Tonight I’ll Keep It Simple

I have a lot to say, but tonight I’ll keep it simple. It’s time for me to accept myself as I am. This includes accepting that I will struggle at times to accept myself.

I’m well enough to refrain from viewing myself through the lens of anxiety and depression. There’s nothing pathological about my personality. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive and creative, or feeling angry and pessimistic–because I’m also resilient and reserved, and I feel calm and hopeful.

I’m not ill, I’m human. I’m a poet-philosopher-teacher, and I have a lot more to say, but tonight I’ll keep it simple.

Protect This Inner Light

My singularity: the sole-ness of my soul. My singularity: the essence of my essence. No one can touch my singularity. My body may be harmed but not my singularity.

There is deep within me an indestructible source of light. There is deep within me a light I cannot see that nevertheless focuses its “I” on me.

I must protect this inner light that never fails to protect me. I must protect this inner light within the people I love and allow their light to shine through me.

The sole-ness of my soul. The essence of my essence. There is deep within me an indestructible source of light protecting my singularity.

Writing Saves My Life

I feel the need to explain myself to myself. I feel the need to analyze every aspect of my (inner) life. Why am I thinking the thoughts I’m thinking right now? What do my thoughts say about me? If I’m being hyper-critical, how am I responding to my hyper-critical thoughts? Am I challenging my hyper-critical thoughts, or am I using them to support irrational beliefs that I’m inherently weak and irrevocably damaged? Why am I writing—again—about my thoughts?

I have so much to live for, so much to look forward to. Still, when my overthinking goes into overdrive, I find myself returning to thoughts of suicide. I don’t have any plans, just a vague sense that death is easier than (my) life. When these thoughts arise, I hold on to my life. I think of at least one reason to stay alive.

For now, I must be patient. Healing takes time. I’ll keep writing because writing saves my life.

Multiple Examples Of Love

1.

Trauma creates opportunities for growth.
When I suffer flashbacks, I want to curl up
into a ball and disappear. Shrink from life.
Today, rather than panic, I give myself
permission to curl up into a ball and become,
for a moment, an object. And I do. I curl up
into a ball and become, for a moment, an object.
And I survive. I manage pain and soothe myself
when nothing but surviving will do. I stay alive.

2.

When I sense a friend is in pain, I place my pain
beside their pain. I listen to them speak
of their pain, through their pain, and in my listening,
although I say nothing, I speak to their pain.
I witness suffering and I’m humbled. Everyone suffers
in their own way, but no one suffers alone.
Pain, I’ve learned, is a great teacher,
but I’m not a student of pain.
I major in love. I minor in poetry.

3.

Everything is connected, including falling to pieces.
When a friend falls apart, when their life breaks open
and their hope shatters, their falling to pieces
happens in a world where my hope shattered, too.
Our coming apart, individually, comes together
in the same space. Friends recognize the enemy
within us all: a lack of love and patience.
I befriend a process of trauma and recovery.
I give myself time. I hope for more hope.

4.

Trauma exists but so does love. Survivors can feel
unworthy of love, but when we feel unworthy
of love we’re mistaken. I refuse to deny myself love.
When I curl up into a ball because I’m ashamed,
frightened or lonely, I catch myself. I give myself
permission to experience pain. When I suffer flashbacks,
I breathe in and breathe out. Again I love and I’m loved
again. Another day alive. More opportunities to grow.

We Now Love Differently

People across the globe are suffering the collective trauma known as COVID-19. Life is far from normal. At some point, though, we’ll be free to leave our homes, greet our neighbors, and hug our friends and family members. We’ll all be trauma survivors.

I’m always in the mood for philosophical discussions, but today I’m especially interested in thinking about the meaning of life. I found a quote from Keith Ansell Pearson’s How to Read Nietzsche particularly helpful right now.

Describing Nietzsche’s approach to life after trauma, Pearson writes, “It is certain that our trust in life is gone, and gone forever, simply because life has become a problem for us. Nietzsche counsels us, however, that we should not jump to the conclusion that this necessarily makes us gloomy. Love of life is still possible, but we now love differently” (38). According to Nietzsche, rather than giving up or succumbing to despair, we must remember to appreciate the gift of being alive, no matter what life brings us.

Stuck inside, we already love each other and ourselves differently. As long as we’re here, let’s acknowledge our pain and cherish our joy.

The Joy Of Temporary Body Loss

There’s no distinction anymore between my thinking and my writing. I think as I write and write as I think. Sometimes I stay up all night and think-write so hard I lose touch with my body. By morning, which for me is often darker than night, I become an untethered mind with nothing but emptiness inside.

Emptiness is out of this world. Emptiness is divine. I can’t, however, remain an untethered mind. I need my body to survive. When I repeat nothing zero times, my mind and body reunite, and I leave the kingdom of emptiness behind.

If I ever publish a (meta)physical essay about the joy of temporary body loss, I’ll declare in the last line that think-writing, a gift from God, brings me comfort from time to time.

Embracing Resistance

In Reluctantly: Autobiographical Essays, Hayden Carruth states, “Everything I know as a writer and critic, everything I know about poetry and life, tells me that the effort to analyze a feeling makes that feeling stronger, not weaker” (60).

As a confessional writer, I analyze my feelings often, but compulsive self-analysis can turn into self-judgement when I label certain feelings “unacceptable.” Debilitating sadness is unacceptable. I need to toughen up and become a productive member of society. Chronic anxiety is unacceptable. I need to loosen up and take charge of my life.

I assume that Carruth, who battled depression and anxiety for decades, understood the power of shame to compound suffering. Living with mental illness is hard enough. Fighting the stigma of mental illness, the shame I’ve internalized, is equally daunting.

Shame stifles my creativity and restricts my being. I write best when I acknowledge, without judgment, how I really feel. When I’m depressed, my body feels heavier than a pile of anvils. When I’m anxious, my body feels like a desert trapped in a grain of sand. I worry that sharing details like these makes me look bad, but if my depression and anxiety won’t shut up, why should I stay silent? To write freely, Carruth might remind me, is to heal.

But where my body is concerned, I’ll never have the last word. In the throes of a depressive episode, my body won’t get out of bed. Nothing and no one, not even me, can force it to rise. There’s an anger immune to reason flowing through me, a defiant inner child reclaiming his power.

When it’s fed up with the world, my body says no. It accepts that it doesn’t work right. My body owns what it lacks. Rejecting the false memory of a unity it never had, my body challenges society’s bogus requirement to always be rational, driven, and self-sufficient. My body pushes back against the double trauma inflicted upon it: the trauma of having a mental illness and the trauma of feeling ashamed about having a mental illness.

I keep using the word shame, but defining it isn’t easy. On my worst days I feel like my soul is damaged. I blame myself for being depressed and hate myself for hating myself. Hearing people I care about tell me they love me doesn’t stop my internal critic from judging me. I feel unworthy of love and acceptance despite the fact that everyone, by virtue of being alive, deserves both.

Depression is hidden; it doesn’t look like a broken leg or third-degree burns. People fear what they can’t see and judge others for exhibiting odd behaviors they can’t explain. We’re aware of the stereotype of the madman or madwoman. I know how alone they feel.

No matter how society tries to define me, I live my depression in my own way. I’m free to write that I feel like my soul is damaged, but I can’t prove it. I can’t prove that I have a soul in the first place. But writing that my soul is damaged is my (hyperbolic) statement; it is unique to me. Everything I write is an expression of my singularity. My resistance, too, is an expression of my singularity. Everything and everyone I resist, I resist in my own way.

If I wake up one morning and my body feels like a pile of anvils, the first step I should take to get out of bed is to not get out of bed right away. Stay numb. Be one with my mourning. When I feel depressed, to feel better later, I must do depression well.

It’s important to challenge negative thoughts, to take my meds, and to go to therapy, but it also helps to recognize that parts of me haven’t healed, can’t be healed, or refuse to be healed. My body is stubborn. I need to embrace its resistance.

The Sadness And The Nerves

This is a chapter from my story The Education of Chris Truman, which I’ve only just begun and may never finish.

In November 2019, after four months away from treatment, Chris Truman was glad to be back in therapy. He couldn’t manage his daily struggles with the Sadness and the Nerves on his own. Out of ideas, he hadn’t updated his blog, Creative Type, in a while. He feared the stories he told himself about himself belonged to someone else. He saw his face for what it was: a mask he couldn’t remove. As Jean-Paul Sartre might have said, Truman was what he wasn’t and wasn’t what he was.

A blog, like a psychological history, sees many revisions. Inspiration takes time. Truman sometimes went weeks without writing anything, but then, out of the blue, he wanted to share his entire life story with the world. His output depended on his moods, and his moods changed rapidly. A single thought could lift or crush his spirits. The ups and downs were exhausting. How would he ever make a living as a writer if he couldn’t write every day? Revising is important, but eventually a writer needs new material to revise.

Returning to therapy reminded Truman of his first hospitalization for mental illness, on February 21, 2003. After suffering a breakdown at work, overwhelmed by the frenetic pace of his position as a receiving clerk at a grocery store, Truman felt like his brain was on fire. His body, too weak to carry his soul, fell to pieces. Barely a year out of college, he couldn’t cope with the real world, which didn’t give a shit about how well he did in school.

After spending three hours in the emergency room, Truman found himself on Five Center, the psych ward at Woodview Hospital. Robert, a disheveled young man dressed in a pink robe, greeted him in the hallway.

“My moods have a mind of their own,” Robert said. “If I lived in a zoo, I’d be a bipolar bear.”

Truman didn’t care much for puns in his condition. He was too busy obsessing about his failures. He wasn’t a high school English teacher, his plan before college. He wasn’t a graduate student training to become an English professor, his plan after college. He was a writer, but his poems and stories were too self-conscious, too cerebral. Rather than expressing himself naturally, he tried too hard to sound profound.

After examining his thoughts and judging his choices, doctors determined Truman was an Existentialist with a serious case of the Sadness and the Nerves. They gave him medications that stifled his creativity. He was expected to return to society, which eventually he did, but not without questioning the merits of his discharge instructions. He was told to be a man, to work hard, perhaps in an office, and, above all, to be happy. Truman knew he couldn’t meet society’s demands to take charge of his destiny and reach his full potential. He knew that, in an act of defiance, he was going to write a book about his inability to lead a normal life—a book in which he’d try too hard to sound profound.

Recalling his experiences at Woodview Hospital got Truman thinking about Chuck Snoad, a fictional character who was really Chris Truman in disguise. Inspired in college by Henry Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, in which Adams refers to himself in the third person, Truman created Snoad in 2001 as his literary double.

Whereas Truman graduated from Pinehurst College in 2002, worked at Gem Foods, and loved a woman named Penny, Snoad graduated from Elmhurst College in 2002, worked at Jewel Foods, and loved a woman named Jenny. Told from a third person limited point of view, Truman’s self-conscious (auto)biography, The Education of Chuck Snoad, gave him countless opportunities to mock himself for knowing so little about the real world.

Snoad was also a writer. His struggles were Truman’s struggles, and vice versa. They were the same person(a). Both tried to describe, in their own words, the ups and (mostly) downs of living with the Sadness and the Nerves—knowing full well that it’s impossible to speak of madness without going mad.

Either I

Stuck in the past, I go from happy to sad and back again in a flash. I feel too much, much too fast. I have poems to write but not enough rhyme.

Robert Frost is on my mind. There are two trains at my station but only one for me to ride. I can’t, for the life of me, decide between them side by side.

Beyond the blue horizon lies a sky within a sky. I can’t see myself on either train with either I.