by: Heather Fawn
A wounded bird, trying exhaustedly to fly…..
The counselor with the unplaceable accent peered at me from behind a survey on my ability to cope with everyday life. On it, I had circled various numbers on scales, written matter-of-factly about the ways I have been wronged, and gauged my general feelings on life. All in an attempt to summarize my reasons for seeking out a mental health professional.
I could tell that she was interested.
“Why don’t you go back overseas? You were in Australia and Japan? I have a friend who lives in Japan, and she says the transition back to the States is always difficult.” She said this carefully, measuredly.
I explained that yes, I will be leaving again soon. Four years back in America have been unkind. I have more debt, my family resolutely waved me away with an indifferent hand, and my jobs don’t pay all my bills. I thought I was making a good decision to come back, but America has been like the family who never particularly cared whether I returned, and certainly has nothing to offer me by way of showing me my value or personal worth.
The first order of business appeared to be, immediately point out what has been glaring me in the face – I’m in the wrong country. She’s wasn’t wrong.
By my third session, I discovered from another series of questions that I most assuredly have PTSD symptoms. Reading, “I feel hopeless about the future,” in my signature flourish of intensity without emotion, and verifying it with, “Yes, I’d say most of the time,” I felt self-conscious about my level of fucked-upness, and suddenly had the urge to jerk up my inner child, dust her off, cover her in gauze, and slap her on the butt before sending her off and it’s pressing. I realized I have real problems, that need real solutions. They aren’t just me dwelling on my past. I have psychic injuries. I’m a wounded bird trying to fly. It does not feel good to confirm this. But it is also somehow encouraging.
“Your mother has – probably has – a personality disorder.”
“You have to remember to be resolute and to take care of yourself.”
“I’m sorry about this new development with your family. They may not know how to cope with what you’ve told them because they may not be dealing with many things themselves.”
At least we were on the same page.
Last week, in preparation for EMDR, which sounds like bullshit but for which I am all about because I don’t have to try to stare hard at the floor while I cry, I am given a preview of the beepy tones in the headphones, and vibrating things to hold which pulse in tandem with the tones in the left or right ear. This is when I will create my “safe place” in my mind. I’d laugh if I weren’t so completely on board. I am like a waterlogged sailor who no longer makes fun of tiny, rickety lifeboats. I am rowing the hell out of these oars in search of hospitable lands.
At the end of the session, she was sufficiently pleased with my mental acrobatics as I confirmed that I could neutralize stressful cognitions with my “safe place” imagery.
“How are you?”
“How are you, really?”
(I couldn’t cry with ten minutes left. I wouldn’t do it.)
I’m ok. I have to be.
I recapped my feelings of disillusion and loss after my extended family, all in their own ways, failed to believe, or did not respond to, an emotional email in which I explained that I could not be anywhere near my abusive parents, and therefore, painfully and regretfully, have elected to miss weddings, births, and most recently, a weeklong vacation with everyone, including remote cousins. I tried to dissolve the watery tension in my throat with swallowing and carefully chosen words. I took my time explaining my feelings so as not to allow the pain to escape through my eyes.
I will not allow my body to betray me.
I know this is not productive.
I am alone. I don’t know how it feels to die, but I think I am dying often. Usually in the middle of the night. I used to panic more than I do now. Now, I know the terror. I know the sorrow. I know the futility of wishing for something that was never meant to be. A place where people love me. Plural. People. That is not something that is happening in this world. When I feel like I’m dying, I know I am alone. I know there is no one to call who remembers what I looked like when I took my first step. I know there is no one to cry to when I have my heart broken. I come from a group of thirty people who will not even know if I die. If I go missing.
No one is waiting up for me, while I sweat into my sheets. I have only facts. Facts hold me together. Truth holds me together. And I need to know this, because there is no more ambiguity. And there can’t be. I must not have my heart broken again so quickly next time. When my sister writes me to tell me she hates me. When my cousin says it’s better if we don’t talk because she doesn’t believe what I say.
I am alone, and no one is waiting up for me. No one but my brother believes me. No one loves me.
Repeat it. Let it soothe with its certainty.
No one in your family loves you, and no one is waiting for you.
Words that sound hyperbolic to others are absolutes for me.
No one in your family loves you.
Somebody told me last week they love me. They told me yesterday they love me. They will tell me again today, tomorrow. It’s paralyzingly scary. These words are not only a gift. They can gut me if they are rescinded. There is a terrible beauty in being loved. A ferocious pain and an explosion of hope. I can barely take it. I can barely take the exchange between myself and others. I am a tightly wound bundle of fragile hopes and exposed nerves.
I found out I was an orphan, for lack of a better word, long after I left home. I am grateful that I never knew it growing up. I am grateful that I hoarded the drops of kindness lent to me by the people with whom I share DNA. Those little holograms got me through. I never imagined that I would go back to the place that I kept all those pieces of kindness, and find that they were gone. But I am grateful I didn’t know, as a child, just how shallow the benevolence was.
Tomorrow is my first session of EMDR.
“I need you to write down the ten worst things that have ever happened to you, and to rate them up to ten, with a ten being ‘very distressing’.”
I have fifteen. I have fifteen very distressing things. I condense them. I put them on the paper provided. I am going to do this. I am going to talk about it.
The person who says they love me asks if I am ok. I tell them I feel disposable. I tell them how I feel like less than nothing. I tell them that nothing I do matters. To my amazement, they just let me talk. They don’t tell me I’m being depressing, or talking too much.
“You matter to me.”
I’ll try to let that sink in. I’ll try not to let it roll right off of me.
I marvel how much love there is in the world, how some people cultivate it. How much love I actually feel for others, and reciprocate for the person who says they love me.
I matter, in small ways, to certain people.
I shall be an ascetic, a monk, a still pool of cool, deep water. I shall be the ether, the clouds, the way the bed sinks into the middle when I lie on it. I shall be the steady rise and fall of a chest that keeps going no matter how much it questions that rise and that fall. Those are some of the things I try to feel when I want to stop existing. When I just want to keep living, to keep persisting, but without feeling anything. I think about grass and sunlight on the trees and the blue sky that always makes me feel so much pain because it doesn’t feel real.
I shall be myself, in this body, with this searing pain that overcomes me, this existential crisis that grips me by the shoulders and shakes me savagely. I shall be this person who keeps putting one foot in front of the other and making sense in little moments.
Let it be enough for me, just to even exist.