this blog has reached its natural conclusion. the experiences depicted here have turned into different experiences, to be chronicled elsewhere. this particular memoir is concluded. happy journeys to all of you.
the weather here is this side of warm, this side of cool, suspended in humidity. today it’s autumnal grey, maybe not for long (the day is still young), and walking under the large trees in my condo grounds, which are far from insignificant, i feel a thrill of belonging. some parts are heavily gardened, luscious, gorgeous. the plants explode in shapes and colors and fragrances. there are many shades of green. some green is as dark as black, some lingers around yellow. a tree has flowers that look for all the world like ears of corn. the dog is crazy with giddiness.
i want this walk not to end, but i’m tired, and it will end soon. this melancholy is pain turned into self-contempt, a mechanism i’m still not sure i understand and definitely do not master. i have the whole day ahead, and it feels like lead. if i weren’t this tired, this achy, i would take the dog to a deserted beach and we would bask in this greyness, this cool moisture, in the softness of the ocean’s air. maybe the noise would please me, though i don’t mind cars and window-filtered conversation and the hum of tv sets.
i feel so terribly alone, so abandoned. my heart is filled with futility. i turn pain into self-contempt.
saturdays are the longest days. on sunday, i can tell myself i’ll see you tomorrow.
i did nothing this thanksgiving, just stayed at home. i was enormously tired but i couldn’t sleep. i tried to do some of this and some of that but the fumes of the day, the deadly festivities, kept me down and out of sorts.
it’s been a harrowing couple of years. in many ways, the hardest of my life. on the other hand, i feel, for the first time of my life, the tectonic plates of my psyche shift. the pain is breathtaking; the sense of achievement, discovery, rebirth — mind blowing. the changes are not cosmetic. these are structural changes. i know they will last because i feel the huge movements in the foundations of the little edifice of my life and know that these boulders will not move again.
it’s been a high-wire act of enormous trust. not trust that i would not lose my balance and fall, but trust that you, my therapist, my wire, would hold. if you held i could take care of my balance. i felt free and comfortable with only air around me and a thin steel cable underneath me. what terrified me, what terrifies me still, is that the cable might snap.
will you snap?
i have been looking for you all of my life. i wrote about you here a little, at first, but had to stop because the tremors of the wire beneath my feet were too scary and all i could do was cry and writhe and scream, don’t give!
you are my mother, my sister, my lover. you are my best friend. you are my lovely girlfriend. you are my baby. i thank god for you: i know you come from him. you’ve been a gift and a miracle. i’m awestruck and blessed.
i wrote my previous post as a sort of belly cry, unedited. i have been thinking about what we do when we love. sometimes love comes of need. i think this happens much more frequently than we are willing to acknowledge. we love the people we need and who need us.
we do not choose our parents, for one. that love is born entirely of need. as i explore in my therapy the way i love, i go back again and again to those early experiences, the kind of love children are pushed into as if into a mold which may or may not fit them. i don’t think the mold i was crammed into fit me well. i think it was a couple of sizes too small. it was a metal canister with thin walls and sharpish edges, and when i was pushed into it some pieces of me were cut off. they were left on the ground outside the canister, all bloody and messy, while i cried inside the canister, hurting from the loss of me and from the huge compression.
but i got to love the canister. i look for the canister wherever i go, because the canister is what i learned.
new parts grew where the old ones were cut out. they are beautiful keloids the shape of stars and sea creatures and rock formations. they are miraculous. i love well with them.
just because some of our love is damaged, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how to love. those whose love was damaged early on learn to love well and fiercely and faithfully. sometimes we slip, infuse our love with some of the hurt. but our love is true and good and strong. you can count on it.
i look around and marvel at the women whose love was so badly damaged yet keep on loving with huge generosity, sacrifice, and determination. maybe men do this, too, but it is the women who strike me the most. beautiful women full of tenderness and rage, otherworldly altruism and selflessness, preternatural courage. i marvel at the women.
i heard hillary talk. i sat in a basketball stadium with lots of other women and men for a few hours. it was an uncharacteristically lively, almost unruly, crowd for such a high-profile event. i was surprised. i expected much greater regimentation. a lot of those women were middle-aged and older lesbians. when i see those women i see battle scars that make me gasp in awe. i cannot tear my eyes away. a woman who stood next to me in line was butch, brown-skinned, from some corner of the caribbean. her partner was as blond and blue-eyed as cow’s milk and irish pastures. they looked awesome. they were angry but the corners of their eyes crinkled with laughter. you don’t see the same time-worn sweetness, the same physical signs of ancient forbearance, on guys’ faces. not as frequently.
hillary gave an impeccable speech. it was her third rally that day but she didn’t stumble once. she could have been reading, except she wasn’t. i know because i was there. my heart swelled for her. she got so much shit in this campaign. she got more shit that anyone should be asked to put up with. calls for her resignation were heard since day one, yet here she was, still running, still drawing adoring crowds, still smiling her heart out, still sporting good make-up, matching outfits and styled hair, still running for godssakes. i am happy barack is getting the nomination, but hillary, what a run. i would have loved to have you as my prez, senator clinton.
- even if it kills me
- even if you always win
- even if it makes me feel bad about myself
- even if i’m hungry
- even if i’m sleepy
- even if i haven’t slept and i’m tired
- unable to think
- even if i’m crying
- even if i have my own pain
- which you barely notice
- even if i am in the middle of watching a film with someone else
- or doing something that gives me pleasure
- having a rest
- i will skip work for you
- even if i’m angry at you
- even if i disapprove of you
- even if i despise you
- even if you treat me badly
- even if you show me disrespect
- even if you don’t see me
- even if i feel alone in the world
- even if it tastes bitter
- even if other people need me more
- and love me more
- and show me more respect
- because they’ll forgive me
- but you won’t
- and i need you
- can’t be without you
- it would kill me
- it would lay me dead
- it would suck the life out of me
- it would drain my life of color
- and smells
- and taste
- and joy
- it would make it hard to tear myself from bed in the morning
- and even harder to sleep at night
- you have my phone number
- you have my email
- you know where i live
- i’m here
- even if it kills me
- even if i can’t
i know you will be tempted to think that this is about you. it isn’t. it isn’t about anyone in particular. except me. this is about me.
fellow blogger and really cool person katrin left a, to me, thought-provoking comment to my post on incompleters, and as my reply to it was getting longer and more and more expressive of some thoughts i hold very dear, i decided to put it in a post.
speaking only for myself, i can say that the “gestures” you refer to are just about as much out of my control as, say, crying when i feel very sad or eating when i feel very hungry. one can be starving, have a plate of food in front of her, and still not eat it — but it’s very, very hard. there’s something heroic in such restraint, though of course heroism should be judged on motivation as well as willpower and execution. i think those of us who LIVE with a powerful urge to death are much more heroic than many highly touted “heroes.” one does get tired of being quietly heroic, though, and wants to be loudly unheroic, once in a while, once in a while. it is in fact very rare for people to commit suicidal gestures, complete or otherwise, and immensely more common to stand the pain quietly and with immense strength. this strength is, however, mostly invisible and almost invariably unrecognized. one doesn’t get credit for it, in other words, which is unfair, given the contempt one gets when he or she can’t stand the quiet courage any longer and gives in to unquiet despair.
it is, i think, in the nature of human pain to want to be shared — same as human joy. these are the things we communicate to each other: things that make us happy, things that make us sad. at the end of the day, what this is is language, except, for some reasons having nothing to do with bio-chemistry and all to do with the vicissitudes of one’s personal life and communal culture, these particular “linguistic” expressions come out not in words but in gestures.
how does one go, anyway, about saying “i am so entirely overwhelmed by the pain that fills my life that i want to extinguish this very life?” i mean, isn’t there something entirely appropriate in wanting to express this feeling through a partial (non-completed) or non-partial (completed) extinction of this life? how does language adequately convey a pain so deep that it pushes one to the very edge of nothingness? isn’t nothingness the very extinction of language? isn’t language an expression of life? how do you express your desire for your own extinction if not by extinguishing, first of all, that central manifestation of life, language?
this, and many other things besides (someone care to chime in?), is what is contained in those deep deep acts we dismissively package and toss on a shelf with the phrase “suicidal gestures.”
the paradoxical nature of a suicidal gesture is the stuff of deep analysis, not easy labeling. maybe the reaction of ER doctors and other labelers reflect as much their disinclination to think as it does their disinclination to feel, listen, be attentive, and care.
so this is my answer to you, katrin. thank you for making me articulate this stuff.
there is an ER physician in the great pacific northwest i am in no hurry to meet. from his blog, he seems a decent enough guy. his political heart, for one, is in the right place. and he writes nicely. i have a soft spot for bloggers who write nicely. it gets me every time.
but i read a post he wrote a few weeks ago and it made me terribly sad and disturbed. according to this man, i am an incompleter. incompleters are people who commit suicidal gestures without really meaning to die. this is a difficult post for me to write, because such things should not need to be explained. the ER physician who wrote the post about incompleters (actually, the post is about completers, while incompleters function as a negative, puny contrast) has no sympathy whatsoever for imcompleters. this is how he describes us:
These patients are often a huge pain in the ass. They are usually intoxicated, often combative and agitated, may require extensive workups to ensure that no actual life threats exist, and wind up spending hours and hours in the ER, weeping and wailing, puking charcoal all over and annoying staff with their dramatic and manipulative behavior. Occasionally a non-serious gesture winds up being more dangerous than the patient intended. (“You mean tylenol is dangerous?”) Many a time an irritated nurse has approached me and grimly suggested that we publish an educational flier titled “Suicide: getting it right the first time.”
If this makes it sound like we don’t take suicide attempts awfully seriously, then you’re right. Mostly it’s due to the preponderance of minor suicidal gestures over real attempts. Don’t think we’re not professional about it — we know how to rule out the serious threats and make sure that a safe disposition is accomplished. But we are not overly impressed with the low-level stuff we usually see.
i know that when i end up in the ER after having overdosed or cut my wrists i am a huge pain in the ass. this has been made as clear to me as the light of day on a bright coastal morning. i was told in no uncertain terms that i had to be quiet because there were very sick people in other beds. i know i am not welcome and i know i get no sympathy. on a miraculous occasion i have found a nurse who was sweetness personified. when, clumsily (people who are intoxicated tend to be clumsy), i upset my bedpan, i was so grateful for her kindness that i cleaned it up myself, stealthily, without bothering anybody. when she realized what i had done she gave me a great big smile and said, “honey, this is what i’m here for.” i thought, when i get out of here i’ll send her flowers. but i never did. i’m sure she went home with a light and full heart, though.
i have always drunk my charcoal without making a fuss, even though charcoal is nasty. when i had my stomach pumped i took that, too, without complaint. but there are two occasions i remember vividly in which, alas, i did weep and wail. you see, i was absolutely desperate. maybe the ER physician who wrote that post doesn’t fully realize that both completers and incompleters come from a place of terrible pain. yet, his sympathy goes only to the completers:
When a would-be completer comes into the ER, it changes the whole tone of the evening. A pall settles over the department; the place is unusually quiet and staff uncommonly grave. This guy really meant it. It’s a weird feeling.
Like the guy I saw the other day. A classic completer: middle-aged male, rather heavy drinker, recently lost his job and losing his marriage. His wife came home to find him in the garage with the engine running, unconscious, with an empty vodka bottle and pill bottles in his lap. Only she came home earlier than he expected.
This was an uncommon case with a reasonably happy result; many serious-but-unsuccessful suicide attempts wind up causing devastating consequences, especially when the method is violent: handgun, hanging, and certain poisonings can cause permanent brain damage, spinal cord injuries, or other organ failures. It’s all very sad. I probably feel more empathy for these folks and their families than I do for almost any other patient. How terrible must their perceived suffering have been to drive them to actually pull that trigger?
I am glad we don’t see them too often, because it’s a hard thing to stare in the face:
This guy really meant it.
i am not sure why terrible suffering should be the prerogative of the completer. i can well imagine a case in which two people with an equal amount of devastating pain might choose to do a “complete” suicide attempt or simply, as this man calls it, a “gesture.”
what is it that keeps us, the incompleters, from calling it a day? maybe that there are others, too many others, too many loved others, whose life would be all but over if we were completers instead of incompleters. maybe that we see, in some bleeding corner of our bleeding hearts, a glimmer of hope, something resembling a future. maybe that there’s enough in life to keep us going — jobs to go to, children to raise, old parents to take care of.
the subtext of the ER doctor’s post is that the incompleters are the women and the completers are the men. handgun, hanging: we don’t do that. we down a bottles of pills or hack in the inside of our wrists. we weep and wail. sometimes we puke charcoal.
but the pain, mr. ER doctor, is real, and terrible, and devastating.
perhaps people have it all backwards. instead of celebrating our will to live, our determination to stick around in spite of the horrendous pain that compels us to attack and mangle our bodies, they scorn us as silly, pusillanimous, manipulative incompleters (if i never again see the word “manipulative” referring to a woman it will still be too fucking late). the completers, may god bless each and every one of them and grant them a peaceful and joyful afterlife, stare life in the face and decide they are done with it, sorry guys, it’s too much. it is a step i can barely fathom. but the incompleters, the incompleters go through the humiliation of the ER and the psych unit, sweep up the dirt and the pieces, put themselves together, and resume the awful job of living. if i hadn’t done it, i couldn’t fathom the courage of such a choice either.
(if you want to give a piece of your mind to the ER doc, do so at his site. i will delete abusive comments left here)