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New Blog!

Hi all!

I’ve decided to move my site to a new place (also easier to remember :)): http://www.seekingmybalance.com

It’s still a work in progress, but all the posts are there (with a new one as of today) and podcasts are being slowly added.

Please join me there and follow my site by adding your email address and hitting “Subscribe” on the right navigation bar with this new link.

N

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Memory of the Light

I’ve never been especially close to my extended family – partly because I’ve always felt like the black sheep. When we went to visit on the holidays, everyone wanted to go shopping on Black Friday, spend money, eat out, give each other expensive gifts. All I wanted was to talk about life, the universe, and everything at length for hours with someone who would engage with me. I have one couple in my family (extended cousins- S and J) who I always loved talking to. J even gave me a hardback copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead to keep. I cherished that book – mostly because it was from him. I admired him.

I went to visit them about a year ago in Arizona and while there with my van, he took a video of the conversion to send to another cousin of mine – T – because T was converting a school bus and looking forward to trips in it. I started writing to T for the first time in my life. We shared videos of our vehicle conversions, discussed trips we could take together, and he told me about his young son Z and his recent divorce. He loved his son like the dickens. He seemed optimistic for the future.

It was amazing to me – to finally get excited about someone in my family who had similar values as me, someone I could relate to. Not to mention that we were the only two people in my extended family who had ever been divorced. It was a tough road no one else could relate to. His emails slowed and I thought he’d just become busy. It was fine. I was looking forward to meeting up with him at some point in the future and meeting him and Z at Route 66.

And then my dad called me a few weeks later. “T was shot.” He said. I didn’t understand. “What do you mean, he was shot? With a gun? Who shot him? Is he okay?” “With a gun. He’s in the hospital. He probably won’t make it.” I was stunned. I paused for a while. I was just confused, wanting answers. “Who the hell shot him? And why?” I heard some silence at the other end. I heard my dad take in a breath and said “…Well…T shot himself actually.”

Oh.

Suicide.

Apparently people can’t just use that word.

He wanted to die. He meant to die. He couldn’t take life anymore.

I got off the phone quickly and started bawling. I couldn’t stop for at least ten minutes and thought about him constantly for weeks afterwards. All the feelings were going through my brain – compassion for him, sadness for him, sadness and compassion for his son and the rest of his family, understanding…and jealousy. He went through with something I’ve thought about countless times. I was in some ways jealous that he finally got some peace. And sad and angry at myself because I wish I had done so much more for him – I wish I could have shown him that no matter how hopeless everything feels, we are in control of our lives and we can make it better. I know deep down I could have shown him that had I known how dark his world was, had he shared it with me. Because I know that world way too well. I’m still in it occasionally. But it’s like being in a prison cell with a picture of the mountains hung up – you have to believe the thing you can’t see still exists somewhere, that darkness is where you are now and that light will come again even if depression tries to convince you this is the path forevermore.

I’ve insinuated my past depression here before, but I may not have disclosed how it still impedes on my life. I still have bouts of suicidal ideation. But I have tools now – tools to remind me that this is temporary, that I need to reach out for support even when I don’t want to, that I need to take care of myself, that I need to keep breathing and living one more hour and one more day because it will get better. Even though it feels like it never fucking will. Even though I know that even when it gets better, I will someday soon go back to this feeling and this place and have to talk myself out of it again.


I’m writing this here because I’ve been on both sides of this – talking to someone who is suicidal and being suicidal myself. I’m also writing this because I want people who read this to know how to help someone who is suicidal because if you’ve never been there yourself, you likely are dealing with your own emotional shit regarding this person committing suicide in addition to feeling totally helpless to their actions.

I can tell you from experience that these are things that DO NOT help someone who is suicidal:

Telling them about all the things they have to live for.

Believe it or not, most people who are depressed and suicidal can list off exactly what things/people/etc they could live for. They would love to want to live for them! And yet, the sadness is overwhelming, painful, and typically ongoing. They don’t see a way out of the cycle except to end it entirely. This isn’t about those things that hold them to staying on this earth. They want to leave because it’s just too painful for *them* to be here any further. And most likely, this is not an impulsive decision as much as it is a well thought out and long planned out rationale.

Telling them suicide is a selfish act.

Does suicide leave people who are here on this earth hurting? Yes. Is suicide acted on for the person experiencing the pain? Yes. However, when the person who is experiencing suicidal thoughts is thinking about suicide, they envision how much of a negative force they are on the people around them. They think it will be of benefit to those around them that they are not here any longer to burden others with their pain, their feelings, etc. They see how their pain has hurt others and see leaving the earth as a kind act – a martyr act almost. Thus, hearing that what they want to do is “selfish” is not only not helpful but also makes no sense to someone in the throes of suicidal thoughts.

Sharing your negative feelings about them committing suicide.

Similar to the above, focusing on why you feel negatively about them committing suicide will just cause the person who is suicidal to put up roadblocks mentally. They aren’t really thinking about *you* and *your feelings* even though they have called you. What they want and need to hear is why you want them in this world, not why you don’t want them missing from the world. Subtle delineation, but very important.

Not listening to, dismissing, or trying to change their feelings.

Oftentimes, people are suicidal in part because they have felt misunderstood and not truly heard by anyone in their life. If you aren’t listening, dismissing, or trying to change their feelings about their pain, this could go down an even worse path of reconfirming to them that no one “gets it” and they are really honestly truly alone. They have called you. Clearly, you are important to them. Really be there. Really hear them. Even if it makes no sense to you. Can’t you at least see they are hurting in front of you? Haven’t you also been hurting in your life? Relate to that.

Here are things that may help:

Telling them you can’t understand where they are at, but you hear their pain and hurt and would like to support them in these feelings.

Telling someone you don’t understand where they are at is *not* a problem. Because honestly…you probably don’t! If you admit you don’t understand, it actually gives you more credibility and will likely lead to the person feeling safe in sharing more with you.

Sharing how much you care about them.

It’s hard to keep telling yourself the negative self talk of “No one loves me and I am alone in this world” when someone on the phone or in front of you is saying “I fucking love you. A lot. And I want you here. Not for me, but because you are a lovely human being who adds to this world in countless ways – in my life and in others’ I know.” Don’t say anything you don’t mean, of course, but most likely if this person is reaching out to you, you have a bond – Use it. Promote it. Spill your guts. Show them you care too.

Listening to their pain. Trying to understand where they are coming from. 

Think of a time when you felt all was lost. Even if you weren’t suicidal. Maybe it was when you broke up with a partner or maybe you got news of someone close to you dying or you got bad news that you thought would be the end of something huge (emotional, financial, otherwise). Can you put yourself there? Now triple that pain in your mind. Imagine feeling that person’s pain. Imagine being in a position where the world just seemed totally unbearable to live in and the only viable option seemed to be ending it. Even if you don’t fully “get it,” can you imagine it at all? Listen to their pain, put yourself in their shoes. Try to see.

Asking them if they can envision anything they could be excited about in their future or even in their present.

Most of the time, someone who is suicidal will be thinking about the negative things in their past or the negative things that could or will be happening in their future. Remind them they have a body now and in their very momentary present, there are still promising things ahead. Even if that is just looking across the room and describing the beauty of the light through the window. Maybe it is a friend lunch they were planning on having tomorrow. Or something positive that happened in the past that could easily be scheduled or planned for the future. Suicidal thoughts usually come and go. If you can convince them to stay around even one day longer, you may have saved their life.

If and when you feel that you are too overwhelmed to continue talking, let them know you are not equipped (or do not feel equipped) to handle this situation and encourage conferencing in a suicide hotline or therapist.

Many people might say encouraging calling up a suicide hotline should be procedure #1, but from a personal perspective, if I was suicidal and someone told me that immediately, I would probably start going down the wrong way quickly. This is because the person called you because they wanted to speak with *you,* not a stranger, not someone trained in the psych field (It’s also likely that they’ve already reached out to or have been talking to them for a while anyway.). Give them you. Once it makes sense and you feel the person is receptive to it, conferencing in (so you don’t disappear) a person who can help further is definitely wise.

Continue showing your presence and support even after they’re off the metaphorical cliff.

Even if you help this person off this cliff this time does not mean their feelings on the subject are gone. Don’t pretend they are. Ask if you can check up on them more frequently over the next days and when you see them, ask how they are feeling about suicide these days and how or if you can help.


This may sound crazy, but connecting someone who is suicidal with other people who *have been* suicidal and survived may be helpful as well. I say this because it may help with not feeling so alone, feeling understood, and also beneficial in terms of pooling resources and tools and reasons to keep going. Chances are though, you don’t know many people who are openly suicidal. So I think the least I can do is write them a letter myself from someone who has been there countless times and is still here and glad about it (most days)- Me. Feel free to share:

“Dear New Friend,

You’ve probably either found this blog through a search or had this blog post shared with you by someone who cares about you and you are considering suicide. I’ve been there (and continue to be there regularly). I have been dealing with depression since I was in high school and there have been ups and downs since then, but currently at 30 years old, things are mostly up. I’ve never attempted suicide, but written suicide notes, thought about it as a feasible option countless times, and definitely had desires to act on it strongly at least a few times in my life.

I want to tell you that what you’re feeling right now is valid. In this moment, you might feel like there is a hole that you are stuck in and you can’t possibly get out. You may feel like life is meaningless, that you are a speck in the world and can do nothing right and make no difference in anyone’s life (especially your own). I know everyone is probably telling you stuff like “Oh, your life does have meaning. For your kids, for your wife/husband, etc etc.” Or maybe: “You create the meaning.” Or whatever. And while all of that may or may not be true, it doesn’t really help you where you are right now, does it?

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to feel like life has no meaning – maybe you’re right, maybe you’re not. And maybe this hole can’t be gotten out of. Either way, if we go by this assumption, there are two ways to look at it. One is the doom and gloom your brain has given you : It’s saying that meaning is the only reason for living and if there is none of it, why bother continuing? But there is a different perspective. If there is no meaning, this life doesn’t matter. Why bother wasting the little life you have killing yourself now when you can spend the rest of your days living it up and if you die doing it….well, it’s still more life than you would have had if you kill yourself today…right? You are in a uniquely qualified position right now to (in your mind) have nothing left to lose. I have a secret to tell you: It can only go up from here!

I know it’s ridiculously morose, but really seriously think about this. Imagine you have cancer right now and were just told you have 6 months to live. What do people do with that? Generally, they go try to accomplish a bunch of things on their bucket list. Are you imagining? What would you do with that 6 months? Make a list. Even if everything on the list is just “Eat ice cream for every fucking meal.” Or “Quit my job, use all my money, and travel around the world with it.” If there is *anything* on this list…well, why not do it? What is stopping you from it if you’re willing to die right this very minute?

I think about the first time I wanted to commit suicide (in a more than fantasy kind of way). I realize how much has happened in my life since then that I never would have been alive to experience. So many good things! Yes, I mean there were of course really shitty things too. But those good things (and even the pain of the bad ones that pushed me forward) were invaluable. I would never want to give those up. I’m not even just talking about big huge amazing things like traveling to amazing places or falling in love. I’m talking about things as small as the first minute I met a lovely soul and feeling I was not alone in this world over and over again, going on a hike by myself and realizing I hadn’t talked to “me” in a long long time, learning and failing and learning some more, living in a van, having some long giggle fests with a close friend, eating some amazing homemade ice cream, having parties, dancing…

If you’re willing to give it all up, why not go and do the things you’ve always wanted to do? It’s not too late. Every moment from here on out is one more than you would have had anyway. Guess what? You probably even have more than 6 months to live. And if you go do those things on your list, it might just change you so much that you know no matter how much your brain tells you to get out of this world, it’s worth staying here until you’re forced out. But hey, even if you just go do those things and still think it’s worth ending your life, at least you spent those days between now and then living the way you wanted to.

Less is more in the here and now. You can’t take anything with you when you leave this earth. And you’re not guaranteed an afterlife. Assume this is all you have. Might as well use it. And hey, if you don’t believe me, is it really going to do any more damage to just try for 30 or 60 or 90 days to live a life you wouldn’t have been alive for anyway? The only black and white decision is not being here to make any more decisions. Live in the gray for a little bit. I promise the option of leaving this earth will always be there if that’s really what you want.

…But I don’t believe it’s what you want.

Sincerely,

N”

“Problem-Free”

I have a problem. I realized recently that the thing that motivates me in life beyond seeking beauty in magical places and amazing connections with awesome people is…struggle. So,  ironically, I think maybe my problem with my life is that I don’t have enough problems for my brain these days.

When I see something easy, free, and relatively stable, I bring strife and overthinking and overanalyzing to it until something about it hurts, until I’ve created a chink that I need to solve. Solving it makes me feel like I’ve earned the good times. But then eventually, if the good times stay around too long, the problem of no problems comes up again.

I know, you’re probably laughing or rolling your eyes right now. But if you think about it, this is how the immune system works, right? If we don’t give it enough to focus on (like minor bacteria and viruses), it will instead start hurting you with your own shit (aka autoimmune disorders). We’re seeing a rise in this in the US – what with all the antibacterial soap meant to ward off all the things our immune system loves being exposed to and violently killing to feel good about itself.

So why doesn’t the same go for us? Our brains our high-powered machines that want something to solve. Isn’t this like the stereotypical critique of “male brains” – that they want to fix the problem and not just listen to the issue? I’ve been accused of having many “male qualities” in my brain, by the way.

But anyway, back to my point. My point is that when I’m feeling generally happy, after a short while, my first instinct is to ask “Wait, what’s going on? Where is the boogyman hiding?” and immediately begin looking into all the corners and recesses of my life and brain to try to find the thing(s) putting me at risk of losing the happiness (the happiness I spent very little time actually enjoying). But the searching itself causes me to “lose” the contentment immediately.

Likewise, when I’m feeling an emotion, my first instinct is to try to make sense of it, connect it with things that create a logical narrative, put it in a box, wrap it with a bow, and send it on its merry way. I thought for a long time that I was really sending the boxes away to some distant land in Nantucket (or maybe to Sarah Palin in Alaska). In reality, I seem to have built a metaphorical wall in my brain and the boxes were all just thrown over this wall by the carrier. The wall says “PLEASE KEEP OUT. DANGER AHEAD.” and I guess for the longest time, I just didn’t know about the wall or wanted to be mindful of the sign (which doesn’t sound like me to actually do what authority wants me to) or maybe had just not figured out a way to get behind the wall. The last couple of months, a number of people seem to keep showing me how to remove some bricks in the wall and see the boxes – that they still exist, that they haven’t been dealt with, that *nothing has changed* in them. A couple of times, I’ve managed to climb the wall and jump to the other side and realized that all the boxes had opened in the process of being thrown over and all the stuff is a mess. The bows did nothing to keep the stuff in one box from the stuff in another.

Today, I am standing at the other side of the wall – realizing that all these “problems” I tried to put in boxes and thought I was done dealing with actually have no narrative, no box, no bow. They don’t make sense together or apart.

They just…are.

The world is full of people who want to tell you how to make boxes, how to tie them with bows, how to release them from your sight – in other words, how to actively *fix* the things. But time and time again, the people I see happiest are those who tell me that there is no such thing as fixing – unless you stop wanting to fix them at all. And then, paradoxically, there is no need for boxes, bows, walls, or narratives. No, they won’t disappear. But suddenly, all at once, you won’t look at the mess of stuff and see them as needing to “make sense” or “be fixed.” You will just see the things as….oh, ya know, the stuff, no biggie. You may clear a path to walk through it. You may organize it into some beautiful origami crane. You won’t mind wandering through it, occasionally examining the broken bits of things here and there. You may just see it as internal decoration for your brain, but nothing that drags up any negative thoughts or feelings. It’s just…you. And you are it.


I so want to be here while looking at my “stuff” today. But admittedly, I am not. I am still trying to fix, still attempting to wrestle things and people and memories in my life into a cohesive narrative that doesn’t change and mutate constantly, still wanting to cling to something that I know is entirely false (aka stability or making boxes, tying them with bows, throwing behind the wall believing they are being sent elsewhere).

When I am happy more or less, my brain still wants something to “work” on. Oftentimes, that spurns depression and an entire lack of motivation to start new things – hobbies, etc. And then it’s just this cycle. In this time, I believe that I am really seriously “working on my shit!” I talk through deep stuff with people, I write profound-sounding things, and I read philosophical books. I stop doing all the things I know my body wants me to do – like exercise, get in the sunlight, eat well. I stop doing all the things that would actually propel me in life – like working for some money, like planning time with people I love, learning new hobbies, etc etc. “But, seriously, I’m working on my shit and this is productive,” I convince myself, after spending an entire night weaving a bunch of thoughts together, making me feel like I am making boxes and shipping them away. “I’m letting go of things!” I think. Only to find the same “box” arrive at my door 6 months or a year down the line in *exactly the same condition.* What the fuck!!! I think. I dealt with this shit already! I’m happy! I’m working on my shit! Go away. And I ship it back again…back to the wall.


Today, my therapist told me to retrieve a difficult memory and tell her about it. I told her about it – from my head. She said, “Okay. Now feel it…and then sit in those feelings.” I said “Yeah, everyone says that. I sit in my feelings all the time.” She asked me when I do this. “Well, ya know…when I hike, when I take a bath, when I climb, when I’m driving, when I cry about feelings that come up with someone else, …” “In all of those moments, you’re doing something,” she said. “Don’t you ever just sit and stop distracting yourself and stop trying to make stories about the stuff going through your brain?” I recalled when I went to meditate at a number of different centers – how I generally used meditation to make more connections and do more “fixing” in my brain. “No, maybe I don’t,” I admitted.

As I told her about the memory, I felt hard feelings come up – ones that were sort of attached to things we were talking about and some were not at all. She asked me what I was feeling in my body  and I couldn’t really do that well – the feelings were so overwhelming. I started shutting down. Then, she asked what I was feeling in my body when the memory actually happened and I couldn’t recall or felt I couldn’t accurately. Our time was up. She said she still sees me running, packing my feelings into a narrative, putting it away, and calling that “letting go.”


I am reminded of a good friend of mine who realized that the seizures he was experiencing were all being triggered by stress and strong emotions. He decided he did not want to be on anymore medications (since they caused more harm than good) and that he would rid his life of stress. Without the trigger, he believed, he would not have seizures. And he did. And he was right. But it was only recently that I discovered how he did it.

He made a wall – likely not at all unlike mine in my head – and very actively threw everything salient behind it. He didn’t need a carrier nor even a box. He just wanted a quarantine for feelings. No feelings = no stress. Right? After he told me this, he adamantly expressed that I not do what he did on a conscious level (or subconscious) – “Please. I don’t recommend it.” he said. He told me that he has to remind himself so often why he remains on this earth because without feelings, everything in life feels the same. Turns out that no feelings does = no stress and also = no motivation = no joy = no pain = no love = no loss = no human purpose.


So if struggle is human, if joy and pain and stuff is human, it seems the best thing we can do is listen to Paul McCartney and “let it be.” And stop trying.And shrug it off, saying “No biggie.”

But fuck if I know how to do it.

The Memory of Heartache

In the last two years, I’ve been part of five (or maybe depending on how you look at it four) more serious romantic relationships and a few not so serious relationships (or maybe let’s call them shorter term romantic relationships). I ended two of the more serious ones and all of the “less serious” ones in the last year. For a polyamorous recently divorced person, from what I’ve seen, that isn’t actually that many. But then you look at the emotional relationships I’ve been part of without sex or at least intercourse. There have been a lot more of those. And all but a few of the above relationships (emotional/romantic/something in between) are still in my life in some way even now.

So when I spoke of corpses of relationships in my recent article, I was actually talking mostly about the pain of “losing” people in general, not the number. I wasn’t very clear about that. In reality, I never really “lose” people anyway. And that’s actually part of the problem with the corpses: they live on in me permanently, take residence and regularly visit (generally when I least want them to).

Let me explain: I’ve gathered over time that I am not the typical person. Not saying this to brag one bit, as there are pros and cons to it (mostly cons). I have what someone I know calls “glue brain.” All the important or even mundane moments I’ve ever had with someone are almost permanently etched in my brain in an extensive catalog. I can at will (and often without my consent) conjure up a moment that happened many many years ago with someone very very distinctly with emotional intensity still intact. I don’t pretend to believe that these are 100% or even close to entirely accurate. But from my own eyes and my brain’s eye, it feels very close to what happened. And even physical sensations from that moment feel like they’re happening right now, not two or ten or fifteen years ago. The problem? I can’t forget. I can’t let go. I haven’t ever actually gone to a neurologist for this, but if I’m correct, it’s something called hyperthymesia or HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory), though a more mild version since I can’t remember dates things happened generally or specific details that just don’t matter to me.

In addition to remembering my own memories far longer than the average human, I also seem to have an immense ability to empathize with others’ experiences to the point where I feel like I have seen what they have seen through their eyes. Again, not saying I am accurate in these memories at all, but the feelings that come along with them are very real to me. Those memories layer on top of my own until all of my own fears and insecurities come from a combination of my real life experiences *and* others’ close to me.

This is why I stopped watching or reading the news in high school. To hear about horrendous experiences of others in the news was (what felt like) the near equivalent of having been there myself. And so the trauma of my life (however small, large, or mundane) has expanded beyond my own.


Going back to “losing” people – I mean by this that it is sometimes more painful and also confusing when someone stops wanting to be in my presence in my current life in the ways we were, but my brain still reminds me daily how we “used” to be with each other with all the feeling of it being like we still are (but we aren’t). I still am reminded of D daily by my brain, for instance, and how it used to be with him despite not having communicated with him in over a year. I see the memories differently now – they are tinged with lots of other additional emotions since they actually happened – but I often find myself with someone I love, reminded of a moment with D and go off into my own world, re-experiencing them without my consent, and connecting them to my present. It’s how my stories of my life have been pieced together in my brain into a cohesive narrative of why I am the way I am.

I can almost visually see the timeline of my life with peaks in the moments that were most emotionally intense/traumatic/whatever you want to call it. I only started realizing all of this was not really “normal” (if there is such a thing) when I was talking to a friend a little over a year ago in his kitchen. We were making mac and cheese, it was snowing outside, and we were walking around the kitchen obstacles and his dog wanting to be included in the mess. He said “I haven’t seen my son in about six months. I can’t even remember what he looks like.” I assumed he was joking. I mean, his son is in his 20’s. He’s had two decades to memorize his son’s changing face. He admitted quietly that it was true; he couldn’t conjure an image of him in his brain. This led to me asking a variety of questions – How do you recall things? Is it visual? Describe the process of acquiring new data and storing it. It was the first time I’d ever really asked. I kind of just assumed we all worked in the same ways in this regard (despite or maybe because of having a degree in neuroscience and making everything sound so consistent and black and white amongst us). I found that he envisions memories in a network of facts/sentences, not in images at all. Visual information is extremely difficult for him to recall. I said “Okay, but how about sex? Can’t you remember sexual memories visually?” His eyes got wide and he gulped. It seemed he couldn’t/didn’t. Sexual fantasies were still a series of actions/words in his brain.

Soon after this conversation, totally unprompted, a few friends (separately) sent me this podcast at NPR because it reminded them of me. They said it was because my memory for names and faces was incredible, but even more that I remembered conversations with them in such detail that they thought maybe I had HSAM like these people described. I listened to it multiple times and each time, I heard so much of me, it was hard to ignore. Me being the science nerd I am, I started researching more and found this article. The part about associating HSAM with obsessive compulsive disorder also felt relevant, considering I went to a therapist in undergrad and I insisted to her that I thought I had OCD because I could not get (unwanted) sexual images and fantasies of a teacher out of my head for the life of me and it was impacting my schoolwork and relationship with D. I recognized my innate capacity (not desire) for rehearsing things in my head so much that it felt some things would never come out. I still remember the sexual images of my teacher I had imagined (12 years later). I still remember a specific image from my biology textbook in freshman year of high school (16 years later) diagramming a nephron in very vivid detail. Why? Because I had the flu when I was about to take a test on this material and while I was feverish, I had been studying these pages. I fell asleep on the book and had a dream that consisted of this specific image going in and out of my vision while feeling like I was going to vomit. That was it. Why do I remember this? You tell me. But it surely sounds obsessive.

D thought I had some sort of photographic memory, as when he tested me on my extensive study guides I typed up for school, my memory for things in order on the page was much much greater than my memory for them out of order. In fact, to remember them, I would actively imagine *where* the answer was on the page to help my recall.

For emotional events, my recall has been even greater. D would get really upset when I would bring up the anger I had about my family and how they treated me with depression in high school. He felt my continued visceral anger that would come up about it sometimes was indicative that I had no capacity to forgive or let go and that some day, he would make a mistake and would never be forgiven for it. He was wrong about whether I can forgive, but correct about the letting go part.

Even just yesterday, A and I were at the climbing gym and Jet “Are You Going to Be My Girl?” came on. I was reminded of this song’s history in my life, attached to my first semi-boyfriend and him cheating on me. The story doesn’t matter, though – it’s the fact that A noticed my change in emotions and asked what was wrong. I relayed the story to him and his response was “I think it’s time to move past that, love.” The semi-boyfriend isn’t part of my life at all. I occasionally see him post on Facebook and we haven’t talked since probably 1999. I don’t even feel anger at *him* anymore. It really didn’t matter and doesn’t matter. I know that logically, but my brain still cares and notices that it is one of so many injustices.


This is where human bias becomes a huge problem. We all have the desire to avoid being hurt, but most of us can let the hurt fade over time and eventually, we may even forget what that hurt looked like, what caused it, what it felt like in the moment. Now, sure, subconsciously, maybe it still effects us, but because we have no extensive story arc or emotions tied to it anymore, it’s harder to convince ourselves acting in X way will cause Y outcome (since we may not actively remember X or even Y).

But if you can list off in your head all the times X caused Y in extraordinary detail while remembering exactly how much Y fucking sucked, it’s hard to convince yourself to even bother trying X again…right? It becomes a very active choice with a high probability of Y happening again.

So let’s take the variables out. X and Y are stuffy and formal and mathematical. Let’s use an example of relationships where X is you giving trust and vulnerability to someone and Y is being deceived by either someone else’s dishonesty with you or dishonesty with themselves (indirectly still being dishonest with you). Most of us can remember an event where this happened to us – even as small as telling a childhood friend a secret and them blabbing it to someone else. But do you remember how that felt like it happened today or yesterday? Likely no, I would assume. And since then, you’ve acquired more knowledge and more experiences and maybe your most recent experience with X was leading to a positive Y and before that were fifty other experiences ranging between positive, neutral, and negative. Each had different amounts of emotional impact on you. But as you’ve aged, those feelings have faded and you’ve either decided to stop trusting anyone (not worth risking X for the likelihood of Y; you’ve been scarred) or continued trusting with acknowledgment of the past only occasionally getting in the way of your behavior in X.

In both of these situations, there is acknowledgement of the past, but there is also a numbness or healing over that has happened. In neither case are the people involved still raw and unhinged from the past – especially from things happening decades ago. But let’s change that fact. Let’s imagine being as raw and unhinged as you were the day your significant other broke up with you or maybe a week later….and have that feeling perpetually continue even decades later. There are no scars, just wounds that continue being opened regularly by memories of the past haunting you.

Could you really choose X still feeling like Y just happened? In other words, would you go out and risk trusting and being vulnerable with someone the day after your boyfriend of five years breaks up with you in the worst of ways? You may go have sex with someone, you may drink your sorrows away, you may choose to be entirely alone, but would you really be seeking love or intimacy? I doubt it. I doubt it because I’ve been around people in this state and what they are can only be described as: sad, hurt, and most of all guarded.


This word: Guarded. A friend described me as this just the other day. It was painful to hear that because there was a time I remember (again, vividly) when I so actively chose to be open with the world and *chose* to trust people. I wanted to. I wanted to believe that my experience with D was just evidence that *D* was the problem. I wanted to put it in a shoebox, put the shoebox in the garage, eventually even bury the shoebox in all its entirety of eleven years. I wanted to start a new day, a new year, a new life – only allowing the contents of the shoebox to prevent me from ever making the same mistake again.

As I lived with my heart on my sleeve, still recalling moment to moment all the wounds of D, I thought I was going to be able to bury the shoebox, burn it…something. Eventually, I thought, I’d have enough positive Y’s from my hopeful X’s to finally let go of someone once and for all (the someone being D…but also being the old me). As you’ve read, though, the wounds remained….and new wounds were created. And so I realized that there was no shoebox at all. And definitely no burying of it.


Admittedly, the shoebox principle above is not my own metaphor. It’s from a new person in my life who at one point wanted to believe that polyamory could be like this idea: every person in your life in their own shoe box, not affecting the other shoe boxes. Yesterday, he wrote me and said the shoebox broke: In large part – because of me.

I seem to have a way of doing this: catalyze breaking other people’s shoeboxes or showing them there aren’t even such things as shoeboxes at all. At one point, I loved it – when breaking the shoebox created positive change in others. Later, I hated it – when breaking the shoebox created negative change. Now, I just accept it as something I do, someone I am to others. I do it just by being myself and therefore I don’t have much choice in the matter.

This time, though, I realize this is a two-way catalyzing event. Writing him and doing as we call “emotional gym work” has shown me that not only are there no shoeboxes, there are no demarcations at all. All the people and all the hurt and all my shit from the past and present are all just parts of a soup (to use a new analogy; yes, you can laugh – especially since this analogy is also taken from a former high school teacher) inside of me. The soup is very regularly processed in a food processor and so you can’t even really distinguish the potatoes from the carrots or the broccoli besides the specks of different colors occasionally seen mixed in. And for me, what is also included in the soup is all everyone else’s shit around me too. Their trauma and my trauma and all the X’s and all the Y’s are all just in it together. When you taste the soup, you feel all the emotions and the overarching one is fear. Because you remember all the X’s and all the Y’s and all the shit in great fucking detail. And it can be paralyzing.


I realize all of this is about perspective, a choice. Despite knowing that, it’s hard to actually choose that when I see and feel all the fucking of people’s hearts going on around me.

And so I lie to myself. And I write things that feel true in the moment and later turn out to be about someone else’s shit or mine that I haven’t let go of because I don’t.know.how. Years of going in and out of therapy and once in a mental hospital and going to Buddhist teachers and retreats and meditating and no one can teach me how to do it, how to let go and also be able to be here in the present 100%. The only way that works and detaches me from fear of outcome is detaching entirely, putting enough walls up that no one can hurt me – but no one can feel me either, or by grieving what I have entirely even when it isn’t gone. Every moment in someone’s presence whom I love, there is a simultaneous feeling of appreciating them being in front of me, wanting to hold onto them here in the moment, and grieving the eventual loss of them (the loss that feels inevitable).


I am volunteering for hospice in part because of all of this. I am not dying and yet I live like any moment, I could or might choose to die. At times, it is freeing. At times, it is paralyzing. But if I was actually dying, would letting go be easier? As much as I want to be a companion to the dying for them, I also sort of hope they might teach me how to live.