/deserve them. It’s not that I can’t have them…but in order to get them, I have to climb up a ladder that scares me and it’s a ladder I don’t think I can climb. I guess I just realized I have to “reach” for that dream and climb the ladder K spoke of to get what it is I want. The part that stops me from doing that is fear, yes…but I’m not sure I know how to climb that ladder either…much less get to the top of it without looking back and shutting the door marked “Suicide”. I try to picture what my future might be like if I could even just get to that next rung on the ladder…never mind getting all the way to the top. (It’s too overwhelming to think of how to get all the way to the top…I have to just focus on the next rung, the more attainable/possible thing at the moment. One foot in front of the other…I have to get to rung one to get to rung ten…I can’t skip a step/rung.) But I can’t see anything….I can’t envision a life without chaos and sadness and pain. I can’t see a happy me. I know that life isn’t all butterflies and rainbows for even the most “normal” of people and even if I can make it to the top of that ladder, no one can promise me that something won’t come along and knock me down again…but can I find a spot…achieve that dream…where I’m at the top of that ladder and when something does go wrong, I only get knocked down a rung or two instead of knocked all the way down? Your guess is as good as mine. For now, I suppose I will hang on to the first rung or just hang on to the ladder in general. I’ve gotten this far (hell, I never even had a ladder to climb before)…and I need to try to just keep on keepin’ on and hopefully, I will be able to answer those questions and achieve that dream…preferably sooner rather than later.

I have told this story to many people over the years and as simple and humorous as it is, it is a total J-ism…the way I have lived from the time I spoke my first words: “Do it self.”…(or it’s at least what I used to be and that part of me has gotten lost somewhere among the chaos). There are about eight and a half years that separate my half-brother and I in age, so when he was 18 and graduating high school, I was only about 10. I remember, distinctly, sitting in the stands of a high school football field. I had never been to a graduation before and I sat there in the stands with my mom and dad and watched in awe as the senior class filed into the stadium. For most school graduations, all the students match so it can be very difficult to spot your brother among the estimated 400+ other students. As they filed by, not only did I see their matching green caps and gowns and their yellow/gold tassels…I saw something else…something that made some students stand out among their peers. I nudged my mom and asked, “Mom, what do those ropes mean and why do some people have them and others don’t?” My mom told me that those were called honors cords and the students wearing them had earned them because they did very well in school and got very good grades. I pondered this for a moment…as much as a 10-year-old can ponder such things (back in my day and at this age, I was still in elementary school and grades came in the from of + signs and – signs, simple “pass” or “fail” and annotations about what needed to be improved). After thinking about those cords and what they meant, I turned to my mom and said, “Mom…I want those cords some day when I graduate.” Without any further mention about this moment or the “goal” I had unknowingly set for myself at such a young age, I proceeded to earn those honors cords…three…separate…times. I remember my high school graduation (my first of three graduations) and receiving my honors cords. I had forgotten about what had transpired at my brother’s graduation by then. But as my mom proudly took pictures and glowed with that glowing proud mama look…she reminded me of what I had said 8 years prior at my brother’s graduation…about seeing the honors cords and wanting them. In June of 2002, I earned them. I had a goal (even though I had forgotten about it)…a dream…and I wanted it bad enough to make it happen. This is usually how I operated until about two years ago. I had a dream, set a goal, wanted something bad enough that I did everything in my power to obtain it. I set the bar high for myself in many situations involving school and life in general…and not only did I clear the bar several times…I usually cleared it by several feet…above and beyond the minimum effort needed to reach that goal or dream. By high school and then even more so in college, people were learning that if I was told I couldn’t have something or wouldn’t be able to do something…I set out in my stubborn ways to prove them wrong…and I did it every single time, never faltering. (I have experienced failures of course, but I cannot ever recall failing to achieve a goal I set for myself, even if it meant I had to try more than once to do it.) After I graduated high school and continued my education at a local community college, I sat down with an adviser at one point and outlined my goals…the major I wanted to focus on, how I wanted an AA degree first and then transfer to a four-year university. I also told the adviser that I planned on being a full-time student and take as many classes as I could while ALSO working full-time. Obtaining an AA degree in two years (the normal time it takes to complete it) usually requires full-time enrollment which leaves little time to devote to much else. That adviser told me that I would not be able to get my degree in two years with a full course load made up of mostly night classes while balancing a full-time job. She told me it was impossible…I said, “Watch me.” Not only did I graduate in two years (I actually finished the quarter before the graduation ceremony was to take place), I did so with about 20 more credits than I needed to meet the requirements of my degree. I also did it with honors cords around my neck…again. There was also an incident in high school where I was in a class that was teaching Microsoft certified training for their Office programs (it was sort of a self-guided hour where we were allowed to go through the material at our own pace). The time it typically took to go through the training for all five programs and take their accompanying tests (and pass them, which wasn’t easy) took about a year or more. I hold the record, to this day, for not only being the first student to obtain certifications in all five (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook) programs (including core and expert level) but for doing it all in less than six months. (Expert level completion of all five programs earned me the title of “Master MOUS”: Microsoft Office User Specialist.) In the ten years since I graduated, no one else has ever done that. I used to love proving people wrong…not so I could rub it in their face and say I told you so…but to prove not only to them, but to myself, that I could do anything I put my mind to. Telling me no was the ultimate challenge to me. “Oh yeah? Watch this.” I don’t know what went wrong or why I can’t do that anymore. Back my “healthier” days, if I had been given a task such as taking care of myself and getting better and then had a lot of people telling me I wouldn’t ever be able to get better…I would have gone to the ends of the earth to prove people otherwise. If I had thought about suicide during “healthier” times yet was told I had exactly one year to fix myself and make that choice disappear…the old me would have gone out and done it in six months or less, just because she could. A year? HA! I don’t need a year…”Look, Ma! No hands!” And while me getting better was not assigned a specific date or deadline…it’s been communicated to me that I’m taking too long. I don’t know where or when I stopped caring about proving people wrong and doing so with flying colors. I lost that part of me somewhere over the last seven years. There is a goal I have, maybe more, that I want to achieve, meet, and exceed people’s expectations. There is a part of me that wants to prove everyone wrong. Yeah, I fucked up…yeah, I made some poor choices…but watch me as I come out on top…like a firework…showing you what I’m worth…letting my colors burst. I wanna go boom, boom, boom and be even brighter than the moon, moon, moon. I very much want to do that…but I lost that drive/desire somewhere and I don’t know where to find it. I don’t know how to get that part of me back. I am fiercely independent and stubborn as hell, especially if you tell me I can’t do something. There was a time where I would have run your ass over in order to achieve a goal or dream…even if it was stupid or futile, even if I didn’t care about it or wasn’t passionate about it. I would do it anyway just to prove to you that I could. I wish I still had that kind of passion…that drive…that tenacity…that incentive…be it the result of achieving a goal (e.g. good grades) or just for the opportunity to prove you wrong…to prove to you that yes, I can do it…and don’t you ever tell me that I can’t. Secretly, I want nothing more than to come out of this as one BAMF and be able to contact M and K and say, “Look guys! No hands!” When people tell me I can’t do something or am incapable of obtaining something I desire, I see as it a challenge…a dare. Or at least…I used to. (As a side note: M now knows this about me and she often “challenges” me, using my own “powers” against me for the greater good. Even if I don’t want to do something she asks of me, she knows that more often than not, I’ll cave and do it anyway [with flying colors and a dash of awesome] just because I was inadvertently “dared” to.)

I know the answers to all of this, as in I have the information and can tell you what I should be doing and thinking. What stops that information from being executed? As I see a long and emotional day winding down, I wonder what is keeping me from climbing a little further up the ladder right now…right this very minute. I didn’t know when I finished processing my appointment with K and I don’t know now, seven months later. And chances are, after a restless night, I won’t know the answer tomorrow either. But I suppose, as long as I keep on keepin’ on and stop trying to push K and M away, I will be given more days and more opportunities to try to find the answer…to find the “Real J” people keep talking about and remembering. This J is lost right now and doesn’t know if it’s safer to just stay on the bottom rung and cower “just in case.” I want to meet (or see again) the J who wants so very much to be on the top of that ladder, not afraid to fall. If (or when) I find the answer, M and K will be the second to know…right after me.

Now excuse me while I go put on my Boots of Awesome…

 

Post thought after original post: After my first attempt to take my life, I made I guess what you could call a vision board. I clipped a shitton of quotes, words and pictures out of a bunch of different magazines and made a huge collage out of them. Everything I clipped out and glued to the board pertained to things I want to be, things I want/want to achieve (i.e. being debt free, being happy, etc.), things that make me smile, things/people I love and am passionate about, things/people that inspire me and things that represent my personality and who I am/want to be as a person. After I finished making the vision board, I hung it up on my wall. Later on that year, I had to kill some time before an appointment with M and her office is close to a mall, so I went window shopping. It was that day that I first saw those cactus flower colored Ugg boots in person and I wanted them enough to ask for them for Christmas. I see my vision board everyday, mostly just in passing or in my peripheral vision…but every now and then, I take the time to really look at it. One such time was a week or so after the aforementioned session with K. As I was reading all my quotes and words, taking time to really look at each thing and remember why it was put on the board, something caught my eye: a picture of a pair of pinkish-purple Ugg boots. As for why I clipped out that picture in the first place: 1) I wanted a pair [not necessarily that color] and 2) I loved the color…I love color period and I love having/wearing things you don’t see everyday and things that not everybody has. There are a lot of people who have the beige and black Ugg boots…but I had never seen anybody wear the ones I put on my board. And to this day, I have yet to see anyone else with the same boots. The expression on my face, had it been captured, upon seeing that picture on my board after my session with K would have been a priceless Instagram moment. Eerie? A bit. Coincidence? I doubt it. Goosebumps? Me too.

Is anybody out there?

“Is Anybody Out There?”
by K’naan feat. Nelly Furtado

I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side

Something ’bout Mary
Never won a pageant
Never felt pretty
Never looked like Cameron
Diaz was her last name
Always been abandoned
Keep your head up

Baby girl this is your anthem
There goes Hannah
Showin’ off her banner
Rocking that crown
Make them boys go bananas
When you’re insecure about yourself
It’s a fact
You can point a finger
But there’s three pointing back
I can see her crying out, yeah
Is there anybody out there?

She’s really counting on your love
Still struggling uphill
But you act like you don’t care
Right now she could really use a shoulder
Hanging onto the edge til it’s over
She’s crying for your love tonight
Lonely is hard to survive, she said

I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side
Is anybody out there?

Is anybody out there?
(somebody, anybody)

His name was Adam
When his mom had him
Dad was a phantom
Never took a look at him
Grew up mad and antisocial
Hated outdoors
Always in playing Madden
Adam was lonely
Drugs were the only
Way out of his own life
Now he’s slowly losing his fire
Close to retire
With one last hope he puts his arms up higher
I can see him crying out, yeah
Is anybody out there?

He’s really counting on your love
Still struggling uphill
But you act like you don’t care
Right now he could really use a shoulder
Hanging onto the edge til it’s over
He’s crying for your love tonight
Lonely is hard to survive, he said

I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side
Is anybody out there?

If you feel the way I feel
Like you’ve been talking to yourself
Well this one’s for everyone who’s felt invisible
Lonely in a crowded room
Searching for someone like you
Can’t do it all alone (no one can baby)
Can’t do it all alone (no one should baby)
Is anybody out there?
(somebody, anybody)
Is anybody out there?
I’m right here for you
Is anybody out there?

I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side
Is anybody out there?
I don’t wanna do it all alone
I need your love to take me home
No one said you should be all alone
I’m right here
Is anybody out there?

This is water.

water

This post started out as a homework assignment my therapist gave me last week. And if you follow me on any sort of regular basis, you know that M (said therapist) possesses voodoo magic. DAMN HER AND HER METAPHORS AND FOR MAKING SO MUCH DAMN SENSE AT THE RIGHT DAMN TIME! GAWD! SRSLY. What follows is what I was asked to do for M this week. She didn’t TELL me to blog about it but it became so powerful and such a huge epiphany to me that I HAD to blog about it. And I will be giving her this as my “homework” and I expect a fucking A with a + AND a gold star next to it.

What I was asked to do by M was to just mindfully listen to this speech (the irony of her asking me to do this will come in a moment) called “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace once. Then I was to listen to it AGAIN and “respond” to it/discuss it when M and I meet next. What follows is my response. I will attach the YouTube video I listened to at the end of this post but the transcript of the speech will be right here in italics with my personal thoughts/epiphanies in bold.

2005 Kenyon Commencement Address ~ May 21, 2005
Written and Delivered by: David Foster Wallace

Greetings and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. [Srsly. Think about it. What is right in front of you right now? What are you thinking about right in this moment? What are you feeling right now? For me personally, I’m going to say life in general…it is such a simple “topic” yet my thoughts and ideas regarding it cannot be neatly put into words or a box and given or said to someone. It’s a hard thing to notice and talk about even though it’s, quite literally, right in front of my face all the time.] Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance [Seriously. You may think this is figurative but by the end, you will realize it’s literal. Keep reading.], or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think”. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think [DAMN STRAIGHT!], since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. [Right?] But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. [Your light bulb should be coming on right about here. The key word is “choice”.] If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious. [Do NOT roll your eyes at me…or Mr. Wallace. Keep. Reading.]

Here’s another didactic little story: There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says, “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.” [If you’re anything like me, able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes”, your next light bulb should have gone off here. Mr. Wallace will explain this more in a minute but this is my homework and my blog so I’m going to “spill the beans.” Perspective. The religious man (and even I myself, retaining some knowledge from my “Jesus Years”) could easily turn this around and say that God put those Eskimos in that man’s way and answered his prayer. The atheist, being “close-minded”, clearly will not see the situation that way. This is called a dialectic, people…there are TWO sides of the coin…two sides to every story. Neither side is completely right and neither side is completely wrong. Each side is its own truth for whichever person that side “belongs to”. AND YES I AM GOING ALL MARSHA LINEHAN ON YOU. Let’s take God and religion out of this. M says to me often, in all sincerity because she believes it, that “It will get better.” My first reaction is to scoff at her and say, “Bullshit.” because I don’t believe that things will ever get better. But is M wrong? Is she right? Is her statement possible? Am I right? Am I wrong? Is my statement possible? None of the above. Each statement is each person’s truth and belief. I can choose (keyword there) to do one of two things: A) I can continue to be close-minded and not give M’s statement any credence at all and continue to be miserable while I choose to be self-centered and believe my own statement as truth. Or B), I can choose to be open-minded and acknowledge that M’s statement is just as valid as my own (which, knowing M, is probably the whole fucking reason she’s having me do this damn assignment). Neither statement is true or right and neither statement is wrong or impossible. But the acceptance of THAT truth (that neither statement is the ultimate truth) is where true knowledge and freedom comes from. And I would probably make M’s job a lot easier if I would do this more often and quit being so stubborn.]

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. [See, I told you he would tell you.] Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up. [Read that last sentence again. Blind certainty. Close-mindedness.]

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. [DING DING DING! BINGO!] Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. [Here is where I’m going to caution you if you are an over-thinker like myself: this does not mean that you are wrong for thinking this way. Re-read what he said: it is our default setting. It’s “natural”.] Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being “well-adjusted” which, I suggest to you, is not an accidental term. [Insert another light bulb here. What he’s getting at and, correct me if I’m wrong, what a lot of therapy is trying to get at is to get you to “adjust” your thinking in a way that allows you to see what is beyond your eyes and your mind…stepping into other people’s shoes and seeing the world from a different point of view. Again, a very simple concept it seems…but it’s actually quite hard to do. You may be able to do it for an hour here or there or during a conversation with a struggling friend, able to empathize with them. But can you do it all the time? I didn’t think so. It takes practice and a lot of hard work.]

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. [Another light bulb. This concept has absolutely NOTHING to do with how good your grades are/were. You could be Einstein and it would not matter in executing this “skill” or concept. You have to find and learn it yourself in your own way.] This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education – least in my own case – is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me. [GUILTY! And to put this into DBT/therapy terms: this is the whole point of DBT mindfulness…to just be in the moment, pay attention, participate. The goal is not to change what is going on, it is simply just to notice what is going on be it good, bad or indifferent. After two years, I still personally struggle with this immensely. I want to over-analyze and think about everything instead of just letting it be. I made the mistake of doing the first part of my homework, listening to this once “mindfully”, at 5 AM. I should have known, coming from M, that whatever she was going to have me listen to was going to make a million light bulbs go off in my head. Remember, the first time I listened to this, I was not to respond in any way and it took immense self-restraint (and a few Benadryl) to make myself STFU and NOT say/write anything. Again, my bad for choosing to do part one at 5 AM.]

As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). [GUILTY!] Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. [JOHNNY! Tell him what he’s won!] It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. [I don’t even think I can add anything to that sentence…he nailed it…on the head. All the shit I put myself through, all the worrying and over-thinking I do is a CHOICE. It’s a hard to NOT do that stuff because it’s a habit…it’s natural…it’s how I roll. The choice comes in when I become aware of what I’m doing to myself (and possibly those around me), what I’m CHOOSING to pay attention to and being conscious of what I’m doing/thinking enough to CHOOSE to change either HOW I’m thinking or WHAT I’m thinking or doing.] Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master”. [AMEN!]

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. [TOTALLY off-topic, but when I read “great and terrible”…I read “terrible…yes…but great” and heard it in the voice of the actor who plays Mr. Olivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Just me? Okay. Moving on…] It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. [Again…he nailed it…on the head. I never thought of a gun suicide that way but if I ever choose that route…I would totally go for the head…to make my brain STFU…forever.]

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head [A SLAVE!] and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let’s get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what “day in day out” really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I’m talking about.

By way of example, let’s say it’s an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you’re tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there’s no food at home. You haven’t had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It’s the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it’s the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it’s pretty much the last place you want to be but you can’t just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store’s confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren’t enough check-out lanes open even though it’s the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can’t take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to “have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. [THAT VOICE. You wanna get under my skin? Tell me to have a nice day in the most cheerful way possible when I’m having the worst fucking day EVER! A death stare, you will get.] Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn’t yet been part of your graduates’ actual life routine, day after week after month after year. [I don’t think I count because I’ve graduated and I TOTALLY get what he’s saying…boring…mundane…routine.]

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. [Lord Jesus issa fire…] Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. [OH…MY…GOD. RIGHT?! If I don’t shift my thinking and I stay “stuck” and focused on how miserable I am standing in this fucking long ass line, I’m GOING to be miserable…but if I think about, perhaps, a really cute cat who is anxiously awaiting my return home…maybe I can NOT be so miserable standing in that fucking long ass line.] Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it’s going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I’m in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV’s and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children’s children will despise us for wasting all the future’s fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn’t have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It’s the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I’m operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities. [I prefer to think of this as “auto-pilot”.]

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways [TAKE NOTES HERE!] to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it’s not impossible that some of these people in SUV’s have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. [Empathy. The dialectic…the other side of the coin.] Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he’s trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he’s in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way. [Would you like “The Other Side Of The Coin” for $800?]

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket’s checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do. [Very possible.]

Again, please don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. [Yes it is.] It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to. [Amen.]

But most days, if you’re aware enough [“Mindfulness” for $200?] to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. [There are so many options/possibilities, you can’t even begin to count them.] It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. [Pretty deep stuff, huh?]

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. [Boom.]

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship. [And guess what else? You don’t need a degree to be able to do it.]

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. [Whether you are aware of that fact or not, you DO know all this already.] It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. [I get it, M. I. GET. IT. Working on it… And chances are, I will ALWAYS be working on it. I don’t think it will ever be automatic.]

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. [Ever heard that phrase about people only seeing what they want to see?]

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. [I couldn’t have said it better if I tried.]

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. [Captial-T True.] But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death. [A. M. E. N.]

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge [Yes!], and everything to do with simple awareness [Mindfulness.]; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

[It is neither hot nor cold…there is neither a lot nor a little…it is just there. It…is…just…water.]

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. [True knowledge comes from being aware…mindful…not from knowing that 1+1=2. Anyone can be taught that 1+1=2…not everyone can be taught how to just observe and describe and be aware of themselves, others, thoughts and surroundings…to just be in the moment. And even then, you CAN be taught HOW to be mindful, but to actually be able to do it and become a master of it is the true test…the dissertation of a lifetime. When you figure out how to do it ALL the time without fail, please e-mail me.] And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Things My Mother Taught Me

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I haven’t even really started writing this post and I already don’t know what to say. I usually have a small outline of what I want to write/say in my Notes app on my iPhone but all I had written down for this post was the idea/title. And I only have the title because I have already decided to do a Father’s Day post with the same title…except that one, even though it’s a month away, has practically already written itself. We’ll see how this Mother’s Day post goes…

I’ve made it no secret that my mom and I do not have the best relationship and I don’t want you to think that I just completely hate and despise her because I really don’t…but she does make it difficult for me to like and love her at times. I am grateful for what she’s done for me…letting me live back at home, etc. But while most people view that as “rent free” because I don’t give her any money (because I don’t have any to give), I have pretty much had to sell my soul to live here…not even sell it, I just had to give it up. THAT is the price I pay to live here. “Why don’t you just move out?” Good question and the answer is: I’m working on it. Baby steps, people. I JUST started “working” again for the first time in two years but $30/week isn’t going to get me far…but it’s a start. I deposit that money in an account I affectionately call my “GTFO Fund” (GTFO = Get The Fuck Out). M (my therapist) and I have decided/agreed that no matter how crazy I was/am, I would have done/do a lot a better if I were living on my own. It’s not gonna happen tomorrow…but we’re working on it.

So now, the nitty gritty…things my mother taught me…

1. Communication: My mother has taught me how to not communicate effectively. She is the type of person who says and does things that force people to ask her what’s wrong and nothing gets under my skin faster than a huge sigh or whine coming from the corner of the couch. She has also taught me what happens when you are not honest with your partner or your kids. She constantly expects her boyfriend (and even her children) to read her mind and…NEWS FLASH: we are not mind-readers. If you want something or need us to know how you’re feeling, ask and/or talk to us…don’t make us guess because chances are, we’ll get it wrong and then she just gets mad at us for not picking up on her “subtle” hints. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

2. Finances: My mother has taught me that I don’t want to be an impulse shopper or spend money I don’t have. My mother is the queen of the impulse buy, especially from QVC. She will later feel guilty about it and return it or is too lazy to return it and waits too long to where the store will not accept the return. I understand why people do that but it’s dug my mom a pretty big financial hole that she is now kicking herself for. She takes her anger out on those around her and in doing so, has taught me to think twice before I purchase anything, no matter the price or reason…be it a want or necessity.

3. Love: My mother has taught me about the things I don’t want to do regarding love and relationships. She sees what happened with my dad one way and I see it another so we just agree to disagree and I disagree with what she did and how she handled that situation. So she taught me that I don’t ever want to do that to someone, be they my husband or not. I believe it was wrong. As for her current boyfriend, there’s a lot of things she’s taught me about that relationship too…again, mostly about what not to do.

(I think it’s kind of sad that I had to pull those three things out of my ass and I’m desperately trying to think of more things she has “taught” me. We might be here a while…)

4. Makeup: My mother taught me that less is more. She refuses to leave the house without makeup on or hair done…so she’s also taught me that I don’t want to be that kind of woman. I am proud to be one of those women who can easily waltz out of the house with no makeup and not be mortified. When I do wear makeup, it’s minimal and looks natural.

(Seriously y’all…I am looking around my room grasping for topics. I should have given this post more thought before I sat down to write. Maybe I should have called this “Things My Mother Didn’t Teach Me”…that might have been easier to write…)

5. Parenting: My mother has taught me about the kind of mother I don’t want to be. I am not a mother myself but I do take notes and think about the kind of mother I want to be should that time ever come. This is a pretty big “lesson” but suffice it to say that there are several things I will never do or say to any future children I may have and I want to give any future children I may have all the things I was never given. This is not about material things such as, “I will give my child a pony because I never had one.” No. I want to love on and hug my children often, always tell them I love them and always kiss them goodnight. I want my children to know I support them no matter what path in life they choose and I want them to trust me and feel comfortable talking to me about anything, no matter the subject.

6. Laundry: My mother taught me how to do laundry…how to separate your colors and your whites, how to fold clothes and she taught me how to fold that blasted fitted sheet of death. She also taught me how to iron…always a useful skill. I still can’t sew a button back on to save my life.

7. Manicures and Pedicures: My mother taught me to enjoy being pampered and that little things, such as having your nails and toes painted, can make you feel good.

8. Lotions & Potions: My mother taught me the joys of lotions and perfumes and the importance of smelling good without going overboard. Although I may have taken this one a bit far because I think I’m a lotion hoarder…

9. Cooking: My mother taught me to use a pinch of salt and oil when boiling pasta so the noodles don’t stick together.

10. Logic: My mother taught me how to just accept, “Because I said so, that’s why.”

11. Life: My mother taught me that she brought me into this world and she can take me out. Sometimes I wish she would.

12. Bones: My mother taught me to grow a backbone as well as a funny bone because she lacks both…no bones about that.

Okay, that’s 12 things. Can I be done now? Happy Mother’s Day to all the mother’s out there…especially the ones who have stepped in and care(d) for me even though “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL MOM!”

Link

What it feels like to be depressed for those who don’t/can’t understand:

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

I love this blog: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

Sometimes when I don’t have my OWN words to express how I feel/what my hell is like, someone else has words for me. I’m grateful for that.

It smells like teen spirit…

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I haven’t been keeping you all “abreast” of what’s going in my life but this blog wasn’t created to keep you all up-to-date on everything…it’s a dumping ground for all the things I can’t say and for things that are on my heart…this post being one of them.

To catch you up to speed, I have been continuing one-on-one therapy with M and will continue to do so and I’ve just been…here. Not doing a whole lot or making a lot of “progress.” M would probably beg to differ as I’ve started working again. DON’T get excited because it’s nothing like what you might be thinking. I’ve started babysitting again. Just one to three times per month for two to three hours at a time for a four-month-old baby boy. Some of y’all might be going, “WTF?! A CRAZY SUICIDAL DEPRESSED OVERLY ANXIOUS NEUROTIC IN CHARGE OF A BABY?!” Cool your jets, kids…because I love kids, especially babies and while I may be crazy, anyone who truly knows me and my heart knows I wouldn’t do anything stupid in front of/with a baby. It’s not even a thought that ever crosses my mind. My own therapist, knowing all the shit she does, has said she would trust me with her child. If that’s not a good endorsement, I don’t know what is. I’ve had 15+ years of childcare experience and I don’t need to nor do I want to list it all here…but suffice it to say, “That bitch is gooooood.” I have mad skillz.

I’ve been watching a four-month-old baby boy, D, for just about a month now…just a few times so far. I usually watch him in three-hour chunks so I usually get a feeding, some play time and a nap, which suits me just fine because snuggling a sleeping baby feels better than popping a Xanax. Baby D has a 13-year-old sister, LL. D’s mom is NOT LL’s mom…but they have the same dad. So D’s mom is technically a first-time mom and that couldn’t be any more evident…she’s not a bad mom at all, it’s just very obvious that she hasn’t been around kids much and lacks experience with babies.

I watched D earlier this week and it was a later shift than I usually do. I usually watch him in the late afternoon but this shift was a dinner to bedtime shift, which was fine with me. Both mom and dad went out, so it was just me, baby, and big sister LL. LL had gotten in trouble for something earlier in the day and was in her room when I got there but she came out after mom and dad left. D had just finished eating so I was burping him, and LL sat down and just started talking to me. A 13-year-old…talking to a 29-year-old. Not a bad thing but definitely something I hadn’t done in a very long time, if ever. She sat down on a stool near where I was sitting with the baby and she stayed there…just talking to me…for three hours. She even mentioned at one point that she had never done that with her dad or step-mom (who, even after five-ish years, can’t even say the child’s name right). When she said that to me, it made me really sad. I may be almost 30, but I remember what being a teenager was like…it’s a time in my life that, unfortunately, was very hard for me and probably won’t ever be forgotten. I hope I am able to stay with this family for a while because I would love to be a…a “positive role model” doesn’t sound like a really good thing to say given my history but…maybe I could at least be someone she can talk to, confide in, feel comfortable with…because I’d rather have her talk to me, someone older, someone who’s been around the block, someone that’s not a part of her family, than have her keep all her feelings inside. Speaking from experience, bottling up all that shit doesn’t benefit anyone.

I’ve become a cranky old fart over the last ten years or so, despising today’s teenagers. They piss me off. They are disrespectful and don’t even know street names anymore because their heads are always down, texting or playing games. I stumbled upon a Facebook post a few months ago of a teenage girl that was SO heartbroken because her parents bought her the wrong color iPhone for Christmas. I would have taken that damn phone back to the store and told her to stuff it. Pissed me off, that post did.

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But while talking to LL…I didn’t feel like I was talking an ungrateful, ditsy 13-year-old who has no idea what the “real world” is like. After last Tuesday night, I think she taught me a lesson…to not write off all teenagers so quickly. (However, I will continue to write you off immediately if your pants are around your knees instead of your waist.)

She started out the evening just asking me about my piercings and tattoos, if they hurt….expressing her desire just to get her ears pierced. She asked me a few questions about how I grew up and what it was like “back in the day”. (Man I felt old saying stuff like, “Back in my day, we got actual report cards sent in the mail…you know…pieces of paper a real person puts in that thing called a mailbox? My parents could not just log on a computer…we had just started using computers back then!…to check my grades and check on any missing assignments the minute first period was over.) She talked to me about makeup and boys, asked me what I was allowed to do at what ages…what I think about certain things. We talked about our love for scary movies and loud music. Nothing sticks out as “major” or a big deal…just girlfriend chit-chat. And, much to my surprise, conversation flowed easily and naturally because the next thing I knew, her parents had returned home three hours later and I was all, “Whhhaaatttt?” It was very evident to me, by the end of the night, that LL did not have anyone to share/talk about this kind of stuff with. I’m sure she has her little school friends but they are probably just like her…curious and need/want someone older who is not family to just talk to without the fear of being judged or “tattled” on. It didn’t take her long to start opening up to me, it seemed…which I took as a compliment because it’s hard to engage any teenager in a conversation that doesn’t involve talking via computer or cell phone and in any conversation involving real feelings that does not involve gossip about what the most popular girl in school is doing. It was obvious she just wanted…even needed…to talk. I came away thinking that she’s probably a lot like me…shut down a lot at home, not encouraged to talk and/or invalidated when she does talk/share her feelings. For three hours, I just empathized with her, shared a little bit about myself and my living situation…how even at almost 30, I completely “get it”…because even at almost 30, I sometimes feel like/am treated like I’m 15. Life, no matter what age you are, isn’t butterflies and rainbows all the time; there are still bullies and I wouldn’t even say that it gets easier (but I didn’t tell her that…she’ll figure it out soon enough).

In a nutshell, LL’s biological mom is around (as in she lives locally and wants to be involved) and from what LL has told me, she’s quite sane and functioning, doing just fine. I didn’t know her father had full custody of her until last week because custody is usually given to a mother…and even then, there’s usually a joint custody agreement. LL’s father (who is also baby’s father) forbids LL to have any contact with her biological mom whatsoever. For the life of me, I still don’t know why. LL says her mom has a great job, she has other children and is not a “dead-beat mom” with drug or alcohol issues or anything that would normally prevent her from having custody or at least be in LL’s life. LL doesn’t even get to see her every other weekend…in fact, her father has forbidden contact between LL and her biological mother until LL is 18. I felt absolutely horrible (and astonished!) at this because at 13, a girl needs a mom and/or a positive female figure in her life and baby’s mom, LL’s step-mom, doesn’t seem to fulfill that role. This poor 13-year-old…being the psych major I am, I can just see all the mommy issues that may come up later in life for this girl…and it makes me sick…and only strengthens my resolve to attempt to be something for her, hoping her family situation doesn’t fuck her up more than it already has/will.

I have, thus far, skirted around telling LL the real reason(s) I’m at home and not working, choosing to watch her brother instead of getting a “real job”. 1) I’m still learning to trust her and her family as I’m sure they are doing with me. 2) I don’t know if those kind of topics (depression, suicide, etc.) should even be discussed with a 13-year-old, especially when I’m not family/her parent. I don’t want to give her a subliminal message of, “If she can do it [suicide], I can too.” (This would be totally different if it went in the direction of, “If she can overcome suicide and adversity and come out on top, I can too.” but I haven’t made it that far in my journey yet, so that message isn’t there to share.) I’ll have to ask M what she thinks regarding these topics and how one would go about discussing them with a teenager who is not family…if it’s even appropriate at all. LL’s parents seem to heavily supervise anything she has access to…like the internet and such, which isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t want her parents to look down upon me for “opening the door” on certain topics, of which their daughter may have been ignorant of before I came along. [Annotation: I have not and don’t plan on ever talking to LL like I talk to my therapist, divulging my feelings and thoughts. But LL is curious so if it gets to a point where she asks me what’s going on in my life and why I am where I am and why I am who I am, I don’t know what’s okay to tell her and what topics I should refrain from mentioning given her age. I’m sure there’s a fine line and I plan to find and identify it before saying anything to LL. I am just trying to say that I’m here FOR LL, for her to talk to and trust…not for me to talk to her as if she were an adult/friend. I can skirt around things and “dull” the intensity of my feelings but I refuse to lie, to her or anyone.]

I know I’m still new to this family but it astounds me how people will act one way in front of others (me) and then you find out that they are so not that way behind closed doors. My heart broke for LL. Not only can her step-mom not pronounce her name correctly (it’s not hard…I was able to do it just fine the moment I met LL), she is quick to correct anyone that says LL is her daughter. “No no no, step-daughter.” I get that that’s the truth, but how demeaning and unloving does it feel for LL to see and hear that on a regular basis…having her step-mom, someone who is going to be in her life for a long time and already has been up to this point, take no “ownership” of LL. Sure, there is no blood connection, but she is, for all intents and purposes, the mother figure, especially since she forbids LL to have any contact with her biological mother (which I don’t understand, but she’s not my child…not hers either, apparently). LL is at a crucial point in her life and if there is not a strong female figure in her life, shit’s gone get real pretty damn fast. And if she doesn’t trust her parents or talk to them, she’s either going to do a lot of bad shit behind their back and/or she’s going to bottle up all of her feelings because she doesn’t feel like she can trust/talk to them and that, in and of itself, will lead to a lot of bad shit. I can’t imagine being 13, in a split household, no contact with her seemingly sane biological mother, a brand new baby brother and a massive attention shift. It doesn’t sound like LL was ever the focal point in her father and step-mother’s life even before the baby came along, and she’s definitely not now. She’s expected to help out with the baby…during my second time watching D, her father said she could not go over to a friend’s house because he said she had to stay home and help me with the baby. I’m like, “Dude [I didn’t actually say this!], I got this…srsly. I’m cool. It’s a gorgeous day…let her go play.” If I didn’t have 15+ years of experience and know what the fuck I’m doing, y’all probably shouldn’t have hired me in the first place. Jus’ sayin’. There also seems to be a lot of double standards in the home. LL is not allowed to watch TV at all on school days…fair…but her friggin’ 4-month-old baby brother gets to watch TV all damn day and I shit you not people, he does. I have never seen a baby that young able to stare at a television screen with any semblance of attention. And I am, at my age, going DUMB watching the shit that’s supposed to make him SMART. Trust me, when he gets older and can play a little more, that shit’s not gonna happen on my watch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a TV whore myself…but I’m also an adult who can make my own decisions and granted, I have no kids and therefore have nothing to offer/say to someone who does, but I don’t agree with using TV as a babysitter, especially when you go out of your way to hire a motherfucking babysitter. Jus’ sayin’. LL is expected to live up to very high standards…standards that, even at my age, I’m not expected to meet. And there is no positive reinforcement for all that she does…which I can TOTALLY relate to. Example: I will empty the dishwasher without being asked. No problem…something I should do anyway. But instead of a thank you or acknowledgement of some sort, I get chastised for putting the cups away still wet and not taking the time to dry them off more before putting them away. Okay…let’s ignore the fact that I just emptied the dishwasher and tidied up the kitchen for you without being asked…let’s focus on how wet the cups are (that will be dry by morning due to a little thing called “evaporation”). LL gets treated the same way. This child is expected, without being asked, to perform many feats…but instead of thanking her or rewarding her, everything she did WRONG is pointed out to her. I can just see the therapy sessions now. My heart seriously aches for this girl and I want to shake her parents and tell them, “Look at what you are doing to her! You are going to fuck her up in ways that will be irreparable if you don’t rectify your parenting methods. Trust me.”

After three hours talking to LL, it seemed to me that she just really needs someone to talk to. Anyone. But preferably someone she can trust, someone that won’t rat her out. (Don’t take this to mean I wouldn’t tell her parents if I thought she was in danger and/or engaging in dangerous behavior. I’d give it some serious thought first, not wanting to break LL’s trust but depending on the situation, if telling her parents saves LL’s life…fair gamble/trade in my opinion.) After three hours, I saw a beautiful, intelligent girl who is SO awesome, but her parents don’t know/see that because they don’t let her show it. If she were given an opportunity to just be herself (not “no holds bar”/no rules…but just if her parents would lighten up a little and see what a beautiful young lady they have growing up in their home), she would truly astound her father and step-mother. I’d put money on it. Because she IS awesome and beautiful and she made me rethink my disdain for teenagers…because she is proving me wrong. I just want to scoop her up and hug her and tell her how beautiful and awesome she is (she is on the boy’s wrestling and football team, kicking ass!) and how she has the potential and “balls” to be and do anything she wants. I want to tell her that the world needs more girls like her and how grateful and humbled I am that she chose to open up to me, a perfect stranger, so quickly. But doing that showed me how much she desperately needs a strong female in her life. And if I can do/be that female, I would love to. I may be fucked up and crazy but by golly, if I can save ONE teenage girl from the insecurities and doubts so many teenagers experience today…or at least help make it bearable, I’m all for it…give me the job, sign me up.

This will require some thought and probably a lengthy discussion with M and possibly LL’s parents, but I want to be able to be here for LL whenever she wants/needs, not just when I am over watching her brother. It appears that the child has no e-mail or cell phone, so I’m not sure how she would prefer to go about communicating. I prefer writing over talking on the phone (I can’t hear to save my life and writing gives me more time to edit myself and turn the profanity filter on), so I’m hoping to possibly be able to communicate by e-mail. It doesn’t have to be deep discussions of the heart…it can be that, but it can be as simple as, “Hey LL! How are you? How is school?” Basics, girly chit-chat…the things she’s not talking about with anyone now. I’ll be damned if I let one more teenage girl grow up thinking she’s not worth the gum stuck to someone else’s shoe. How she is being treated and listened to (or not) now will impact (probably even predict) what she will be/act like as an adult. Look at me…living proof of what it will do. And I am F to the U-C-K-E-D UP. If I can have any part in preventing someone else from ending up like me, I would love and relish the opportunity. She is a like a sponge at 13 and the smallest and most trivial things matter, even though they seem petty to us as adults. They matter at that age whether you want to acknowledge it or not. And whether or not you listen matters. If you don’t want to hear about how the most popular girl is being a mean snob, she’s not going to want to tell you about the new boy she met who is pressuring her to have sex.

My original intention for this post was to be an open letter to LL but clearly that didn’t happen. Some more thought and discussion will have to be given as to how I will be able/allowed to communicate with LL because I don’t want to go behind her parents’ back. If nothing else, I hope she knows that when I come over to watch her brother, I’m there for her too…not to watch and babysit her, just to talk and listen.