Updated: Feb 3
I'm just a normal boy that sank when I fell overboard. My ship would leave the country... but I'd rather swim ashore.
You never know what your next Christmas will look like.
It was my first one without Belly. I noticed it was the little things that tripped me up, like noticing that my auto-correct now suggests "passed away" when I type Belly's name. I find this sad and interesting in turn. Using euphemisms is a way we craft a verbal buffer between ourselves and a topic we find discomfort in. Our society uses a lot of euphemisms for death and loss. I know myself to be a typically frank and open person; I have several experiences with death and generally use clear language. So it surprises me to see that I have relied very heavily on a euphemism these past few months. Mostly, it makes me sad.
I am three weeks into a thanatology course - my only elective this term. This class is focused on the study of bereavement and death, and the scientific measurements of the loss and healing processes. It's not recommended to take such a course if you have experienced a recent loss, as the topics will likely spark a reaction from you. The course is also not intended to be a replacement for therapy - it's an education on loss, dying, and living. Belly's death was recent enough that I was concerned about my ability to handle the course material, but I felt it was very important that I at least try. After reviewing the course syllabus and the topics we're covering, I'm certain of two things: this class will make me very emotional, and the education I receive will be life-changing.
My therapist recently asked me where I was at, mental health-wise. I'm no longer in crisis mode - a relief to be able to say - but I am still hovering in post-crisis. This means I am close enough to the crisis experience to be able to reflect on some of the things that advertise what state I'm in, and use that information to work on my Wellness Recovery Action Plan. This means I am also close enough to being well that I am able to plan for my future. I mentioned to my therapist that for the first time, I have realized that I have a future self, and that I want to take care of Her because She's real. This future She is also relying on me learning things now - that's how I become Her. My therapist loved that I saw Future Self as separate and wants me to view my past self in a similar way. This is a struggle for me, because I actually have had two distinct Past Selves that I have long struggled to hold together. My therapist is adamant that these versions of a past Her are deserving of compassion and forgiveness. All these other Selves are different from Me.
Not knowing how to think, I scream aloud, begin to sink. My legs and arms are broken down with envy for the solid ground. I'm reaching for the life within me. How can one man stop his ending?
As people learn more about something, their thinking becomes more abstract and they cannot remember what their thinking was like before the “change.” In academics, it can be all too easy to believe you knew or understood something earlier than you did, and write about it in a way that puts you in a better light. This is particularly obvious in empirical manuscripts - if a hypothesis is not formed before the experiment or data collection takes place, you can feel that you would have known something "obvious" without incurring the knowledge that made it obvious in the first place. A lot of the therapeutic process is feeling followed by thinking followed by action. The acts of feeling and thinking and even acting on goals are things that often come naturally to us. I think this is part of the reason why there is a lot of negative connotation to therapy. After all, why pay someone hundreds of dollars a month in order to do things with them that are free for you to do at home?
As someone with ADHD and c-PTSD, I struggle with every one of those steps. I have emotional dysregulation, so the feelings are often too much for a situation, or sometimes even incorrect in some capacity. (Not that my feelings are invalid, just that I tend to feel shame or guilt for things that are not shameful.) I struggle to focus and have a tendency to avoid thinking about painful things, so my distractible mind strays from the hard work of thinking about my feelings in a constructive manner. I have executive dysfunction on top of it all; even if I manage to muddle through the feelings forest and the thinking traps, it is incredibly difficult to cue myself through every step of an action from beginning to completion.
As I learn more about my diagnoses, I am better able to understand the ways I need help. It is sometimes easy for me to think I have known some of these things, perhaps in a subconscious manner, because they seem so obvious to me now. But these new pieces of knowledge are hard-earned. I have spent hours researching how to thrive with my disorders, but even in learning where my pitfalls are, I find myself still falling into those pits. Simply put, I need therapy in order to be coached through the work of feeling and thinking and acting. Therapists are experts at this. I'm doing what any novice should do when they are struggling with a new skill: seek guidance from someone with experience.
Where is the coast guard? I keep looking each direction for a spotlight - give me something.
I have been enjoying my unstructured blogging. While I did not know this when I began writing about my mental health and therapy process, I have realized that blogging is an incredibly useful tool for one very specific reason: This blog allows me to document the evolution of thought and knowledge of myself over time and through experience. This means I get to remember my thinking before the "change" and I get to enjoy the informed thinking I have earned. This blog works to keep me honest about what I knew and what I know. It used to terrify me to think I'd eventually put a mistake out there on the Internet, where people love to attack you when you're wrong. But I've realized that this is also important, because it introduces accountability. My thinking will change over time. I will definitely be wrong sometimes. If it's all here and someone besides me can see it, then I can become better sooner. I do feel guilty about not blogging more often, but I'm determined to allow myself time to process things fully, rather than stick to some predetermined schedule. I'm finally having faith in my ability to return to this, even if weeks pass between writings. So... I began thinking about and drafting this blog post in December - pretty much the instant I'd posted Pride In The Wound. I was in the thick of the holiday season and feeling sad about Belly and even feeling sad about the moments I wasn't feeling sad about Belly - like somehow that meant I was forgetting her. But I'd spent August through November navigating by feel alone. By mid-December, I was ready for the thinking part of the process. It's well-documented that Bellatrix dying was an acute trauma and induced a crisis state for me. Now that I'm post-crisis (and officially in the thinking phase of my therapy), I get to break down the specifics of what Crisis means for me.
When I am in Crisis, I will stop planning for any future. I will exist only in that day. Sometimes, I will only exist in that moment. I will be extremely irritable. I will lash out verbally. My creativity will die. I will eat emotionally, mostly sweets and carb-heavy comfort foods. I will spend endless hours on my phone. I will stop sleeping for long periods of time, and then sleep for too many hours. I will miss class. I will miss work. I will stop contacting friends and family. I will also stop replying to the people who contact me. I will forget... Details, events, processes, words, names. I will spend all my money and if I have access to credit, I will spend that too. I will stop showering and will stay in certain clothes for several days in a row. I will not cook and will not do household tasks beyond the absolute bare minimum - and often, not even that. I may experience suicidal ideation - not an active thought or plan of committing suicide, but a general consideration of suicide as an avenue for no longer experiencing all of the above. This Crisis will not be limited to any specific length of time, and may not appear to be reasonable to anyone else. I will feel ashamed of my Crisis response. I will feel guilty as well.
That's some hefty shit to throw down here. But... it was some hefty shit to lug around for six months. In my objective thinking, I needed to recognize everything I had done or thought in Crisis, because that would guide me in developing a plan for moving forward. I am finally learning to feel compassion for my Crisis self, a past Her that encompasses my ultimate darkness. I have been working diligently on my Wellness Recovery Action Plan, and in doing so, have seen glimpses of my Well self. I am seeing more and more Light.
Now waking to the Sun, I calculate what I had done, like jumping from the bow - yeah - just to prove that I knew how.
Euphemisms about death and loss typically serve as a buffer, but there are many other euphemisms out there about so many other topics. Those euphemisms work more like masks, trying to allude to a taboo or a profane topic without the "rudeness" of the original. My Grief, Death and Dying professor is very good at pointing out a euphemism; after all, it's important to be direct and specific in science.
I sometimes feel as though I am living as a euphemism of myself. I have many traits and interests that are profane or offensive in some regard. (Ding-dings, anyone?) In order to talk about myself or my interests, I feel as though I must mask them or mention them obliquely. With my Death professor being a self-appointed Euphemism Cop, I'm trying to observe the habit and gently change it. This dovetails with my current Thinking phase of therapy; I'm trying to observe all my behaviors in order to begin gently changing them.
Individuals with ADHD thrive when they have regular routines in place. I have not had a consistent routine since I was a child, but I have made several attempts to craft a new one over the years. My past experience is that every time I try to start a new routine, I wind up viewing it as a blank slate. This blank slate is filled with idealistic plans that have no room for error, and then I get it all fucked up because duh... To err is human.
This time, I’m trying something new. In those hours of research I mentioned, I discovered a series of how-to videos that broke down how to build a routine for yourself based on what your current habits are. I have thus spent quite some time identifying my current habits, and then crafted a series of cues and accountability checks for me to build new habits. I'm also leaving plenty of room for error. If I force myself into a routine that is too stringent, I will become bored and quit.
I also have a tendency to struggle with routines because they take things I want to do and turn them into things I have to do. Even if it is Me saying "You gotta...", I will stubbornly ignore it. At least, that is how I have behaved in the past. I started working on a paradigm shift in October - transforming my negative beliefs into positive ones that better matched my positive outlook. I've reached a place where I am seeing my crafted routines as logical suggestions, or as a mini-map of how to accomplish all I'd like to do. I'm seeing these things less as requirements and more as options. And by tying these optional steps to habits I already have, I've found that I have more follow-through than I ever believed myself capable of.
More and more, I see myself as possessing positive traits. I have a stronger belief in my own commitment to things, and a greater compassion and understanding of the times when I do not meet all my own goals. My paradigm has shifted. First by feeling, and now by thinking. I'm even getting to start acting on these goals of mine.
My favorite method of building a routine in the past was to create a color-blocked schedule in Excel, broken down to the ten-minute mark. I'd spend a solid eight hours drafting The Perfect Life on paper, and then I'd print it out and tape it to my bedroom door and gaze at it in the morning with high hopes. By Day Two I'd rip it down in frustration. Why wasn't this exquisitely crafted schedule making me a perfect adult already?!
For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that tweaking my schedule in the areas it didn't work was not a failure, but an adaptation. Anything less than 100% perfection caused me to scrap the whole idea and just wing it. If the last decade has taught me anything, it's that wingin' it won't let me lead the Ideal Life. This time around, I've been determined to approach things differently.
What exactly is my ideal life? Honestly, it's pretty basic. I want to get to places on time and fully prepared, and I want to have plenty of down time for the fun stuff in between. The steps for accomplishing such a monumental change in lifestyle are a little daunting on paper, but breaking things down to their smallest component has helped lead me to greater success.
For example, I have been regularly brushing my teeth and washing my face. This is the first time I've done so with any consistency since I was a child. I paired these new habits of washing my face and brushing my teeth with familiar cues - I tend to use the bathroom when I first wake up and right before going to bed. So now entering the bathroom sparks a question in me - is there something else I need to do while I'm here to take care of myself? The question is backed up by a scheduled Task reminder on my phone. This way, I am also able to begin associating my habits with particular times. As my success grows, so does my self-confidence. As my more positive habits strengthen, so too does my new paradigm.
Wish I was much more masculine; maybe then I could learn to swim like, fourteen miles away.
At the end of 2019, I simply felt exhausted. After all, I'd spent half the year in a significantly unwell state, and was barely wobbling out of that Crisis mode by the time 2020 graced us. Our New Year was low-key as a result. The most intense thing I did was a 13-card tarot pull to forecast my journey through 2020, which was something I'd long wanted to do but only ever remembered when I was halfway through the year already.
I am not very "good" at tarot. I do not have the cards memorized and I rely pretty heavily on Biddy Tarot to decode messages for me. That said, I have a deck that I connect with very closely, and found that my 2020 pull was powerfully insightful. My pre-pull messages were the VII Pentacles and reverse VI Wands, which told me to expect a long-term view and a focus on private achievement. Additionally, these cards encouraged perseverance and acknowledging a personal definition of success, which would come from my investment in building sustainable results. I was also warned to be wary of egotism in myself. Of the thirteen cards I pulled, six were Swords. The suit of Swords deals with the mental level of consciousness, which is centered on mind and intellect. Swords symbolize a balance between intellect and power, but need to be balanced by Cups and Wands (Feeling and Spirit) to have a positive effect. The suit of Swords is heavily associated with masculine energy and the element of Air. My Venus sign is Aquarius, one of the astrological Houses related to the suit of Swords. Very specifically, the card I pulled for the Theme of 2020 was the reverse V Swords. The overarching expectation for this year will be reconciliation and making amends, healing past resentments. The V Swords represents a conflict I have tried to walk away from but am followed by, and thus indicates a re-opening of old wounds and a potential re-experiencing of the emotions surrounding those wounds. Swords in general are seeking solutions to primarily mental struggles and resolutions to conflicts or arguments. This is very apt, considering my current journey in therapy.
My therapist and I will be using a relatively new technique called Lifespan Integration. I will cue memories of my past Self and connect them to my body. This process is intended to promote rapid healing of past trauma without re-traumatizing; I won't be spending a lot of time reliving the specifics of my traumas. The technique is meant to gently reconnect the body and the mind, and to unite the past with the present. We will spend the first two weeks of February doing double sessions to work through this process, which she warns me will be overwhelming. My January card is the III Pentacles. As a suit, Pentacles deals with the physical or external health, as well as money, creativity and work. The suit of Pentacles also deals with the self-esteem and ego. Pentacles are associated with the element Earth and my Rising sign, Capricorn. Aaron is a Virgo, which is another of the three astrological Houses associated with Pentacles. The III in particular is focused on teamwork and collaboration. January will be spent working with others to achieve big results - particular to create a comprehensive plan and follow a schedule. January 2020 will be a month of learning and implementation.
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan will be completed in the next few days. My newly-minted plan for routine has been slowly become a series of habits. This comprehensive plan and new schedule are major tools in preparing myself for the coming memory review I will go through in the first part of this Lifespan Integration. If I am to trust my tarot - and I genuinely do - then my Theme card advises that I aim to forgive and move forward, to create positive change.
It's midnight's late reminder of the loss of her, the one I love. I thought of just [her] face; relaxed, and floated into space.
I have made a lot of progress past Crisis. I've been flashing a light around in my darkness, trying to see the edges of it all as best I can. I'm erring a lot. I still have sleeping issues, generally insomnia. I experienced a flashback a little over a week ago -the first in a long while, brought on by several small circumstances that piled into one heavy cloud of oh-my-god-I-am-not-okay right in the middle of a gas station in Newberg. These changes are not all coming easily, and I am imperfectly adhering to my routine. But I have learned that if it is something worth doing, it is better to do 10% than nothing at all.
And I am finally seeing the work of caring for myself as something worth doing.
I anticipate the beginning portion of February to be very intense. I am essentially taking the things I've learned from Thinking and am going back into the dark to Feel some stuff. A lot of that stuff has been avoided by me for a very long time. I am a little terrified of what's coming. But more than the fear, I feel hope, and even a little faith. Hope that this plunge into darkness will not last too long, and a little faith that I will come out once more, still holding onto what I've learned so far. My coursework in Grief, Death and Dying has further solidified my interests in adjusting my career plan. I wanted to be a mortician quite badly once, but was counseled out of the notion by a high school career counselor, who steered me toward therapy instead. I've had such a shake-up in my education path that it only follows I adjust my career a smidge. Talking frankly about death and sadness are fairly taboo in many circles. I believe I am being prepared to provide a bridge from the island of Loss and Death to the land of being Okay and Alive for others. Art therapy and grief counseling seem to be perfect matches for me, and I am finding a renewed sense of passion for my eventual career. But first, this ocean.
May the coming waves both embolden and humble me. My Future Self is waiting on the shore. I'm sinking to the bottom of my Everything that freaks me out. How can I keep up this breathing? Let the waves up and take me down. Let the hurricane set in motion. Let the rain of what I feel right now come down. Sometimes it feels just like I'm falling in the ocean. I'm treading for my life, believe me. Set front row in my need to fall. xo, Cate