Burning

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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?

Ache

I don’t feel like there is something beautiful
inside me trying to get out.
It’s not as if there’s a monarch
lodged in my throat, or a line of rubies set
beneath my breastbone.

It’s more like I have an ache, deep,
near my spinal cord, or maybe my kidneys,
and I have to stretch and twist and rub at it
like an old man does his arthritic knuckles.

Aspirin is useless for that type of pain,
the kind that sometimes wakes you right before dawn
or stabs you square in the gut
when you’re chatting on the sidewalk with friends
and suddenly a person walks by with their head down,
tilted, a private smile on their face
and you fall in love for just a moment.

I write to that spot.
My poems address the ache, press into it a little
and release, let the flesh bounce back into place.
It helps, you know. It helps in the way
you tell a child to turn off his lamp
specifically because he’s afraid of the dark.

Just a Dream

I dreamt of you last night
and awoke today with the crashing
waves of anger turning me white-hot
Your words still spilling
from that deep charred place
Me bitter like black coffee,
rousing myself heavy from bed
jaw sore from grinding, gnashing

Unsure if I want to dissolve
or combust; slip back to sleep
or sprint to the moon

It’s just a dream, I have to breathe
I have to remember
and let go
and stop
hoping
you’ll
call

When He Fell Asleep

It was a beautifully heartbreaking moment. We were lying there in the dark, sharing thoughts in whispers. Listening to the house quieting down around us. We had been touching, tangling for so long it felt sweet to sink into the downy pillows. We lapsed into silence. The fan was whirring above us and the frogs formed a faint chorus outside. His breathing began to slow and deepen, shuddering slightly on the inhales. I gripped his arm. He was falling asleep and I was alone right next to him. I wanted to pull him back, to be conscious together and share the beauty of the moment. There was so much to tell him. All the long-lost apologies welled up in my throat and their urgency leaked out from my eyes. We had been together and then I was alone. Please come back.

I was crying now for everyone who has woken up or opened the door or picked up the phone only to find their partner is gone forever. I cried for all the hurt in the world and it came to me in gasping sobs. I shook quietly so as not to wake him. He was so peaceful. His shape was perfect against the bed. I sat there watching him, hoping he would wake up and hoping he wouldn’t. I wanted to say I needed him but it wasn’t true. I needed to have my hair stroked, to be held tight, and to love fiercely without cause or hesitation. In that moment, I did. I longed to press my hands to his cheeks and kiss his forehead and love him with abandon. It was enough to imagine how we could change the world if we tried.

As I eased myself out from under the covers, he grabbed me in his sleep, slipping his hand down my torso as if to keep me there. I paused. I knew it wouldn’t last, and I cried for that too. It was time to go home.

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.