25 January 2010

Give the cat a name

I'm ashamed of how selfish I've been lately. Things bigger than me, bigger than this small life, are churning out there, and all I've done is stay in my cocoon wrapped in my own ignorance. Here's a secret: I called in to give money to the Haiti relief effort during the telethon on Friday, but only half of me did it in order to help. The other half wanted to talk on the phone with a celebrity (which didn't happen anyway). How terrible is that? I can't stand it...and yet I know, this blog is about me, it's a place for me to bounce my thoughts into the cosmic void and therefore reach catharsis. The balance, however, between reflective and between self-absorbed continually eludes me.
In my desire to be a better person and also to tell my personal truth, I've decided to write about a cause that is dear to my heart, one that I hope many of you know: To Write Love on Her Arms. I remember a few months ago, when we had To Write Love on Her Arms day, and I was amazed and moved by the number of students who showed up to school with "love" written in loopy letters on wrists, elbows, hands...because it was to acknowledge a cause that has often been the silent destroyer, one associated with shame and isolation because nobody believed it merited attention. I speak of depression and self-injury (in the wide-reaching sense of the term). TWLOHA bears the following mission and vision:

"To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.


The vision is that we actually believe these things…

You were created to love and be loved. You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you're part of a bigger story. You need to know that your life matters.

We live in a difficult world, a broken world. My friend Byron is very smart - he says that life is hard for most people most of the time. We believe that everyone can relate to pain, that all of us live with questions, and all of us get stuck in moments. You need to know that you're not alone in the places you feel stuck."

I remember a few years ago, my senior year in college, when I took a Writing and the Representation of Pain course. For our final assessment, we had to compose a portfolio of writing about our own personal pain. I'm lucky in that I've suffered from little physical pain, and I've suffered few life-altering events from which people would understand my being...well...off. The relative ease of my life, however, leads many to doubt the validity of the emotional waves that have wracked my life since I was 14 years old. I've had mornings when I could not get out of bed due to tremors. I've had tears that seemed to have a mind of their own. I've destroyed romantic relationships, or they've destroyed them once they proved their inability to be the supportive lover I needed. I've lost friends, regained them, then lost them again. I've almost failed my senior year of high school and almost had to be hospitalized in New York. Throughout all of these experiences, relapses and recoveries, I've never lost the sense of shame that, to some extent, my emotions have the better of me. So when it came time for me to craft this portfolio, I worried about whether my writing about depression would be seen as brave or as indulgent. Was this truly pain, after all, in a world where we have orphans buried under rubble, females being mutilated, and genocides based on arbitrary distinctions? I'm lucky in that my professor was inspirational and told me I was brave, that by writing about my pain I might prevent others'. Here is a bit from the essay that earned his praise:

"Some people imagine depression as scientific or biological, a physical fact of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals that need to be stabilized. Others think about it as emotional, choosing adjectives such as “sad” or “miserable” to describe their feelings. I think of depression as wholly spatial, about places in which the “me” objects that used to inhabit the room disappear and are replaced with foreign, destructive objects: the objects of depression. Interestingly, one of the spatial adjectives often used to describe depression is “empty,” and even though I have used this adjective in the past, when I think about what I feel when I am depressed it is more that I am full of something foreign. I think about depression in terms of rooms and houses. If I could describe what I am like when I am not depressed, it would definitely be an aestheticized scene—I would be a room with beautiful useless objects, such as glass bird paperweights and unmatching floral China teacups, perfume bottles, and intricate lamps, arranged on a background of clean, light green walls and lace curtains.
When I am depressed, that room ceases to exist as I know it. Foreign objects invade it and the room becomes dirty, cluttered, and dark. Andrew Solomon’s friend Laura describes one aspect of my version of depression when she says, “[A]ll the color had drained out of my soul, all the me of me I loved; I was a little doll-shell of what I had been” (Solomon 98), but this is only half of the process, one for which Andrew Solomon has found a perfect vocabulary. He insists that depression is both “degrading” and “eclipsing,” the destruction of the objects that used to inhabit the room and the supplantation of those objects with new ones that are foreign and ultimately un-you. It is both birth and death, “both the new presence of something and the total disappearance of something” (Solomon 17). Furthermore, the new objects in the room are much less defined than the objects of the self, vague because they are tied to emotions and incidents that are almost impossible to describe in words. Solomon describes his depressive feelings as “it,” although he states that “I could not have managed even to be so specific as to say what ‘it’ was” (Solomon 51). While the eclipsing objects are undefined, their presence causes the pre-existing self to become foreign and lost as well as the newly laid-out room threatens to overtake all memories of the beautiful, aestheticized room of the past. This total eclipse of the self is best evinced by F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Winter Dreams,” whose protagonist is unable to even name the self he used to possess: “‘Long ago,’ he said, ‘long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone. Now that thing is gone, that thing is gone. I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more.’” That “something” seems irreversibly gone, turning from familiar to foreign, and replaced by something just as foreign but ultimately destructive."

I wish I could say that writing about my pain proved to be the final push I needed, that everything ceased to matter and that I never relapsed. New York proves that wrong, and every now and then, I worry that it's coming back again. In general, though, I don't feel that shame anymore-- I know that there are people out there to help me, who know me, who do not think me weak. I have friends who understand when I'm bottling up my sadness and those who listen when I need to release the pressure. Not everyone is that lucky, unfortunately, and even I forget that I have kindred spirits in my life that I can rely on. Movements like TWLOHA honor that pain is beautiful, and real, and occasionally infinite, but assert that it is something that should inspire art and perseverance rather than allowing sensitive souls to descend into the depths of despair. In the ten-plus years that I've battled, the world has made headway, but for every enlightened person there are 10 ignorant, destructive voices. We need to help to bolster the wrecked, the needy, the hopeless, and as we build gardens out of lifeless arms and legs they will gradually grow to bloom and flourish on their own, into the people they once were. They will regain that "something" they have lost.
I've just ordered this shirt after seeing it on a lovely former soulmate, one I distanced myself from during one of my "bouts." She and I have made efforts to reconcile recently, and I hope that our shared dedication to writing love on our arms will make that possible.
"My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken."

"Maybe I'm a kite that's flying high and random,
Dangling on a string..."

"My dear, we're slow dancing in a burning room."

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
~Emily Dickinson~

1 comment:

Brandi Reynolds said...

hi there. I just wanted to first say thank you for the link about 'to write love on her arms'. What an amazing and important community and I will be going back to the site to learn more.

also, I wanted to say that I have dealt with depression too and while I am safely out of the pit now, I am still wary and on the watch lest I slide down the hole again. You speak very bravely and honestly about this and as someone who has gone through it, I thank you.

many blessings-