Deaths and people disappearing aside, I got most of my lifer sense of life as transitory mainly from Christianity and expecting the second coming any minute now. “maybe at midnight, /maybe at noon /but Jesus is coming, / surely soon.” I readied my soul at least twice a day for at least a dozen years.
We make our own havens. Now mostly I ready my soul for the Great Whatever whenever we take a car or plane trip. Those prompt my wanting to see a lawyer and make sure the will is up to date. It doesn’t have to be a far trip. An hour will do.
When did this start happening? I’ve been in many car accidents, as driver and passenger, tipping off the road to walking away from 3 totalled cars.
Only the last accident really affected me. Unlike previous, I wasn’t injured. I didn’t get seatbelt chest pains or knees crumpling into dash.
But this time, I didn’t get back in the car. I am a believer in going towards what intimidates and exposure therapy. Fear unopposed grows like mint.
I started to have panic attacks and talking myself down even to be near one. Real ones not lucid moments.
This time each time I accepted a ride, I was left wiped and twitchy. It got constantly better, very slowly, but that lasted about 2 years.
The funny thing I learned about a panic attack is how internal it is. While I had one I was told I look tranquil. It stunned me. How could that person be so blind? How could someone be so off the mark in reading me? How could I be so unknown?
Then I watched a friend in company. She later reported that moment as being a panic attack, related all that was going on internal keyed on the conversation we both heard, how it triggered her.
Then I photographed myself during one. There is a flatness of expression that doesn’t look tense or guarded. The body is switching off. It does look remarkably “fine” from the outside while the inside is going fritzy. How much of the time when others look calm is there that disconnection between automatic behaviours and mind going wild?
If you remember the opening of the movie Amelie where the little girl imagines her camera as the cause of accidents, that hyper-imaginative. It doesn’t even need visual or verbal level. The body jump ramps. Except it rapid cycles overstimulation of emotions are isn’t as cute.
Is this a sort of death? Death seems conjoined because of the expectation that the heart will stop and the paranoid delusion that can sweep the senses.
In 2001 I was standing at a bus stop on Meadowlands and I was sure a sniper was aimed at me. I had a loop of visualization that a car would careen and smash me under it and into all the glass of the bus shelter. The cascade wouldn’t shut off and I was pinned in place with chest pains. I was certain I would die. I don’t know how many minutes I stood. To others who passed perhaps I looked in a vaguely pleasant reverie because the face goes expressionless. That was the worst what I call “grand mal” panic attack. Or among them.
It is as if, but not quite, the brain and body are in different gears. Part of the body chemistry is going one slow undulation while the other is as if caffeinated and overdrive.
Comparable was when I felt my senses scramble a summer in 2007, there was a silence around me and then as if the mental buffer released, all the ambient sounds of pedestrians and traffic overlapped and I felt the sensation of my shoulder being bumped hard from behind. I looked and the nearest person was several steps ahead. It was if the time and sensation signature were offset. And then the sense of emotions unlatching and flooding in a rapid cycle of fear, anger, paranoia. All my sensory feedback was jerked up so everything was high smell, high tactile, high light and noise which was echoing and with the sense that there was a gap between what I heard and when it occurred. My body felt under a few weights of gravity and slow motion exhaustion.
I backed myself against a wall, inside a brick corner wall, and waited for it to pass. I feel vulnerable in that state because I can’t react in good time. I know my senses are not reliable. My emotions aren’t going to behave properly. It is hard to perceive through the walls of sensations.
Yet I still was functional in the sense I could see it was screwy and step aside for the body to do it’s fritz. Inside that I was told I was fine and it wasn’t far to go. Every step was overwhelming. It has taken a lot of resources to get myself to that wall.
I was angry at my body imposes this and at having to be civil and order who I was with to go on. I would be here until I wasn’t. I didn’t want to spare more resources to argue or explain this in the moment. I felt patronized at someone trying to override my own self-knowledge, even knowing it was well-intended. I don’t know how long until the wave passed.
It was a milestone in the sense that I refused to comply with what is done. Refused to be “led” to someone else’s sense of safety. I followed my own judgement because I was best informed of what was going on.
My mind/body was overwhelmed. Toughing out more stimulus just would give more pain for no gain. Part of panic management is knowing my limits as early as possible. Sometimes I miscalculate. The whole mind/body is connected so stressors go across. If I’m fighting an infection, I’ll have less leeway for exposure to perfumes and daily and people who are confrontational without getting a cheek twitch to full-on shutdown with migraine.
I can mitigate and accommodate and balance extending myself with rest. If I overdo it, I’m going to reap panic attacks, exhaustion, back going out, migraine, hives, congestion response to dairy, joint pain, as many of the 9 yards as my body will go to say no. You stop here. Treat yourself well. Breathe, sleep, eat high density nutrition, be with good people, think kindly, make useful actions, resolve or make peace with issues, stretch, use your muscles, think about something that is productive and challenging, see beauty and humour. All the things that make for growth. Or else.
It occurs to me that the forces of depression and the forces of panic are curative, not each, but in combination. They may work together. Depression flattens significance and makes the mind/body inert. Anxiety hypes the normal to disproportionally reactive to stimulus. They may prop each other in a stable state. Life wants an equilibrium.
I’ve felt on borrowed time since birth. Not like my friend who was born with anomalies and expected not to make it though her teens.
She made it to her 30s, until just after serving tea for the luncheon after church which she loved, doing the service she loved among people she was fond of. She left and her heart unstitched on the front steps of the church. It was just before Easter 2002.
That could have fed into my sense of transitory life. But it started earlier. I was in the shadow of my father’s life. His friends were mostly a decade older which is fine when you’re 20 but when you’re 50 or so, they start dying like flies. So many funerals. And I went to them all. How many? 1 or 2 or month? I shook a lot of hands. We were well-known among all the funeral homes in the area. How much did we donate in all to the cancer society or the heart fund?
But death comes from all directions when you’re on a farm and fishers are “stealing” cats, foxes catching chickens, a badger and an unwise dog battle leave the pup nearly gutted but recovered and little smarter. Not smarter enough to not get herself in a fight with a porcupine.
And animals were sold to slaughter. And something rabid bit the pony, and something feisty went after the rabbits in the night, frightened a whole enclosure of them to death. It doesn’t take much to scare a rabbit to death.
For all that nature didn’t feel dangerous. I felt more at home in the forest that was nearly destitute of animals than among people who were far more apparent danger. A porcupine and I may eye one another, but there’s a respect. A person would sidle past and give a sneaky pinch or knuckle punch or nasty word and them smile charmingly. Or openly compliment then cut down from the special knowledge of what would deflate me fastest “to make sure you don’t get a swell head”. Animals just needed to eat to live. People are a crazier sub-set of animals.
We are acting out from impulses we don’t always understand. We are each got beasties.
Our coworker had just divulged she’s on chemo and felt alone and scared. A coworker replied, “Everyone’s got something honey”. She pointed and named conditions. There, diabetes, there, husband just left her, her, cancer too. Pointing to herself, depression and meds. A lot is invisible. What are our silences teaching? To compare our insides to others’ outsides?
When there’s a phase of something coming down, is it nature or nature or just passing through? When people around us are living their depression, are we learning how to be depressed, or to navigate with resilience? Example of negative lesson or just a thing not about us?
As Andrew Solomon put it in trying to understand the slow death of depression,
“to interview people who had experienced it, I found that there were people who seemed on the surface to have what sounded like relatively mild depression who were nonetheless utterly disabled by it. And there were other people who had what sounded as they described it like terribly severe depression who nonetheless had good lives in the interstices between their depressive episodes.”
[...] people who are depressed [...] say, “No matter what we do, we’re all just going to die in the end.” Or they’ll say, “There can be no true communion between two human beings. Each of us is trapped in his own body.” To which you have to say, “That’s true, but I think we should focus right now on what to have for breakfast.”
Right. Just get on with it. That’s a strategy. Keep busy. Sure. Let yourself rest. Good idea too.
His listing what depressed people say was to transcript my dad’s speech and my own head for years. It’s nothing I let on about. Except when really down and then I might peep and people would tell me, “no, you’re exaggerating. You’re cheerful, therefore not depressed”. Why talk to unreceptive people? Why persist? I have enough walls to bag my head against. Not currently accepting more applications.
Depression eventually drags outward behavior but it’s not about the outward. It’s not about sad. It’s clear as a glass door to fast-moving nose.
It’s understandable when people try to cheer others up. People want other people to be well. People want to comfort other people, and encourage. It comes from a good place but it gets off at the wrong station when person A bunches up the shame and fear and says, “I am struggling with depression” and person B replies, “nope, you’re fine.”
I found diaries from around age 11 that noted I have panic attacks. I rediscovered panic attacks exist again in late high school, again in university, each time collecting tracts for them. I collated information on depression. I collected a partial set of techniques for dealing. People advise me that I shouldn’t integrate a illness with an identity because that means I refuse to get better. Again, well-intentioned ignorance.
Because I speak quietly or shyly doesn’t mean I’m unsure or uninformed. I have the thick or data and all the circumspect reading. I have to give myself the respect to put my own knowledge on at least equal terms with others. And to live mindfully allowing the range of life and its circumstances, the beauties and the beasties to be seen.
Having a mind watching mind is a shadow spotter of sorts. Or it’s death by a thousand cuts of seeing yourself respond and not being able to redirect yourself to be your shining glowy better self.
To ground in the immediate is useful. Think of the present. Be here, now. Deflect the monkey in the head when it tantrums but return and address the monkey. The monkey probably has something to say for a reason. What is it about?
The tricky thing about feeling well is whooohooo, cured. I’ll never have to have to give that monkey any more rides. But it’ll come back, or another monkey will. There’s something.
I’m feeling blessed every time someone calls, emails, or of all the options in life, makes some time for lunch.
One makes ones family and one’s home. If you choose wiser than the random luck of birth, you end up upgrading. If you treat yourself and others well with valuing them as they need to be valued and are also cherished to become the best person that you could become, you can spend some time in a sweet patch of life.
Somewhere along the way most of the people I know have become writers, artists and musicians, but mostly poets.
There are times you fall out of connection with everyone for months but there’s rarely a vacuum in behavior. The underlying gap gets plugged with something nearby. If we push how we gravitate we can figure out if we get a better ratio of good and bad outcomes.
While at birth-hometown I was asked to lead prayers for the extended family, and asked for blessings over the food daily. At university, no one did. I felt conspicuous. Not that anyone said anything, usually. Cultural (rather than born again) Christian questioned my habit. My acts became more muted, more in my head until they disappeared. A friend once said that my food photography is the way I say grace before I eat.
I’ve come from attempting (that is a proto-self) to split mind from body, deny body exists, deny there’s any reality to chemistry, cut the self into warring fractions.
The model of all is an unreliable narrator, an illusion is also mystical-minded, is dissociative. That’s not to say it doesn’t have advantages. It means you’re not as given to being gullible. It counters the know-it-all ego. It’s a survival mechanism but not necessarily a thrive-al mechanism. It puts in a buffer against being swamped by bodily pain. It also prevents solution because there’s no perceptible problem.
It lets one let go of petty hurts and get a wider perspective. It also lets go of detailed reality and washes all to the vague. Detachment is a tool until it’s not overused for self- and others-avoidance. Integration of disparate elements is better mapping to health. Acknowledge and go thru.
How do people fall away? Negligence sometimes. I’ve not been good at expressing affection, or forming it. I don’t readily trust people and maybe no one does but makes an effort to act it into being.
I looked back at the year books I look at the signatures and wonder how they happened. Was there some cluster of mass signings and my book got into the fray? Some names and faces don’t ring the faintest bell. Some people declare me best friend and I don’t remember them. When I’m 80 and can’t remember if I’ve eaten, will it come back to me who these people are? Will I remember the sun in their hair and the conversations?
People who click have a resonance of overlap in energy from the past, or shared intentions for the future, or a decision to value one another or all three. Or maybe just walk alongside and make an effort to intersect paths.
Were the days ever all free time? Now, energy is limited. I can’t do it all and neither can anyone else. We’re forced into positions of choice, trade-offs. Everything we do is giving up another option. It isn’t time management. Time managed itself just fine without us. It is self-management.
Between life maintenance and commitments, time is chopped up. We’re always on the clock, even to fit in the right amount of sleep. Which is what makes me appreciative all the more when someone takes a few minutes. I feel in perpetual missing of particular people. Miss daily, see quarterly and then only for minutes once we get the getting there, arriving and leave taking. It seems insane. And yet the connections sustain.
A warmth in the belly that isn’t food or drink or doing crunches. It’s something soft. Something almost unnoticeable unless you know it might come. What is it? The good possible future, a hope of crafting life that is not only craft, not only form, not only content, but something more whole in all the parts without a leg needing to feel that it is a defective arm.
When I look back in memory, I get a lot of blanks. Was I not paying attention or averting my eyes? Is it fading because I don’t look back and try to carry stories forward with me, repeating them to myself. What am I repeating to myself instead? A lot of things are in the brain and just need the right prompt to be dragged out.
Why can’t I draw more to mind? Faces elude me particularly. That used to frighten me. I couldn’t even picture my own father’s face. He waved off camera’s angrily. As a teen, more than half a lifetime ago, I once drew it, amazed that my hand could make what my mind’s eye couldn’t see.
Paper record is more reliable than memory, in its way. I can at least see verbatim what I called important then. But being a good archivist of self and clear perceiver means picking up on the pivotal things, the telling distinctive things. Too often it’s the big event instead of the more significant everyday that informs the biggies. Because the normal is so constant who records it? Who can even explain a joke, or remember anything but the punchline, or maybe not even the punchline, just the laughter.
In high school Murray and I played darts. We were raking leaves, cycling, taking turns driving the carpooling to work, riding horseback in the side pasture. A lot of passing the time. We didn’t talk much, did we? What about if so?
We rode the bus, playing hangman and X and Os. 3 years of sitting on the bus and Lisa bringing a new riddle for most of them. What were any of the jokes? Lisa was probably 8 years younger so they might have been, how do you know an elephant has been in your fridge? The footprints in the butter. Murray had many knock knocks. There was no past or future. I couldn’t tell or say anything from before we met. There was never much mention of outside the now.
Lisa sometimes drew me a picture. We chattered away. What did we say? We enjoyed each other’s goofiness. And Murray having a new joke most days too. We enjoyed each other’s company. Were were just walking alongside because it was someone convenient to walk with?
Murray and I used to play basketball with Ian in primary school. One time gym class was baseball, or maybe T-ball. We collected daisies in the outfields and wandered off and were whistled in. We cut a deal with the teacher to play 21 instead. It would still be moving so the purpose of the teacher’s curriculum, we would be covered. We would be outdoors and moving. We were okayed for that and did that all term instead.
We often played 21 at break and lunchtimes with Ian. I googled Ian. He died years ago. So many people I google have died. No causal relation but it does make one hesitant to check.
25 years ago I have impressionist scenes with odd things in focus; my mental image being of grass at the base of the foundation, or the texture of cork on the dartboard on the machine shed, slowing warping as it weathered, the wire guides rusting.
What did we do? Lazy hazy days hanging out. Murray and I played 21 for 5 or 6 years either at a school hoop or the one on the end of my parent’s garage where the red paint peeled off in irregular grey-backed curling strips and the hoop had long lost its net and stooped so it was something of a top down perspective even from the ground.
The hard packed dirt and ruts and bits of grass of the laneway made the bounce harder to predict. I can’t remember who won or lost. The tree beside it is cut down. The garage has a side shed and new door and the lane is regraded. The shade from the other tree uphill is cut down too. The old sloping hoop hung on by a screw for a while and is gone now.
I let many good people slip away. Was it lack of caring? Perhaps some. Learning to trust and love is a skill as any. Was it negligence? I used to be fatalist having no say in what happens. I used to think people would drift back in, that the world was small enough. But the world is pretty huge, isn’t it. People can fall off it entirely.
Were we making the best of coincidentally being in the same place and time? Why didn’t I say, wait, for this next bit of life, come along.
Living is a process of learning to be more open, more joyful, more connected, more articulate. I wasn’t in a place I could do that as well as now.
Now I try to admit when I’m attached to someone, I try to keep up contact. People matter to me but sometimes I get too caught up in my own natters. I try to set aside my blithering nervous self and focus on the person I’m with, retain what they say, follow up later, have the past and future there with us.
Most people are lousy at staying in touch. I get bitter when it’s always me being the one to say, hey, you alive over there? Assurances that I’m not harassing but welcome to hallooo and missed — those help.
Where I am now is a good place. Over the last few years I’ve lucked out into people who are genuine and interested and interesting. I’ve come to know more soul gems than anyone can reasonable expect to get. There are people I enjoy the company of and who enjoy me. What more could one ask for.
I may not remember your face until the 7th time we’ve met but I can exactly picture the font of the page number of p. 47 of a book I’m currently reading.
I suppose a lot of people who read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time related to the character. When nervous, I automatically count. Luckily with my memory for numbers I can’t recall how many ceiling tiles there are in any given reading venue in town. I generally know how many people are in a room. It’s a good sign of relaxation if I don’t. Running the numbers is a way to control. I’m (usually mildly) OC.
I’m hard-nosed when I need to be. I also have a sort of directional dyslexia. I get turned around very easily. The compass in my nose must have a lode of distracting iron in it.
To change all the points of reference is disruptive. For some people exhilarating. For me, more tiring. I like my routines. I like to experience new things but I’m a homebody with a lot of anxiety. The idea of travelling and needing to go though checkpoints of armed uniformed people even if they are chatty just about shuts me down to twitching.
We moved to a place once where the military and police swarmed the neighbourhood, not just for sweeps of drug nests and Hell’s Angels but just gadding about getting coffee and a smoke. It was exposure therapy. I’m not so fearful of military uniforms as I was.
Moving to downtown was sensory overload. There was no more skiing straight out the back door into the forest or going for a walk naked or spending weeks not seeing a stranger. There was that profusion of noise and scents.
My life in the city nearly 25 years ago became activity rather than trying to be in a constant state or prayer and communion with god and nature. I was subsumed in learning about people and assessing what was lost and gained in this culture shock.
Maybe that analysis is what I was always doing. Maybe it doesn’t descend from fear but towards love. Maybe when I’m stressed I go towards beauty.
I found a note from when I was about 10 years old. Mom had taken me to a big toy store and asked me what I wanted. I spent a long time in one aisle.
Mom took that as interest in dolls (finally! yay, maybe she *is* a girl) but I had pulled out my notebook and stubby pencil.
See, the claim in big colours was that each doll was unique. That didn’t seem possible. I wrote down all the variables in a column. Yellow hair, red hair, black hair, bald. Blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, this size, that size (there were two). There were repeating patterns of clothes and skin fabrics. The heads were all the same mould in two sizes.
When I got home I made a grid and not knowing how to do the math elsewise I added all the numbers and circled the conclusion of exactly how many variations of dolls there were, disproving the advertising. How satisfying. How defying the being deceived.
Again, I didn’t get a calculator or science set for Christmas, but another doll. Ah well.
The advantage of setting your own choices is that you can buy your own science set and not rely on anyone else to fulfil.
Every day has the same number of hours as Mother Teresa was given. That seems an unfair comparison. She didn’t exactly have to make living wage did she? She was set up living with communal living so life maintenance costs for time were different. No pets, no partner but god, and no kids, she was free to sport her time with anyone in the world.
Every choice has an impact on the past. It recolors. Every choice is incremental. All progress is directed in millimeters. That’s the curse of travelling. What is a vacation really when where ever you go, there you are, writing day and night. How to widen perspective and just absorb without parsing until the new makes its own parsing. To get somewhere new you have to cover a lot of distance.
What to do with my countable hours. What to value and how to perceive changes the world. Change your story, change your world, change yourself.
Change yourself and you change permissions others give themselves. Change your story and you see other futures.