Even typing that is confusing. It’s something I’ve been preparing for, but I still feel numb. I don’t handle death very well. It’s been six years since my grandmother died and I still have dreams about her. I never dreamed about her when she was alive.
I wasn’t close to my grandparents. This week, I’ve spent a lot of time outside, going through memories, and I was not pleased to learn that many of them are negative, including my first memory. My spiritual director has been telling me we will work on going through bad experiences and finding the good in them, so they’re no longer hard to visit. I’ve been trying to do that, but it’s hard, because I was so young. I’ve been remembering being at my grandparent’s house and playing with my cousins. I remember the big backyard and driveway, the basement where we played old records of “Camelot” and watched “Singin’ in the Rain” a million times. I’ve been trying not to dwell on the fact that in those memories, my grandparents are not really in them. They’re around, their home is the setting, but they’re not there.
I think my grief is for my mom. I saw her as the primary caregiver for my grandparents, and I saw how much she loved them. She was always taking my grandpa to get plants and gardening with him. She was always consistent about calling to check in. With both of them gone, there’s a huge empty space now, and I know it will take time for her to process that. It’s my job to be there for her where I can.
At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.
The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.
Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.
Not too much of a stretch, right?
It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.
That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.
During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.
I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.
The townhouse is the closest place I have to a “childhood home,” simply because we lived there the longest of any place. There was the house in Shoreview with the apple tree, the two houses in Europe, one with the windy staircase and one with the big yard and huge cobwebs, the house in Big Lake with the giant hill, and then the townhouse, which we saw built from the ground up. We moved there when I was in eighth grade and I remember not being happy about it, because it meant moving like an hour away from the very few friends I had. A lot happened in that townhouse.
It was where we lived when we started high school, where I dragged myself out of bed every morning when it was still dark, and where I had to put on a school uniform I loathed with every fiber of my being. It was where we went on countless walks around the development, where we biked and rollerbladed. It was where we were when I decided I needed help and I was officially diagnosed with depression. It was where we brought Yoshi from his breeder and where he sat on the porch and barked at everything. It was here that I held hands with my first boyfriend, and where Chris and I took our engagement pictures. My friends threw me a sweet sixteen surprise party. My family had holiday celebrations here with my mom’s twin sister and her family, it was here that I decided I was going to be a writer, not a lawyer, and where I had long conversations with my dad about politics and the future.
I’ve always known my parents would move and since we moved relatively frequently, I’ve never been super sentimental about places. Still though, a lot of memories happened between these walls, and it’s important to reflect on them. The future is still ahead, and there are new memories waiting to be made.
In counseling this week, Liz talked about how people with anxiety tend to over think things. We’re so focused on what’s going inside our heads, that we end up ignoring what’s happening around us, and it’s hard to just enjoy things. That makes sense to me. For the periods of time when I’ve had especially bad anxiety and depression, I don’t remember much besides the nervousness. The last time I was in school, for example, is just a blur of fighting panic attacks, falling asleep in whatever class I actually managed to go to, and avoiding people at all costs. Large chunks of my childhood are also hazy and my perspective on how long certain experiences took is off (I was at one school for just a year, but it seems like it was much longer than that when I think back).
The weird thing is I’m pretty good at actually experiencing things as they come. My social anxiety isn’t especially noticeable to others because I’m able to engage and pretend that I’m an extrovert at a convincing level. It’s the anticipating of events that creates the worst anxiety. Am I supposed to “live in the moment” during those times, when all I can do is wait? Something that could help with that is to not give myself too much time to get agitated. Yes, I may think that I need an hour before a class to get ready, but realistically, do I, really? It might actually help to feel a little rushed, to focus on getting dressed and so forth, instead of getting ready with twenty minutes left to just sit and think up excuses for why I can’t leave the house. If I’ve got a social engagement that is making me uneasy, I sometimes just watch TV right up until the moment I absolutely have to find my shoes and get my purse and get out the door.
Anything that directs my attention outwards instead of inwards has got to be a good idea, when the inside is unstable and only serves to agitate.
How do you move on from something that happened a long time ago, but still feels emotionally fresh? When the person who hurt you will never really know how you felt and it’s impossible to confront them? When you are doing well without them, you live a full life, but there’s still a cove of bitterness inside you, echoing with old conversations and emotions. Even though this person no longer has power over me, they have power over my past, over my memory of the relationship. I’ve let go of them, I don’t miss them in my life, but I still can’t quite get free. Their name is like a trigger and the bullet is anger.
I’ve been talking to my counselor about this for two weeks. I was a little reluctant to bring it up, I mean, it’s been YEARS, I’ve talked to other counselors about this, shouldn’t I be over this by now? The thing about letting go and moving on is that there isn’t a “should,” there isn’t a timeline. It doesn’t even matter if it seemed like a little thing, one friend in a score of relationships, one breakup, one hurtful conversation…if it feels like a big deal, it is a big deal, and should be dealt with as such. Otherwise it’s just delaying the recovery.
This person made me feel crazy and as if they didn’t care about me. I spent years going over every exchange, every memory, trying to achieve clarity, but when another person besides oneself is involved, it’s impossible to know anything for sure. Their intentions will forever be shrouded in mystery, and my counselor has told me again and again that I can’t feel responsible for their responses. “Their reactions were about them, not about you,” she says. “They made you feel like you weren’t worth it, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t.” That I have always known. People have rarely been able to make me feel as if I’m not worth loving or worth the effort. It’s not so much about needing the person to validate my worth. It’s about meeting my aggressive need for them to know that I don’t need them to validate my worth. If they don’t know that, I get angry at them. How dare they possibly think that they still affect my well-being? How pretentious.
I just really, really want certain people to know I’m doing great without them, because deep down, I care about what they think of me. I’m still assigning them credibility. Moving on is stripping away that credibility. Moving on is sometimes perceived as being flippant of that entire person. Oh, them? Pff. They’re a jackass. I’ve moved on. Hmm? Have you? I want my moving on to be gentler, but still complete. Oh, that person? Yeah, I used to know them, but now I don’t. Simple. Not mean. Not bitter. Just simple.
When I was in high school, I signed up for a jazz camp at the store where I took guitar lessons. My teacher had given me the info and I was pretty excited about it. I liked learning blues chords and the improv exercises we had done, so a day camp-type of environment would be cool. Plus, I could meet other musicians. I had always wanted to be part of a band and spent a lot of time day-dreaming about meeting my music kindred spirits, writing songs, and becoming superstars. I was pretty nervous the first day, but I clenched my jaw and carried my white Fender into the store as confidently as possible.
Everyone there was at least four years younger than me. Most of them knew each other. I was the only guitarist. During our lunch break, some of the kids talked about walking to Target and when I came back from the bathroom, I was met with an empty room and saw that “some” had turned into “everyone but me.” I knew it wasn’t because they were actively rejecting me. They just forgot I was there. Like I was invisible.
When my mom came to pick me up, she asked me how it went. I burst into tears.
All my life, it seems like I’m always starting things I don’t finish. Jazz camp, law/mock trial camp, track, voice lessons, guitar lessons…it takes a lot of guts to just walk into something new and most of the time, just doing something for a few days is enough. When I was younger, I would dread waking up for something and even more dread telling my parents I wanted to stop. I hated being thought of as a quitter. I hated losing the money spent paying for things a lot of kids never would get to do. I hated the emotional pattern I was developing of starting and stopping.
That’s probably why the thought of delaying school is so terrifying to me. That feeling of failure, of weakness, the fear of facing my parents, my husband, the world, and saying, “I can’t do it,” has been haunting me childhood. I hear the mantra chant of “good people don’t quit.” Protestant work ethic and the American way. Good people face challenges and push through the anxiety and fear, and they’re better of for it. I went to gymnastics, piano lessons, recitals, talent shows, plays, horseback riding camp, sports, German language camp, and I grit my teeth and pushed through everything I could because that’s what people are supposed to do. Except I never felt better. It never got easier. It’s gotten worse.
I don’t blame anyone. I don’t blame my parents. They were doing what parents do and most of the time, these were things that I wanted to do. I just couldn’t do it and that hurt everyone. It still hurts me. I know it’s not good to linger on the past, and I really don’t, but sometimes, one of the ghosts of a dream flutters in and I wonder what could have been if I had kept singing, if I had kept playing guitar, if I had played softball. It’s agonizingly difficult to not despise the people whose dreams come so easily to them. I know people who have the talent and the opportunity and they just waltz into whatever it is they’ve always wanted. Their brains aren’t rattling their bones with fear, their lungs aren’t deflating like slashed balloons, their blood isn’t freezing in their veins. They don’t know. They will never know. That is what is the hardest for me to accept right now.