Monday, September 29, 2014

The Music Man: In the Beginning *trigger warning*

I first met The Music Man (MM) in the winter of 2004, when I was 21 years old. I was taking my first psychology class at McGill, and it was a massive, 550+ person lecture session about cognitive processes and the brain. I felt a bit odd and different at first -- I was the only person to attend class in pajamas, and one of very few not taking notes on a laptop -- but soon I got sucked into the material and didn't feel anything but enthrallment. It turned out I still loved psychology even after spending time in the mental hospital!

MM was our professor: engaging, funny, dizzyingly clever, and quite attractive to boot. I have to admit it wasn't hard listening to him tucked away in the middle of the room. After all that had gone on in college, it was nice to be anonymous in a big giant class.

After our first midterm (which, naturally, I aced) our teacher sent out e-mails to the top performers in the class, congratulating us and telling us we were free to come talk to him about any of the course material. As it happened (doesn't it always?) I disagreed with one of the models of attention that we were studying, and made an appointment to argue it out and see if my dislike was actually based in reason.

MM had a tiny wind-up brain on his desk that walked around, and was just as engaging in real life as at the front of a classroom. Talking about brains together, I realized that I was powerfully, magnetically attracted to him. I don't know if it was because he was so smart, because he was so good looking, because he was the teacher, or because he was 25 years older than me, but whatever it was it was totally happening. I had my first real teacher-crush, which I'd somehow avoided all through high school. Go me!!

At any rate, we met once more during the semester, and that was that.

Summer came around, and we somehow ended up planning to meet up and grab a beer together, talk about the course, how things were going as a whole, and -- of course -- brains and theories of mind. I thought to myself, sometimes it is good to score at the top of your class, and maybe there is something to not being totally anonymous after all.

We got along well, and it was a nice evening. I felt comfortable poking fun of him a little, and we started learning more about one another as people. I was totally, totally attracted to him. We went back to his office, hugged goodbye, and parted ways.

In early fall, we decided to meet up for coffee. It was a lovely day, and we took our paper cups out onto McGill's lawn to chat. Some stuff was just light, but other things were more serious: how I felt after the formal hearing against my college professor was fully behind me, his divorce. Eventually, he looked at me point-blank and asked me if I wanted to have sex with him. I was totally flummoxed -- it hadn't occurred to me that he might be interested in me back! I didn't know quite what to say, and ended up replying that I wasn't sure.

He talked about how it might be good for me to sleep with another teacher and have it not turn out the way it did before; that if I could teach my brain a new pattern using similar stimuli, living with the trauma might be easier. He even said that he was willing to help me out, and it's not like he'd be going out of his way, because he really wanted to have sex with me, too!

In the end, we went back to his house, and did all the obvious things. For a couple of months, we hooked up about once a week. Around February I started to feel weird about it all, and stopped getting together with him: it was all so...superficial. He e-mailed me a few times, and then eventually stopped.

I saw him again, from afar, during the spring of 2005, when we both attended Daniel Dennet's talk at the Montreal Neuro. I started thinking about him again, and it didn't hurt that I was pretty newly single and missing the intimacy. Over the summer, we got back in touch and started seeing one another again, but it didn't last beyond the start of school. I was in my last semester, and beginning the major depression that ultimately led me to try and kill myself in winter 2006. I just didn't have the time, the energy, or the interest. My psychiatrist kept repeating that he thought this whole casual relationship with him (him in particular) was a bad idea. And, frankly, I was feeling a little weirded-out by the way it began -- with his suggestion that it might be psychologically good for me. It started to feel a little...disingenuous...a little...manipulative...a little...maybe even unethical?

At any rate, I counted it as a learning experience and put it behind me. We were friendly enough -- keeping in touch on facebook and sending messages every few months -- so it seemed to have worked out for the best. I was happy that we could still be friends, and my life felt that small measure richer for knowing him.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ye Olde Homestead (or, a post composed entirely of rant)

Yes, I know, I am a terrible daughter. Or at least I feel like one every time I put off going home to visit with my parents. It's difficult to find an excuse not to go over when some of my things are still living at their house. I'm just so much happier here, in my own space, in my own little world, with no one intruding on my privacy, my routines, my emotions, and my life. I'm so much more at peace.

It isn't that I don't love and appreciate my family: I'm pretty sure that I do. But when I see them, when I'm in their house, I just feel so...unhappy. I feel like the familiar walls are crushing me. I feel numb and anxious at the same time. I find myself slipping too easily into old patterns of behavior. My mother encourages me to eat my feelings, maybe because she does it too, and when I visit with her I do -- even though I know sticking to a proper diet is crucial to maintaining my equilibrium. I feel terrible now, tearful and uncomfortable the way too much food always makes me feel -- heavy and suffocated. I'll feel heavy and bad for the next few days until it wears off. 

I can't afford to do this right now. 

I don't want to do this right now.

It isn't always possible to cut the people and things that make you unhappy out of your life. I'm not an island alone in the middle of an ocean. I'm connected, intimately, with people I have no desire to hurt. They would never understand it if I said I didn't want to hear from them for a while, until I can hold onto the person I want to be when I'm with them, the person I know I can become if I let myself change and grow. Change is slow and fragile, and it would certainly be easier if I wasn't surrounded by people who, in one way or another, rely on me being the same as I've always been. They would never understand if I said that what I need is time to be completely alone in the world, without a family and without a home: no phone calls, no emails, no visits. 

I understand how people can go into a fugue and find themselves in a new place with no idea of who they are or where they come from. The mind is powerful, and Lord knows it's easier to build a new life without the old one following you around. It isn't possible for most of us to leave the past behind us and begin completely again: you can't erase your memory and your connectedness like a chalkboard.  

But I feel like I can't breathe. I feel an unnameable dread. I feel alone when I am with them, and uncomfortable in their space. I need it to be over, but I will never be able, or willing, to bring myself to do that to my own family -- to walk away without turning back. Maybe I would heal. Maybe I would be the same. I struggle constantly with the boundaries I need to keep them out of the space I am trying to build for myself. It is so familiar for my family to take over my space and my life, like a fog seeping into unguarded corners. 

I just need a lot of space right now. Maybe too much space, more than is really reasonable, or possible, or fair to demand. I need to figure out who I am, and whether or not I can accept this person or this life. I've never had the chance to be alone. I've never had the chance to put myself and my needs before what everyone else needs or wants or requires from me. I have thrived on giving myself away in relationships with others. I have been consumed by other people and the worlds they've created for me to live in.

But today I am tired. Today I want to be alone. Today I want to be free. I'm like a child demanding the impossible: leave me alone, but be there when this is over. Don't try to come into my life, but let me love you in yours. Don't make me be the person you love and want, but accept me however I feel like being right now in this moment. Don't demand or expect anything of me, but let me give you what I am able to. 

Nobody could accept that, most certainly not family. But I really, really, really don't want to see them, or hear from them, or think about them, for a while. I want to get the hell away from that place. I don't want to set foot in that house, and I can't quite put my finger on why.

I came back to my home today and cried, couldn't get off my couch for hours, after I visited my parents and they dropped off some more of my things that I don't want or need...more pieces of their house that I don't want in my life but that are, slowly but surely, shaping my new home in the image of my old one.

I want it to be over. I want it to be enough. But you can't outrun your family any more than you can outgrow the years spent loving them, trying to weave and unweave a life together that everyone can live with.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Slow Awakening: An Early Spring Photoessay

You might know that I've been having something of a difficult time. Part of that is probably due to my brain settling into an old, familiar groove as the rTMS treatment I received moves further into the past. Part of it is undoubtedly due to therapy -- engaging with trauma, or any difficult issue, often results in feeling worse over the short term.

Obviously, what we're most concerned with is the long term: will I survive this illness? If so, for how long, and with what quality of life? But the short term matters immensely, too. After all, I live in the here-and-now, not in the future. And anyway, what with the Morlocks and the Eloi, it isn't as if the future looks like that awesome of a place to hang out.

One of the first things I noticed during rTMS is that the color green was brighter.

Spring was the ideal time for me to receive this treatment, as it turns out. My senses were awakening at the same time as the world burst into riotous growth around me. From a landscape laden with dead, bare branches and hard, barren earth sprung up buds, and new plants, and the beginnings of life. 

I felt like things I had all but forgotten were growing within me: humor, and lightness, and hope. Like a seed dormant in the ground, I had not lost those things whose absence I felt so keenly and with overwhelming pain. They were only sleeping. I couldn't feel them, or remember them, or reach out and touch them. I felt like I would never feel happy again, that nothing would ever change, and that there was no point to struggling on in the midst of lifelessness. But, when I believed I couldn't take it anymore, not even for one more day, the world around me burst into life and reminded me that feeling like I could live was hidden, but not dead.

Under a layer of dead leaves slumbered a field of flowers. And under the darkness of my despair crouched a hidden sunlight. I began to have hope -- hope that I could get better, hope that I could feel differently. Hope that, one day, I might even recover. I looked at the world around me with hungry eyes and an open heart, amazed at the way my own mind could take me by surprise. I had been afraid that I couldn't get better, that it wasn't possible, that this was going to be my life. In the onslaught of vibrant color, I was caught unawares by the possibility of change residing even in me.

I felt an openness, an expansiveness, like a body of water in the breeze. I began to see that life could be beautiful. Life could be beautiful emerging from death, and going into death. Maybe life is beautiful too when it lies in stillness, dormancy, a dreamless sleep. If I can remember this, hold onto it, when I feel like I'm dead and wish to be dead, maybe I can hold the beauty and the suffering in my two hands at once, cradling and cherishing both. Both can be tended to, and both frame the boundaries of my experience.

 Spring is not all beauty and new growth and sun reflected off water. Spring unearths muddy ground, trees that have not survived the winter, stagnant water overflowing with the detritus of decay. Plants that greedily take more than their share of water come back to life, dominating the fragile seedlings around them. It isn't all easy, it isn't all pretty, it isn't all what you're hoping to find in your foray into new beginnings. But it is there -- an undeniable part of what it means for life to come charging back in.

In its own way it is beautiful, because it is true. As I started to feel better, I began noticing painful truths about myself that had been buried under the agony of suicidal, backbreaking depression. I had opened the door to hurting myself again, and the longing plagued me. I have difficult relationships that take up a large place of my life, that have contributed to my illness and that I don't know how to manage. I have enduring trauma and recurring memories that flow through my mind. I hate myself, and wish I didn't. I live with a lot of shame. I am somewhat obsessive. I have difficulty understanding my own emotions.

These things were hidden under the blanket of winter. But now I see them again, reappearing, taking up time and space in my life. There is a layer of decay that fomented under the snow, and it needs to be reabsorbed into the life around it; changed into life, it can once again bring forth goodness and color and meaning and strength. It's good for a tree to fall in the forest and be reclaimed. But it isn't easy when you first see it lying there, tumbled across your path.

It will be hard. It will be painful. And it may cause me, sometimes, to forget about the springtime. But I have to look hard at myself if I want to reclaim the parts of me that have been damaged by depression -- the parts of me that have fallen under the unbearable weight of ice and snow -- and integrate them into a healthy life.

As I struggle, it is too easy to focus on the bark of a decaying tree rather than on the seedlings springing up in its midst, drawing their nourishment from it. I'm writing this post to remind me of how I felt when I saw vibrant green and new flowers. And to remind me that spring is a coming into being that enfolds both the remains of winter and the beginnings of new life.