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?

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.”

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.

Not Thinking of You

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I try to busy myself filling out paperwork for my new job. I’m not thinking of you, not thinking of you, most certainly not thinking of you pushing my hair off my forehead or your hands caressing my stomach. Not thinking of the coldness with which I shut you out. My mind is not whirling through all the ways I can get you back into my life. Just yesterday we were standing shoulder to shoulder on the beach. You put your arms around me, laid your head in the crook of my neck. And I was still with fear. Paralyzed by the knowledge that I would never be important enough to you. That I would never affect you in the way you were already affecting me. The ultimate terror: that we will love another more than they love us.

Why am I so afraid of this? I picture myself being squashed like an ant under your shoe, my emotions spilling out on the sidewalk.

You clambered down a tangle of tree roots. I followed, but I was slower, and once I reached the edge of the water you were out of sight. Where did you go? I sat down on a bench in the sandstone. The way the rays of afternoon sun hit the bay was so beautiful I could hardly believe I was witnessing it. It was too beautiful. Everything felt surreal. The beauty and the pain were together, and they swept over me. I wondered if I was truly seeing this, truly present. I gathered my legs up to my chest and started to cry. After a while you walked over to me. You had been hidden by a rocky outcropping. You had been so close, that whole time. You sat next to me but didn’t say anything.

I can’t let myself be vulnerable. I don’t meet your eyes. My voice comes out sharp and bitter, but I’m too far away to notice.

Why am I afraid of loving? Of being loved too much, or too little? Today I can’t do anything but fix myself dinner and stare at the newspaper. Can’t do anything but not think of you.

Regrets like Stones

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Regrets like stones slick from the tide,
polished clean with time and rumination.
If I bent to collect each glimmer in the surf,
my pockets would split and arms overflow.
Ever so often I might crouch on the salty kelp
to examine an especially bright agate veneer,
dust and brush dry the surface with my palms.
One thousand heavy possibilities lurking
in such a smooth oval of caramel consistency.
At last I must lay the stone down cold
and straighten myself to continue my walk.
It would be too easy to gather every rock in a great tote
and scatter the bitter regrets throughout my life.

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