Burning

IMAG2256.jpg

It was amazing that I had saved the suicide notes for so long; as if someday I might need them again.
Personalized: to my boyfriend, my mother, my sister, the world.
I couldn’t bear to read them. My script was neat and blocky like a child’s.
The house was quiet and empty, fake adobe, sand-colored.
The trees lining the yard reminded me of other places I’d been. I felt safe.

I sat in the gravel next to the deck and gripped a lighter in the wind. I needed to make the papers disappear. The sun sank behind the cottonwood and piñon behind me, dimming the evening’s light and causing goose bumps to rise along my calves and forearms.

The flame flashed and danced below the first paper. Once the fire caught, it spread quickly, sending off surprisingly tall and scalding flames. I wasn’t thinking about what the letters contained; what lies I had been telling myself back then.

I was thinking that everyone has a future. There would be a friend’s marriage, an illness, a sunset, new sneakers, a birthday – something yet to occur. I was thinking about the cup of coffee I would have the next morning, with half and half in a handmade ceramic mug.

The papers crumbled into black-and-white ashes that writhed in the heat.

Were the neighbors watching, wondering what this girl outside was doing, crouching in the gravel with a lighter? For a second I thought I smelled flesh burning beneath the smoke.

We are all dying, but let it be unplanned. Let our regrets sink into the earth like ashes. Let us carry on as if nothing bad will happen.

Existential Boredom

My therapist used to observe that I sometimes seemed to be afflicted with “existential boredom.” As someone with introverted, quiet, mellow tendencies, I don’t often crave noise and excitement. I can keep myself occupied and entertained quite easily. In other words, I don’t often get bored.

However, I do find myself feeling like there is no excitement or meaning in my life. The things I do (though I am currently serving 45 hours a week or more with AmeriCorps) seem to hold no significance. The years left in my life appear to stretch out before me, monotonous and never-ending. The future overwhelms me. When I begin to feel down, I do not see that I hold any value for this world. My existence seems dull, pointless.

It’s difficult to articulate how crushing this feeling is, especially when I haven’t felt it in a while. One day I can feel just fine. I feel optimistic about my future, even. And the next… falling into a black hole and clawing at the sides as I try to stay not to sink further.

Part of it is having a lot of free time on my hands. I work long days but when the weekend rolls around, if I don’t have enough plans, I crumble. I crave free time, but when faced with it, I panic. Sometimes I feel like I am constantly trying to keep my mind and body busy so I can run away from the depression. Some days are harder than others. Today is a hard day.

Can anyone else relate to existential boredom? Does anyone else struggle when they find themselves with a lot of free time?

I Didn’t Know Your Love

I didn’t know, Mother
How gently you held me to your chest
The hours you invested in my nourishment
The nights you were the only one awake with me
The days you forfeited to make me
A little bit of a better person
Years slipped by like baby breaths
Trips to Safeway for Saltines and licorice
At every piano recital and gymnastics meet
Every haircut, heartbreak, and injury

The love you poured into me and you got nothing
The love you poured around me when I closed myself up
As I dug at my arms with a switchblade and
Wrote notes on how to tie a noose and
Pushed away my birthday cake and
Shut myself in my room to get high
And spent nights crawling out my window and
Lying to you
Thinking I wanted to die
So I refused you
And everything
You offered

And I’m sorry, Mother
When I was younger, I didn’t know
Your love is vast like an ocean
Your love sheds light in the earliest hours
Your love comes back like the tide on the shore
Your love is an unmoving mountain I tried to climb
Your love is the sun I see each morning and forget to acknowledge
And I’m sorry it took me so long to discover
When I was younger, Mother
I didn’t know

Going into Surgery

The nurse inserts a needle under my skin
and I allow IV fluid into me. They warmed it.
Taped tubes fast to my bony arm.
He squeezes my hand to say, you will be okay.
I wrote my will at home, just in case.
Machines bleep and I sigh. Mostly it is quiet,
this early in the morning on the ward.
We snap a picture of me looking bleak.
Nurse returns, I am leaving now for the OR
in a squeaking gurney. She allows one last kiss.
Nurse and I chat as the ceiling slides past.
It’s just like sleeping, she says. I tell her
I haven’t slept well in a week; I might nod
into the next needle. You’ll feel it soon.
I wait for a rest and a dream.

Resolved

Why did you leave me that night
terrified, all alone in that big house
sloppy and stumbling and then throwing up
and not remembering and chewing pills
and taking long gulps of gin and vodka, why
did you leave, how could you?

And when she asked, “Resolved?”
I said yes.
And she marked it down on the chart then
said, as an afterthought
“I guess those things are never really resolved though.”

The Gamble of DNA

Thumbing through an album of my childhood,
I am caught by the urge to cradle a child
in my arms, wild-haired and scarlet-cheeked.

I want not my former self, but an output of my DNA;
a genetic product of the traits I wish to express:
the subdued artistic sensibility,
neat gleaming rows of teeth,
a curious athletic vigor, intelligence.

I list the qualities I would do away with:
dark unending moods, panicking on plane rides,
the tendency towards alcoholism,
nocturnal jaw-grinding, and skin cancer.

Did too my parents ponder which features I might
inherit or escape, as embryo me swelled and matured?
No, for I was a surprise, a niggling itch,
and then a heart-stopping realization.

Each bleached photo of my youth reminds me
a child is a lottery ticket, a gamble
revealed over the years
as their silvery surface is slowly scratched away.

Emotional Regulation in Myself and Others

I noticed not too long ago that I had a difficult time regulating intense emotions. When I started to feel blue, I would get caught up in a downward spiral that was horribly difficult to escape from. Then I would often fall into a depression. The “toolbox” of handy coping skills felt useless when I was already slipping into the depths. I might halfheartedly text a friend to share my feelings, but pulling myself into a better mood seemed near impossible.

Recently, though, I have been working on improving my emotional regulation. When I get upset about something, I immediately tackle whatever is in my control.

For example, if I get upset with my partner (still working hard on this, but ideally), I will communicate with them that I am upset and need some space. Alone time helps me understand my fears, reactions, and emotions better. They take shape out of the amorphous fog of upset-ness. Once alone, I eventually calm down. I might walk, read a book, listen to music, journal, cry a little bit, write them a letter… these things help settle the whirlwind inside me and allow me to pay attention to what’s truly important. Most often I feel an urgency to apologize to my partner and explain my thoughts. If we can have a discussion on the subject, it helps me to see that my partner cares for me and supports me. Not only does this strengthen our bond, but it helps me to feel more secure with my abilities to regulate my emotions and handle them with maturity and calm consideration.

If something is not in my control, I repeat to myself: “I’ve done what I can. I will just have to wait and see how this turns out. It won’t the end of the world if this doesn’t work out. I am a capable person and I have plenty of opportunities.” And so on. I look back in my life and emphasize times when these beliefs were confirmed. I really try to believe what I tell myself.

The key is to catch an upset feeling before it gets big. If something feels wrong, but I ignore it, that emotion will only grow and fester inside me. The solution could be as simple as voicing it out loud, but I often find that writing about what I’m feeling and why is the most helpful. Everything gets out of my head and onto the paper, and I can let go of it.

Sometimes I think of a very unpleasant emotion like a tangled ball of yarn. Sitting down and taking the time to write about it is like finding the ends of the yarn and carefully unraveling the knots and twists until the yarn is more or less straightened out. It’s a painstaking process that requires patience and determination.

This brings me to another struggle I’ve been having lately, which is how to tolerate emotional dysregulation in people close to me. I have a bad habit of rushing to the aid of someone who is very distressed. Part of it is because it feels good to feel needed, and to feel helpful and useful and heroic. But another part is because I know intimately how difficult it can be to manage intense emotions like depression. I want to be able to stop their pain as quickly and as effectively as I can, and sometimes the best thing is a strong shoulder to cry on and a supportive person to talk to.

As caring as this may be, that kind of action can actually be detrimental when repeatedly requested or repeatedly offered. First of all, because then the person in distress doesn’t learn how to deal with overwhelming emotions on their own. They end up relying on someone else to mitigate discomfort. And secondly, this traps the other person in the helper role, where they are expected to drop everything in order to soothe their friend.

I have been in both these roles, and they both end up feeling awful. I am slowly learning how to manage my own intense emotions, and now I must work on allowing others to do the same. Everyone is responsible for his or her own reactions and responses, including to their own feelings. I need to let go of the responsibility of managing the emotions of others, thus trusting their capabilities and focusing on my own emotional regulation.