I’ve been having a tough time lately. Maybe it’s a delayed post-CVG crash. But it feels more like a natural downswing, which means the only way forward is to ride it out. It’s not BAD in the way they get sometimes, at least not yet. But the voice inside that tells me that I’m a waste of space and not worth the time or attention from anyone I respect or cherish is a whole lot louder and stronger than the voice that usually rises up in opposition.
It makes it hard to do anything this way. Even to reach out and ask for help. Because how can I possibly ask another for support or encouragement or kindness when I can’t believe I’m worth it? When such an expenditure on their part would be a waste, since they can’t possibly really mean it and I don’t deserve to take it from them?
And then help arrives, and sometimes it makes the voice even louder. “See. Look at that. They put themselves out for me, gave me energy they should have kept for themselves or someone that matters more. And I don’t feel better. So I was right. I am a waste of everyone’s time, because even their generosity doesn’t fix me.”
It’s all lies, of course. Depression lies.
But lies still hurt, still weaken what is already weak. It’s the “fake news” of mental health, but it can still have devastating consequences.
The more insidious lies are the ones about me and my worth, or lack thereof.
There is a part of me that may never believe, no matter how long I try, that anything I do is worthwhile, that it is enough, that it has intrinsic value. Because how can I believe in something of my own, when I can already see how much less it is than another’s? An example is with music. I can sing, sure. I can write lyrics. But I’ll never sing well enough to feel truly okay about it. I’ll never look at a song I wrote and feel that it is sufficient. And then I look at the songs sung by people in the choir, or songs written by Beth, and everything I do feels like crayon scribbles and hoarse shouting in comparison.
I know that there will always be someone better than me at literally everything possible. That’s how the world works. But there’s a difference between “I will never be the best” and “Mine is so much less that it has no worth” and that’s where I get stuck.
In a good frame of mind, I can hold onto this quote from Madeline L’Engle:
My husband is my most ruthless critic. … Sometimes he will say, “It’s been said better before.” Of course. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anyone else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.
In a good frame of mind, I can summon even a spark of defiance. “I may scream into the void, but it’s MY scream, dammit, and I WILL BE HEARD.”
In a good frame of mind, putting any of the truth of myself into the world is worthy enough, and quality matters only in the minds of others.
But I’m not in a good frame of mind today.
If there is a nice thing in this pit of awful, it’s in my self-awareness. I know, even if I can neither feel nor believe it now, that this will pass. No part of me can internalize it, but it’s true nonetheless. I don’t have to feel it or believe it to know that it’s true. This will pass, and I’ll again be able to take pride in what is mine, regardless of how good or not good it is. This will pass and I will be able to feel again that the act of living, of creating, of being myself is worthy in and of itself.
No matter how beaten down and worthless I feel, I know that nothing keeps me down forever.
Sometimes the brain chemicals go wonky. Sometimes the scale slips and the spectrum gets a little heavier on the depression side of bipolar. Sometimes the pain comes, the doubt, the self-hate, the defeat, the loathing, the sorrow.
Right now, that’s all I can feel.
But I know that it won’t beat me.
I can’t summon Defiance or Courage right now. I don’t feel the good things that the people who care for me would offer if I asked. Nothing penetrates the haze.
But today there is still one thing greater than that haze, one thing more powerful still. And to that I cling.
Defiance has gone dormant in me. Endurance is exhausted and doesn’t care to raise its head today. But there is a reason I started my pillars with Honor, and a reason it provides the framework.
I put this up on another entry just about a year ago. It’s a quote from Jane Eyre:
“I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”
In this case, it is the literal truth of where I am at.
I am in a downswing, and the world has lost meaning. I have no value. The outlook is bleak.
But I have given my word to many people, and to myself. I made promises to be there for others, to take care of them, to treat them with compassion, to support them, to laugh with them. I have meetings on my calendar and tasks on my list that rely upon me to accomplish them. These are all vows and agreements I made when I was sane, as it were. When I was not in the dark place that now surrounds me.
So I plant my feet in my Honor. If I cannot believe in the good things, I cannot give up on them either because I gave my word. And if I can hold onto nothing else in this haze, if nothing else is real and true, then my word shall be.
Just because I can’t feel good about things, because I can’t see one iota of worth in myself, that does not give me the right to be forsworn. Just because I would rather give up does not give me the right to break promises. Just because I am nothing does not mean my vows and service to others are similarly nothing.
And as I think on that a while, as I lean on Honor as the pillar which as not forsaken me, then others start to wake up again.
Endurance chuckles like an exhausted boxer in the ring. “Down and out? Not yet.”
Courage opens a sleepy eye. “It doesn’t matter if your heart is screaming. Get up anyway; it’s only pain.”
Defiance hauls in a breath after near suffocation. “If the world is against you, even inside your own head, then the only option is to fight back anyway.”
And they speak together.
“So what if you’re worthless? Worst case scenario is that you are precisely what you feel. So what if you’re right and nothing you contribute can ever matter? So fucking what? Get up. If the best you can do is not bring harm to someone else by keeping your damn word, then do that. If there is NOTHING ELSE in you that matters, then all that’s left are the chains that bind you to obligation. Loath yourself if you want, but you WILL honor those chains until there is no breath left in your body.”
That is why I know, even if I can’t feel it, that this will pass. That is why I know that I won’t be beaten. Because for as long as I am bound in Honor to those I cherish, for as long as I have even one vow outstanding, no matter how I feel, I will have the strength to pull through long enough for everything else to rebound and the haze to fade.
And that is how I will get through today.
Not on the faith that the sun will come up and I’ll feel better tomorrow.
Not because I am loved.
But because I bent the shape of my very self into a thousand promises, put them above everything else. So even if I wanted to lay down and die, I can’t. Not with those vows unfulfilled. They can cut like razors or burn like lava, but they keep me from slipping away.
When you get right down to it, the only real feeling I have left is the love I have for everyone else.
And for them, I will Honor my responsibilities, my promises, my vows.
And for them, I will find a way to Endure the self-hate in order to uphold that Honor.
And for them, that Endurance will become Courage, because fuck pain and fear anyway.
And for them, I will find the Courage once more to Defy even the chemicals in my brain, to throw my head back, and scream, and be heard, and the void will be filled again.
It’s not a smooth process. It drags every part of me over coals and barbed wire and glass shards and gravel. And from moment to moment, I do put my head down and surrender. But those moments pass and the next comes. And because I know that this is not the end, that this cannot be how every breath of my life will feel, because I know that cycles turn and the wheel gives way to a new beginning, I keep going.
I’m not okay. I dunno when I’ll be okay next.
But I’m here. And I have my pillars to which I cling.
Nothing in the world can fix me. But nothing inside me can eradicate me, either.
So, in the end, the only result is success. Even triumph.
Might take me a while, but I’ve got time.
See you on the other side of the haze.
So…yeah, things are really busy. I have something like 5 evenings of meetings in a row this week, and more next week. And then it will be CONvergence!
The blog might go a little fallow in the meantime. Not that, you know, it makes a HUGE difference given my, uh, small but mighty readership. I’m better about Twitter these days because I can put stuff on it from my phone.
But I’m here. And I’ll be here afterwards, too. Possibly with the whole story of why this year is trying so hard to break our community and how, exactly, we’re keeping that from happening.
If you do happen to be in the MN area the weekend after the 4th of July, come come hang out with us at HarmCon on Friday, 11am at CONvergence. Hopefully we’ll record it this year, too, but no promises on when I put the stuff on YouTube. We do have several new songs, though. Including one crowd-sourced parody.
Not even kidding.
Also, crowd-sourcing is a FANTASTIC way to get hilarious gaming stories. Just sayin’.
So if I drop off the map again, I’m sorry in advance. I’ll be back, though. In my own time and my own way, probably, but without fail.
In the meantime, I hope your summer is treating you as well as can be expected. The world is tough for a lot of us right now. For a lot of different reasons.
So take your lesson from this week’s viral adventure.
Make like the MPR Raccoon.
Keep climbing and never give up. Rest when you have to, and know that it’s okay to be scared. We’re all afraid of the fall.
But we were born for this climb. Every one of us.
No matter what specifically your climb is, you can do this.
Climb on, my friends. Climb on.
This song is called “O” by Coldplay, and it has really spoken to me lately:
Flock of birds
Just a flock of birds
It’s how you think of love
And I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly always
Sometimes they arrive
Sometimes they are gone
They fly on
Flock of birds
Into smoke I’m turned
And rise following them up
Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive,
Next you know they’re gone
They fly on
So fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you
Fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I can fly with you
I’m still fighting my way through this downswing, though a restful weekend certainly helped. A friend brought food and comfort over on Friday night, and she leached some of the leftover anguish from the Rise Up concert from my heart. And though the storm goes on, I stand a little stronger against it today.
There are storms in every corner of the world, and in every corner of every human heart — no one is unique in that way. And, like I said last week, because pain is relative, one person cannot necessarily say or know that another’s storm is easier or gentler than their own. Some storms are outside us, a society which is cruel or biased or unjust. Some are inside, like my downswing or the damage done to someone by another. Some are both, a cycle of judgement by the world which reinforces and strengthens the ice daggers within.
We all fight battles, big and small. Some stand on a national stage and fight for their people against an oppressive power. Some crouch in a darkened room and fight despair inside. Some do both, sometimes all at once.
But it all stems from the same choice, the same decision —
“I can and will fight. I can and will a warrior be. It is my nature and my duty.”
The TCWC’s Encore does a version of this song which…well. Make sure you hear it sometime when we perform, and we will blow you away. It’s very, very much worth it. Sarah and I also performed it at CONvergence last year with the help of a friend. Hopefully I’ll get our version on YouTube soon.
This week, I give you this song. For whatever storm you are battling. For whatever darkness seems too deep. For whatever fatigue beats you down. For whatever surrender seems too easy.
Don’t give in.
We are all fierce warriors. In the world, in ourselves, for causes great and greater, because no cause worth fighting for could ever be small.
It is the humanity in us all.
I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday. We were talking about how each of us is doing, how we’re holding together through a rough patch, and we rounded to the topic of spoons per the Spoon Theory. It’s an analogy coined by Christine Miserandino, if you don’t know it, and it helps illustrate the effort that it takes to get through the day with limited energy or health or pain tolerance or illness. Healthy, fully-able-bodied people don’t have to count their spoons because they don’t have to think about the energy expenditures of “everyday” activities. But for those with a chronic illness, or mental illness, or an autoimmune disorder, or a disability, even tasks that might be described as “normal” simply aren’t.
I’ve been close to running out of spoons a lot lately as this downswing chews up my energy and ability to cope. Half the world feels like it’s uphill, or at the top of a flight of stairs, and while I *can* make the climb, it takes something out of me to do it, something I don’t get back easily or quickly.
This literally was my situation this weekend at a choir concert where we had to go up and down several flights of metal stairs and my knee chose not to work without pain and a brace.
But the concert required me to give up spoons in more important ways, too.
It was a collaboration between the TCWC and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. The concert was called “Rise Up!” and was a call to action for social justice. It was fun to be invited, of course, and to share the stage with the ever-outstanding TCGMC. It gave us a chance to sing a few songs we’ll be performing in May, to really work towards something early in the season.
But, most importantly, the concert MATTERED.
This wasn’t a concert for singing “Kumbaya” and telling child-friendly versions of the world we hope to live in someday. This wasn’t a night of celebrating our shared humanity and looking into that potential with optimism and hope.
This was, in many ways, a brutal reckoning of the world as it exists today. And I choose the word “brutal” very deliberately.
We did sing songs about rising up together, about the brave people in whose footsteps we walk, about speaking out for those in need.
But we also sang songs about rape and about murder.
The TCWC will be performing “Quiet” by MILCK in May — it’s a powerful piece that was written to be performed at the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017 and relates to the silence around sexual harassment and sexual assault, domestic violence, and even depression. You can find it here.
After two months of practice, I could mostly sing the song with strength and defiance and not feel the biting of my own ways of identifying with it. I was prepared for that much.
I wasn’t truly prepared for “Til It Happens To You” and the heart-breaking story that accompanied it as told by by a strong, brave man willing to share his rape experience with a room of a thousand strangers.
And on the heels of that, I was even less ready for “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”
I wish I could tell you that you don’t really have to listen to them, that you can accept that these songs exist without needing to engrave them on your heart. I wish I could tell you that our world is a better place than this, that the pain of people who are suffering, who are being hurt, who are being killed — I wish it was the exception.
If I’ve ever hated anything in my life, I hate that this is the norm.
I hate that this is what our world is, hate that I can’t say it’s a new thing, hate that I can’t pretend I didn’t know it was this bad. I did know. I’ve seen it everywhere, from the day my eyes opened. Even if I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was there.
I hate that in this world where we are capable of so much beauty, so much art, so much love and kindness and wonder and wisdom, that we are just as culpable of such harm and hate and evil.
And I hate that it cost me spoons to be a part of that concert, to stand and sing those songs, to hear them sung, to know their painful, inhumane truth — when all I had to endure was singing. If it cost me spoons to be a part of a call to action, what does it cost those for whom the action is most necessary just to live?
It isn’t my fault that I’m a white cis-woman. That I don’t have to live under the same kinds of fears of people of color, or people who are trans. It isn’t my fault that I am able-bodied and I don’t have to live in a world that constantly mistreats disabilities. It’s also not my fault that I am a woman who married a woman — and sometimes we both have to live in a world which can be frightfully cruel and punishing just for that fact.
We are all exactly what we are, and we all have our own challenges. I remind people (and myself) sometimes that pain is relative. For example, I’ve never broken an arm, so if I did, I imagine that would be the worst pain in my life. But someone who has been shot, or stabbed, might think that a broken arm is nothing in comparison. And they’re right. Every person only knows as much pain — or as much joy — as they’ve ever experienced. And you can’t compare my pain to yours, only show empathy and respect for both.
But I know, as a woman married to a woman I actually do know, that the pain of being a part of a concert which was important, which was necessary, which was needed, is absolutely nothing to suffering under the reasons WHY it was important and necessary and needed. To be reminded of the horrors is nothing to living them.
Even so, I still had trouble with my spoons. The number you get at any given moment doesn’t neatly correspond to the number you need, and it isn’t constant from day to day or even minute to minute. Some days, I don’t have to count them. But right now, in this downswing, I do. And right now, in this downswing, I handed them over to be a part of something painful, something necessary.
And it can never be enough. It’s like the thing about “thoughts and prayers.” If giving up all my spoons would make the world better, I would do it in a heartbeat. But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just pray and hope that somehow the world will spontaneously improve. The only actions that work are *actions.* Protesting, voting, having difficult conversations, donating, raising awareness, calling out cruelty where it happens — we have to put boots on the ground, hands in the air, votes in the boxes, dollars in the hands of those with the right power, and words in the minds of people who need to hear them.
This concert was not an *empty* call to action, after all. And I have work to do. We ALL have work to do.
But right now? I still don’t have the spoons. My bipolar brain can only do so much, and today it can’t even do that.
So, for now, I’m going to keep hunting for spoons. I’m going to dig them up, find them in shadows and tucked-away corners. I’m going to hoard them like a dragon with its treasures. I’m going to find as many as I can, to get me through until I don’t need to count anymore.
And then I’ll trade the spoons for another round of actions.
Because it is a privilege that I can choose to do so — and all I can do is make it count.
So, I hit a downswing last week. I warned you at the start, didn’t I? That sometimes things would go sideways because sometimes my brain decides to shake itself all out of balance and all I can do is hold on for the ride? Well, sometime last week, apparently my happy brain chemicals decided to check out for a while and here I am in a downswing.
They’re all different, at least for me. I’ve never been inside anybody else’s head, of course, but for me, every round of depression is different. Sometimes they’re violent and frightening, like a storm in my head and I’m never more than a half-breath away from breaking out sobbing. Sometimes they’re so subtle, so sneaky I don’t even realize I’ve slipped into Downswing Bizarro World until they let up and I look around and go “huh, that’s different.” Sometimes they’re insidious, with a hundred little voices filling up my thoughts, pretending to be me, pretending to speak truth, and telling me every second every awful thing they can come up with to cut into me. Sometimes they’re more physical, the symptoms manifesting like a cold or PMS, and I’m just tired and achey and not sleeping and everything else like being down with a cold minus the cold.
This one has been part physical and part mental. The physical aspect has been draining. My energy reserves have been low no matter how much sleep I got or how much I ate or how much I rested between other things. It was an effort, mental and physical, to get up and do something, anything, and then an impossibility to do more than one; I’d sit back down and have to start all over again.
The mental part has been some mix of the constant voice of self-hate and a propensity to be easily overwhelmed and need to escape. Which was kind of terrible timing.
Since we had planned to have 18 people in the house on Sunday for Ostara.
I don’t celebrate Easter — not being Christian will do that. But I do celebrate Ostara, and I invite my Clan, my family-who-are-friends-who-are-family to come join me. Sarah and I cook a bunch of food, hide plastic eggs in the yard, and prepare baskets of chocolate and goodies (and other non-food goodies for those who prefer) for everyone. And everyone else brings something to share and games to play, and we take a whole afternoon and evening to eat and have fun and spend time together. The kids come, too, and they get their own egg hunt, and then the last few years they’ve vanished into one room to play Legos.
I couldn’t actually tell you how I got the house ready for Ostara this year. I always get less tidy when I’m heading for and then in a downswing, and this was no exception. But, this time, I had to fight almost to the point of tears to get up and do things, from the grocery run to setting up chairs. It was maddening and exhausting and I truly didn’t think I’d manage it. Even with Sarah helping as she could, there’s a freaking metric ton of work to do for that many people in the house. Cleaning, cooking, organizing…
But then, this is my Clan, my family.
And the truth is, if I’d failed, it would have been okay.
If I had needed to cancel Ostara completely, they’d have understood. If I’d been okay to host, but couldn’t do the food, someone else would have taken it over for me. If I’d not been able to set up chairs, someone would have come early to assist (as it is, a few people did come early and they mopped the kitchen for me). If I’d left the house a mess, everyone would have been fine. There would have been no judging, no disapproval, no blame.
Because this is my Clan, and they are amazing.
I spent a huge portion of the party in whatever room was quietest. Games happened at our big table upstairs, and I hid out in the downstairs with the people not playing games just talking. And that was easier than being surrounded by noise. I played with the kids a bit, but less than other years because to have the energy to be good with them was simply beyond me. I didn’t fuss over the food or the mess once things got going, and I didn’t worry about if everyone was individually fine or having fun or happy. I just…settled into a comfortable niche and let everything else go.
And it was all okay.
I wish everyone in the world had a family like this. I wish every family was like this. This Clan of mine…it’s based on trust, on respect, and on love. And there is room for us all to be whatever and whoever we need in it — and we’re all okay with that. So if I am having an off week, or if someone gets horribly sick, or if someone needs help, it’s all fine. Nobody can be everything to everyone, but there is probably somebody in this group who can be what someone else needs for a little while.
All I really needed on Sunday was to be around my Clan, to sit at the side and see them playing together and having fun, and to know that I was perfectly safe, that I was wanted, that I was loved. That’s all I needed. And that’s what they give me.
My family is the BEST.
The downswing goes on and I’m as tired and downtrodden and self-hating as I was before, but I know it’s okay. I know it’s temporary, it’s Brain Out-of-Order Come Back Later time, and it’ll pass. I know that if I get in a jam I can’t handle, or if things go so far sideways I’m falling down, there will be a boatload of people I can reach out to for help, and one of them will come. I know that tomorrow may not be better, or the day after, but that ‘better’ is out there. And I just have to hang on until I stumble on it.
And one day I’ll open my eyes and go, “huh, that was different” and it will be over. And I might be annoyed that I missed Ostara and had to spend it in a downswing, but even that is okay. Because my Clan will be here next Ostara, and the one after that, and all the parties in between. My family isn’t going anywhere, and neither am I.
My downswings are sine curves, so they never truly bottom out and fall off the graph. They can go pretty damn far down, but not forever. At some point, the graph will curve and I’ll be heading up above the suckitude again. And, in the meantime, even if it feels like falling, I won’t hit bottom. I’ve got too many people to catch me.
And even my downswing brain can’t take that away from me.