Monday, October 24, 2016


I sometimes wonder
Why we tell ourselves our pasts aren’t real.
Why we call ourselves depressed
Or invent reason upon reason why the ways we feel
Are wrong
Even though we know full well
That the pulse inside of us
Is coated with the thick black pain
Of years before.


All our traumas are inherited.
I don’t know
How the man who touched my father
Received his gift
But I know my father
Was not stingy
In sharing it with others.


The problem with the past
Is that, at the time,
We didn’t know what would happen.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Gaslighter in Chief

This has been a weird election year for me. I think, because I'm finally starting to really pay attention to my own issues, I've been pretty checked out. I didn't vote in the primary, didn't feel too pumped about any candidate, and haven't had many strong reactions one way or another since. 

However, I also haven't really gotten too worked up over Trump, either. From the time he started his campaign, it's seemed pretty ridiculous. I enjoyed watching him in the primary debates and I even wished him well as he tore roughshod through the political party he'd decided to co-opt. But even after he won the primary, I've never really been afraid. He just seemed so transparently ridiculous; I simply couldn't imagine people buying into him.

If I'm honest, though, I think I also avoid him because he reminds me so much of my dad. Watching the small portions of the debates I've seen has just been like watching my parents fighting. My mom, exasperated that she has to deal with a giant child pitching a fit while she (always, always) keeps her cool. My dad, paranoid, peevish, insulting, not caring who or what he harms in his pursuit of getting what he wants (whatever fantasy he's concocted to heal his inner pain this time). The 20 minutes I watched of the most recent debate were actually cathartic for me; it was like seeing someone stand up to my dad, unbending, showing him for what he is: a blustering, nonsensical manchildbully.

It's been hard though, as well. I dismiss Trump so easily, because taking him seriously is remembering what childhood was like. When I didn't have any idea that my father was who he was, when he was just My Father, and his petulance and his sensitivities and his bullying were all Appropriate Responses to Me instead of Him Having Issues. Imagine having Trump be all there was, all there's ever been. Imagine insulting Trump, even on accident, and having Trump pour hostile invective all over you. "Nasty woman" "nasty woman" "nasty woman." "Your mother's not a bad person, she just can't really care about anybody but herself. She and your grandfather have always hated me, since we got married." "And you're just like her, selfish. Only thinking of yourself. You don't really love me. You've never loved me. You're arrogant. And you're selfish. Selfish. Selfish."

You know it's not true. But he has you pinned down in your room. There is no salvation coming. You doubt. He might know. He's your dad, after all. Or you maybe you do know, but you also know the truth won't save you. Only agreeing with him will. Only giving him what he wants. Because he's bigger. Because he's louder. Because the wounded animal schtick works. Because you're trapped. Because he'll destroy you, he'll kill you if it means he can save his self-image.

I call Trump "The Gaslighter in Chief," because the truth doesn't matter. What he says doesn't matter. What he does doesn't matter. The truth is clay, molded to fit whatever helps him get through. And I laugh, and I laugh, and I laugh. Because I know him. I know a sadder, much less successful, much angrier, much more dangerous (to child-me) version of him. I laugh, because I've sat in front of that dictator, that madman ranting about how much better I think I am than him, how I think I'm smarter, how I don't have a use for him, how he'll show me, how, just give him a reason, and he'll show me, how, just react, just a hint of anger, just a little bit to give him some justification, and he'll show me. he'll show me. he'll show me.

I laugh because when the truth doesn't matter, nothing matters. When no one can protect you, because no one can penetrate his shields. When you all you can do is join the madness or be destroyed by it.

I'm not afraid of him. Of Trump, of my father. I'm not afraid. Because no one could take them seriously. Because they can't win. Because even if they do, they'll fail. Because they have to fail. Because they're ridiculous. Because he can't kill me. Because he can't hurt me. Because Because Because

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Loneliness

So my big decision from last year was to stop being a therapist so I could start focusing more upon myself. And, so far, it's been a mostly good one. I haven't really liked what I've found, but I at least feel like I have some headspace to work through it.

And one of the biggest, hardest things I've realized is how incredibly lonely I am.

For the longest time, I don't think I've thought of it as loneliness, per se; loneliness, in my mind, has always meant being friendless, and I've never had that particular problem. For most of my life, there have been people around and, if I wanted to talk to someone, theoretically there'd be someone I could talk to. So, surely, I couldn't be lonely.

But that's really what it is. I have a lot of people in my life. I have numerous friends, I have some supportive family members, I know where I can go to find community. But when I go, I feel so distant. I feel so incredibly sad, empty at best or a disaster at worst, not great at my job, desperately single for years and years, worried about how bad I am with little feeling I can do about it.

I want to talk about it with people, I do. I want to connect, I want help. But I feel so pathetic. Like everything is bad. Like I can't relate to anything positive. Like all I can do is kill buzzes over and over again. I don't want to be a downer, so I isolate, and that just makes things worse.

People trying to help hurts, too; I try to be grateful because I know their hearts are in good places and I don't want to be rude. But mostly I just want to connect and, unless you feel pretty hopeless too, it can feel pretty hard to do so.

So I don't really know what to do. I want to trust and share and get close to people, but I feel like I can't because everything I have to share just sounds so very very sad. I don't know. I really really don't.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Ducks by the Pond

I was walking by a lake earlier this evening and I saw a flock of ducks and I remembered learning of death. As a child, I remember death, watching documentaries, seeing pictures of dinosaurs savagely devoured, seeing hyenas and lions tackle and quell wild gazelles before tearing into their once lithe flesh. I don't know how other children experienced these things, I don't know how adults think of them now. But to me, then, it was horrific. The helplessness of the zebra, the smooth femininity of the deer, the beauty of peaceful animals grazing until they were destroyed was like learning the world was a monstrous place and I hopelessly trapped inside it.

I suppose, on some level, I identified with the zebra, with the deer. Death, sex, and surrender destroyed me too. It was so long ago and I was so young, but I know my father broke me like a cat toying with a mouse, the mouse knowing it's dead but not dead yet. He played with me, provoked me, watched me struggle in no-win situations and he would laugh a savage laugh at how helpless I was and he would keep poking keep needling hurting me hurting me hurting me and I would go crazy in the horror and pain I could never seem to leave. You ask me what living in that world is like and I will tell you it is masking every ounce of your body in placating mirrors and having no hope for anything but finding some way to burn the impurities from your soul so you can stop provoking a grown man's madness.

And it is as awful when the rest of the world turns a blind eye to it and says "this can't be true, it cannot happen, you are traumatized, it was not that bad, you are depressed, it is not that bad, you are disproportionate you are broken you are ill we must not think on these things the future the present are what matter the past is the past and this cannot be true and we don't understand you are exaggerating you were a child get over it and it was so long ago and it cannot be true and you are ill and your mind is ill and you are ill." And I want to turn back to the world and say "If I am ill to see what is there and what happened happens is happening all around then I cannot imagine what sanity health and you could be."

Thursday, September 1, 2016

On Turning 30, Twice Told

Turning 30 is kind of awful. Awful because, as I look at my life, I realize how little of it I like. I don't have a career path I feel good about, I haven't been in a romantic relationship in five years. I don't feel like I have much of anything going for me and I don't really know what to do.

And that's hard. It's just really, really hard. I had planned for things to be so different, to, at the very least, have a career I felt pretty good about and then to focus on the rest after grad school ended. But being a therapist proved too much for my trauma-addled brain and academia seems like a difficult fit at best. So I feel like I'm back to square one, without much to show for it. It's honestly kind of devastating, and I feel so incredibly overwhelmed and defeated because of it.

So that's part of where I'm at, one narrative that's really been getting me down the past few months.

But another narrative is this:

A few weeks ago, I was on facebook and saw something strange. Someone I didn't know was posting on one of my facebook friend's walls. At first, I didn't even recognize the person I was friended to. Gradually, I remembered; we'd met online years ago and we hadn't spoken in some time since. As I looked at their feed, I saw they hadn't posted anything in years. I kept looking, kept seeing all these people writing on their wall with no response from them. And then I realized: they were dead. They'd killed themselves, almost four years earlier.

They were a fellow gender warrior, a fellow tortured survivor who I'd met online and spoken with off and on for a little while. I don't know that I was surprised, necessarily. But it was sobering all the same.

I realized, then, that that could of been me. I've courted death for years, warring inside myself for most of my post-pubertal life. Ten years ago this month was when I actually made my attempt, and with every breath of cold Fall air I feel like I'm back in that awful place again. I've come so close, so many times to dying, dying, dying.

I've been hurting so much, for so long. And I'm not alone. I know so many others who hurt, who've been hurt, who have spent years healing wounds older than all of us. And there is a part of me that almost feels it's a betrayal to myself, to my fallen friend, to my fellow sufferers, if I keep on hurting myself. I don't want to keep suffering. I don't want to keep feeling alone, to keep living in a darkened past without sight of any future to come. I don't think this pain helps me. I don't think it helps anyone.

So I don't know. On the one hand, I feel so incredibly beaten. I feel like life has finally won, and it's telling me I should give in like it's been telling me to do for all this time. I feel empty, broken. Done.

But there's also something different. The glimmer of resilience, a desire to love, a desire to live long enough just to see what happens. I don't know if I'll be able to sustain it, and there are still so many times when I don't think I'm going to make it. But at least a part of me wants to. A part of me wants to live. And, at the very least, that's something.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

8.8.16 #1

(I keep writing parts of "essay posts" and run out of steam, so I'm going to try some straight-up journaling and see how it goes.)

I've been in Tacoma for almost a week. It's been interesting. The whole place feels so worn down and burdened. The signs are faded, there's a fair amount of trash, the aesthetics are industrial and defeated. I keep wondering what Seattle is like, if there's more life there. In Tacoma, it's kind of sinister. There's a fair amount of homelessness, graffiti, etc. It feels like the land and its people are angry. I don't know what they're angry about. Poverty? Past misdeeds of white settlers? Changing economics? It's just so different from sanitized Salt Lake City, where everything was clean and suppressed. Here, it hangs out in the open for all to see. It's scarier, in some ways. I kind of like it.

I miss home a lot. Tacoma's like bizzaro Knoxville; it's overflowing with vegetation. But it's darker, moodier. I can totally see why vampires and werewolves would live here. It feels punkier, fierce, untamed in a way the South felt so stagnant and resigned. I have one bluegrass CD in my car (from "the everybodyfields"), and I listen to it over and over again. I wish I was home. I feel like I took it for granted. I feel like I didn't give it a chance. Like I judged it too much, expected too much from it. I want slow and sad. I want the places I remember. The plants, the trees. The Smokies (where you don't even have to pay to enter). The people I knew, most of whom have left it anyway. I want everything to be familiar. And easy. I want things to be easy. So, so easy.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

On Suicide and The Future

For many years, suicide was a pretty constant part of my life. It was a coping mechanism, albeit a pretty bad one. Whenever things got too hard or whenever I did something I felt bad about (which is/was pretty often), I would fantasize about killing myself. Sometimes violently as self-punishment, sometimes more deliberate, as an escape. But each time, it gave me two things: a way to demonstrate how truly sorry I was for hurting others and a way to avoid failing more.

When suicide is a constant possibility, it warps your sense of the future: there's always the very real possibility that there won't be one. You never have to think about the long term, never have to deal with uncomfortable thoughts of age or change. You just blink to suicide and the pain goes away.


I think that's part of what's making turning 30 so difficult. I think part of me honestly never thought I'd get here. When I made my attempt at 20, I really did plan on dying. It was surreal and traumatic, thinking that was really going to be it. And when I failed, I was kind of at a loss. As if in some way I really did die that day and everything after is "bonus time."

So now I'm turning 30. And I'm looking at the next decade and I'm thinking "what the hell." I never really expected to get here. I'm still kind of shocked. I never expected to have to deal with being single. Or to deal with a career/job/money if my current plan didn't work out. Or to deal with getting older and what that means. I always just assumed that if shit got real, I could/would peace out of this mortal coil and be done with it.

But now I'm at a point where I don't really want to die. So instead I'm tasked with actually figuring out how, exactly, to deal with my problems. And that's just really hard. The deep sense of hopelessness, of helplessness, of worthlessness is so challenging to work through. There's so much pain, pain I avoided for years and years in one way or another. I honestly don't know if or how I'll do it. It's truly awful. And yet, there's something hopeful about approaching life as if I'll be living it rather than constantly looking for a way out. I really hope I find a way to make it work.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

On Sadness in Salt Lake City

Last night, I had a dream. We were driving down the interstate when, abruptly, my old dog (Lucky) jumped out the window and waddled off the road into a subdivision. Our younger dog, Jesse, quickly followed him. Frantically, I dove after him, leading me on a chase through darkened backyards and fading twilight. I was filled with worry that I would never see him again, never love him again, aching with concern given his age and lack of awareness of the dangers of the world. Eventually, I reached a point where I accepted I could not find him, and I slowly retraced my steps. I came across my family, smiling as they followed my trail. They had found Jesse, who was running joyfully. But, despite their almost oblivious smiles, Lucky was gone.

Then I woke up. And I remembered that Lucky's death was not a clear and present danger; he had died when I was 13, in seventh grade. Even Jesse, in this dream practically a pup, had died a few years ago, driven mad by a kind of doggy dementia, eventually not even able to leave the house to go to the bathroom. In an unconnected part of the dream, my grandfather's apartment was being flooded by water, the rising levels threatening to wreck the place, and again I felt so worried about losing someone I cared about. Waking, he too has been dead almost four years.

It's an awful thing, to feel so worried about a loved one's safety in a dream, only to wake up and remember they're already dead. Like a damaged memory that can't even hold the certainty of the past as a kind of relief, I get the fear and ache without the resolution. And it has me wondering about sadness. What the value of it is, and what happens when we do away with it entirely.


Growing up, my family was choked with sadness. It hung in the air like a poison, a fog which blurred our vision but which we'd never acknowledge. My father would move about our house like a wounded animal, bleating (in huge, exaggerated sighs) for some kind of attention or comfort only to harshly push it away when it was offered. He was like a living ghost, corporeal enough to hurt us but so clearly trapped inside his past that he was practically unreachable from the present.

My mother was even more peculiar. Taking her tricylcic antidepressant, she had the energy and disposition to keep going (often seeming like a pack animal who carried the material realities of the family on her back while we all managed our own pains in isolation). But even though she's kinder and better to me than my father, I've always felt more distant from her. Whereas my father is drenched in sadness, rolling off of him in every moment he's alive, my mother's is compartmentalized, hidden inside somewhere she (and the rest of the world) never wish to go.

But while the pain was everywhere, we never would talk about it. No one told me my father was an alcoholic. He just seemed to act crazier sometimes for no reason (which I, of course, attributed to some aberrant behavior on my part). No one talked about his periodic outbursts, where he would scream at my mother (and to a lesser degree, my sister and I) about supposed betrayals and attribute to her a brutal callousness which even as a child I knew was fantasy. In these episodes, our family would periodically be brought to the brink of apocalypse, with my sister and I reduced to abject masses of tears and terror, saying anything he wanted us to in desperate attempts to get him to stop. And the next morning, we would all act as if it had never happened. Not a word would be said, as if it was all a fever dream and we'd all gotten over it. Even now, it's tempting to believe none of it was real. But as I have slowly worked through this awful lifelong depression, I've found my body still knows what my mind can't bear to process. The sadness is there, whether I face it or not.


In Salt Lake City, there is little room for sadness. The city is clean, the people are bright, the pursuit of perfection is a constant. Unlike the Southern United States, where people are raised to accept their fundamental brokenness from the day they're born, in Utah they're always working towards utopia. Whereas the South's Old Time Religion incentivizes the faithful with the threat of fire and brimstone for eternity if they don't comply, the LDS Church gives promises of happiness in this life and even greater joy in the next. Unlike the South, where the majority of people want things to be "as they've always been," out West people want change. Conservative as much of their ideology is, there's a desire to learn, to grow, to be "better" that constantly challenges the status quo.

Just so, I've become more hopeful out here. I see change as possible, for myself and others. I see growth, flexibility. I feel like things don't have to be the way they are. And in a city of this particular idealism, I've been pushed to move in ways the South would never offer.


I'm not sure I'd call it better, though. Utah consistently ranks as one of the happiest states, with Tennessee (and other Southern states) some of the lowest. Utah also has some of the highest rates of antidepressant use, prescription drug abuse, and suicide in the nation. In my experience, people's outside expressions are happier here. And yet, for some reason, I feel more disconnected than ever.

Part of it, I think, is that at least in the South there's space for sadness. The chords are darker. The literature is gothic. Even the grass is blue. Sin is everywhere, and we all know it. But out here? More often than not, LDS folks are true believers. As a friend put it, "people in Utah actually are what people in the South claim to be." As a nonbeliever, it often strikes me as practically bizarre, even as it genuinely seems to work for so many. But at least for me, while it does seem happier, I think there's something missing all the same.

In Inside Out, Pixar proposes that the core value of sadness is expressing vulnerability. Expressing sadness, while painful and potentially opening one to hurt, also creates opportunities for intimacy and emotional support. It's the stuff connection is made of. And in connection, we find safety. And in safety, we find the space to change. When we don't express sadness or pain, we end up like my family: disconnected, separate, going through the motions of togetherness without the feelings that make it worthwhile or the change that help us all work towards something different.

And while I've been in Salt Lake City, I've felt similarly. People are nice. People are sincere. But it all seems so surface and distant. Even in progressive, artistic spaces, I can't escape it. Both times at Utah Pride, I went to the Queer Poetry Slam and at an Arts Festival I saw some really cool storytelling and short films. It was wonderful to have those opportunities for artistic expression. But all were framed as competitions, with the audience asked to rate every film, story, and performance, and I just can't stand it. I can't stand being prompted to evaluate everything, as if I can't just experience something without having to compare it to everything else and then establish which is "better." Yes, it might push people to "try harder." But it also disconnects us from the act of authentic expression and prompts us to see it as a product for consumption instead. In the drive to turn it into something "fun," we lose the pain, lose the sadness which makes it all so beautiful.

I'm sure this is hardly limited to SLC. But much of The Beehive State does feel uniquely driven to make everything positive and good in a way that undercuts so much of the real pain that doesn't have a place in "perfection." Everyone's trying to be the best, to look the best, to perform the best. There's constant pressure to look and be so gosh darn good. Utah's "Utahpianism" is more hopeful and maybe its optimism and forward thinking genuinely results in more happiness for some. But, at least to me, it so often feels like avoidance. Like a city of missed connection.

Of course, I don't know if the South's way is all that much better. The constant aggrievement of white Christians is obnoxious, and as a friend once commented to me, the Civil War is still very present in some incredibly toxic ways. But I think somewhere between the South's holding on to the pains of the past and Utah's emphasis upon the possibilities of the future is a present space which strikes me as different.

Sadness (and even its more painful cousin, depression) is important. It causes us to step back, to reflect and observe, to think about where pain comes from before deciding to venture forth anew. Ignoring sadness causes us to do the same thing, over and over again. And when that same thing isn't working for us, we just end up in a cycle where there is pain without change.

In some ways, I feel like that's where I've been for awhile: a cycle of pain without change. But now, I increasingly want to do something different. SLC's helped give me some hope, but now I want connection. I want to find that middle space between holding on and ignoring altogether. One that acknowledges, learns, and moves. But at least for the next while, I think I'm going to practice letting myself be sad. I suspect I have a lot of catching up to do.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On Change and Happiness

I was reading an AVClub review about an episode of 'Girls' where it suggests one of the characters had a pretty easy life because she was pretty but then found that things didn't work that way outside in the "real world" and thus she finds herself floundering.

But far more common, at least to my mind, is the Marnie, the person—male or female—who had a pretty firm idea of what their life was going to look like and expected life to just hand it to them once they got out of college. They had done everything right. They had the looks and the education and the five-year plan. But they’d forgotten to build a personality, because they never really had to. 
 When I read it, I thought about being smart. Unlike Marnie, I don't know that I had an expectation that things would work out. I had such low self-esteem I basically just wanted a job I could be somewhat creative in without worrying about being fired from for performance; I've always been afraid things will fall apart.

What's similar, though, is how having one particularly strong area can mean the other areas don't get developed well. The nature of school fit particularly well with my most developed skillsets, so even though I haven't been happy since childhood, I don't know that I was as anxious as I am now about my ability to function in the non-school world.

As it happens, though, being smart and critical don't help with what's most important in working with others: relationships. I had the comfort of being a detached idealist as a young adult (it's a great fit with male socialization). But the more I'm asked to be in "the real world" the more I've wilted.

I don't trust other people. It's a weird mistrust that I haven't quite figured out. But I assume they'll think the worst of me. I assume I will displease them. I assume they resent me for not being better than I am to them. They're all still my father. And although it's made me terribly unhappy, I don't think I've had to learn to trust others, because I always had the independence and forward momentum of school to keep me going.

That momentum's about to stop. I'll be done with school in July, and the hope of things somehow "getting different" when I reach some fabled destination at the end of the academic rainbow seems mostly fantasy. And it's probably a good thing. Like Marnie, I'm pretty insecure. I was a one-trick pony growing up (two, if you count the jokes, but I stopped trying to entertain people in my early 20s). And that trick's no good anymore. For a good decade or two, I've not felt I had someone I truly trusted who I could talk to, who would consistently love me. And now, I'm just a person in a sea of people without secure connection hating how her life is going who has more ungrieved trauma than she knows what to do with.

Unlike in the past, I don't want to double-down on what's not working. I don't want to invest all my stock in hoping things will someday get better. Right now, as has been true for most of the past 20 years, I'm not happy. And I want to be happy. I want to have deeper, secure connections. I want to feel like I'm doing what I can, that more people than not will be ok with that, and that I'm capable of doing something that can positively impact others (whatever it may be). I don't want to wait for life to get better. I don't want to waste more time striving for a fantasy that won't be true. I want to learn how to have good relationships with others. I want to learn how to have a better relationship with myself. I don't want to worry about school or work or conventional models of success. I want to be happy and I don't want to wait for that to happen anymore.

So that's my plan. Do what makes me happy. And if it doesn't make me happy (and I have enough money to sustain myself), it might be time to try something else.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

On Honesty

Every time I try to write something here, it's like some kind of performance. I try to go for a big theme, a big narrative, contexualize or historicize. It's funny: people used to talk about how well I write. They'd talk about how vulnerable I can be, how articulately I can express myself. But for awhile now, I feel like I haven't been expressing myself- I've just been telling a story. A story where I can't get hurt. Where I'm not hurting. Not really.

My mind was never a safe place growing up. My father saw to that. One of the scariest situations I could be in would be riding in the car alone with him. And he turns to me and asks "what are you thinking?" When I was real young, I used to answer honestly. But almost always he'd get upset. If there was anything I was upset about, he'd take it personally and fire back at me. At the time, it was incredibly confusing: he'd ask me what I was thinking, but it was like he never wanted to actually know. He wouldn't even let me say "nothing;" he'd always say "I know you're thinking something." And of course what I'm thinking is "I wish you'd leave me alone, you don't actually want to know what I'm actually thinking." Which is why he's asking me in the first place, because he's probably afraid of what it is too. That I'm afraid of him, that I feel incredibly uncomfortable, that I don't feel like I can protect myself or leave and that I'm just completely exposed without recourse. So eventually, when I was in the car with him, I would constantly have another narrative running, a decoy script I could give to him that would assuage any of his fears and reassure him everything was ok. It was exhausting, certainly. But it was better than the alternative.

I don't know if I know how to be honest. To say what I really feel. I guess I say versions of it, certainly. Maybe we all do. But so much of it still feels scripted. Like all of you are him, and I have to tell you what's palatable. What you can handle. What won't hurt you, what won't worry you, what won't tap into your insecurities and set a fire nothing but time and causing pain can put out. And maybe most of it's not a lie. Not really. But it's not the whole truth. It's not everything. I'm not really sure what everything even is. Maybe I should figure that out.