Sunday, June 29, 2014

De-Pathologizing the Human Experience


There’s been an article floating around Facebook lately, that I’ve found myself afraid to link to it, even though reading it was one of the most gratifying things I’ve done for myself lately. I’ve been gathering courage and other necessary emotions, so here it is:

Although some of what is referred to in this article rests on a more serious side of the spectrum of mental illness, something clicked when I read this that I hadn’t really been able to articulate until now.

Yeah, I thought. What if there’s nothing wrong with me and there’s actually more RIGHT with me because of how I feel -- and how much I feel?

As far as “mental illness” goes, I’m not even on the radar. Yes, I’ve dabbled with depression. Yes, I know and have dealt with addiction and mental illness in others, and a lot of even deeper shit of my own that I’m not interested in getting into here. But to the average person looking at my life, I look pretty normal: I am a 32-year-old freelancing woman who is building a life that can be as nomadic or stationary as I wish, battling demons both quietly and out loud here on my blog, and dealing with—I have discovered – many things that many people feel. I know this because very often an invisible audience member will peek up briefly to tell me that what I write applies to them, and that they admire my ability to say it out loud.

Anyone who’s been reading my blog at all has probably noticed some themes. Please don’t hate me for being different; let me try to explain why I do this is one of them. The deeper root of this is an even simpler sentence: please tell me I’m not crazy for being this way.

There’s a lot in my head. But you know what? There’s a lot that’s NOT in my head, invisible audience, and that article pointed it out. I have thought I was crazy because I could not make myself happy with the things that we’re told we’re supposed to be happy with. In our society, there must be something wrong if you have everything anyone could ever want — shelter, food, family, relationships, vacations, even! — and yet you still find yourself restless, nomadic, deeply introspective and unable to rest within the role you’ve been given. But what if — WHAT IF — that lingering depression, the melancholy that comes after spending an evening with people discussing things you don’t care about is your entire being telling you not that you’re crazy, but that your real responsibility in this lifetime lay elsewhere? What if those niggling feelings of doubt and fear and restlessness were your psyche trying to tell you that there was something more for you out there, outside of the existence of “having it all,” when "all" is a predefined notion set by someone else, with no regard for the yearnings you have in the middle of the night, when everything is quiet and you're exhausted beyond all belief and surrounded by all you've created, but you can't help but dream of something different?

This is where I have arrived, invisible audience. I am done arguing. I am done explaining. And I am done trying to justify my actions in a way that makes them sound not crazy. Because there is no fighting the cloud that makes me feel crazy. It is a non-entity just as invisible and strong as gravity, and the trick is not to fight it, but go dive into the ocean, where the rules around gravity are different; where I have always known how to float when others sink.

I have been really angry lately. And that anger is a new feeling. It’s not polite, you see; it will not follow the social norms I have been taught about respecting my elders and not interrupting. It would make me look crazy if I let it erupt out of me, but you know what? As far as that spectrum goes, my craziness is already established. I burned some shit in a pile in my yard the other day just for the hell of it. I’ve been standing naked in the rain a lot. I have shut the door to my bedroom for more privacy in a house I live in alone. I’ve been singing loudly and badly on purpose on walks, and I have given up on trying to explain my reasons for anything. Because sometimes I don’t have reasons, invisible audience. Sometimes I am simply sad, followed by being simply angry, followed by being simply and profoundly grateful that underneath all this gunk, I have found that feeling ME is not as crazy as I was led to believe. 

So instead of scrambling around trying to rid myself of the half of the feelings on the spectrum that I learned were signs of a problem, I’ve decided to acknowledge that they are signs from myself that something needs to change: something is not working, and something else can take its place. When I’m tired, I take a nap. When I’m angry, I snap at people. When I’m happy, I whistle, sing and dance in my yard. And when it’s all over, I am me, all of me: all a human is supposed to be. 

Love and wholly human kisses

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Psychic Pain Scale

Ally Brosh’s pain scale is perhaps one of the best ones I have ever seen; it certainly makes me laugh, which has definitely been proven to help. It occurred to me, however, that while we’re pretty good at talking about physical pain, psychic pain is not something anyone talks much about, at least in the same context.

If I break my foot I wear a cast. I hobble around and people get up to let me sit down, carry my groceries and hold doors open. If I am pale and tell you my stomach hurts, you will either offer me food or not, depending on what might help me feel better.

What would you say, however, if I wore my psychic pain scale number on my face?

I have a pretty simple existence here, and I did that on purpose. The sort of digging I’m doing into my beliefs, ideas and life takes up a lot of energy and a lot of time, and though I can see the micro steps making monumental differences, I know that many people don’t see much more than a 30-something without a car working part time and hanging out watching the World Cup at the local bar.

“What have you possibly got to worry about?” someone asked me the other day.

“I’m surprised. You should be further along than still believing that shit,” someone else said.

“There’s always something you have to go through. You can’t just run away every time something comes up,” someone said when I moved to Panama.

Would they have said the same thing if I were lying in a hospital bed, recovering from a broken back? Would someone who came to visit have said, “Gee Morgan, I thought you’d be walking by now. You should be further along than this.”? Would anyone be giving it a second thought if I had cancer and were sitting in a rehab facility, taking it easy, eating healthy food, working part time or going to physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that had gone weak around the bone that broke?

What have I got to worry about? Well, you just don’t know, do you? Because we are a society that does not talk about its psychic pain, its symptoms are harder to spot and talking about how you’re really feeling isn’t actually ok. If I don’t tell you the exact nature of my pain, it can’t really be that bad, can it? If I can't tell you I shattered a femur; that I'm on mountains of pain killers; if I am not pale, limping; if I am able to eat and enjoy some time out with friends, does that mean I don’t have anything to worry about? You wish. We all wish. We all act like that’s true. We’re all in motherfucking denial that this very real yet invisible thing exists: that it has weight, body and gloms onto the soul.

Like physical pain, psychic pain can come in waves, and it’s easy to forget when the pain ebbs. For a little while, there’s a profound feeling of NOT being in pain, then it quickly fades into normality until the psychic pain ratchets itself up again. That means I – thankfully – have minutes, hours and days where I can focus on the beauty of life around me. Those moments buoy me when the other moments feel dark, when I am confused because the pain I’m feeling cannot be ascribed to a certain part of my body and will not be soothed by ice packs or heating pads, ibuprofen or casts.

What does help is pressure: a good strong hug; the weight of the sun on my back; cold water and gravity pushing against my skin; the edge of the paper against my fingers when I turn the page of a good book; and laughter pressing into my ears, especially when it’s my own.

You can’t ever know, invisible audience. And they don’t have to tell you. But the next time someone says something about how tired they are, how sick they feel for no reason, how they’re going through something tough, maybe just reach out and take their hand. Because the words weren’t created for describing this sort of pain, and the culture wasn’t either, but the pressure of human touch can transcend all that. Maybe, just maybe, it will lessen the pain somewhat, without any need to know its cause.

Love and psychic kisses