On writing, woodwork, and nothing.

Once a year I sit down with a glass of wine. I open my laptop, reset the password for this domain, and write something that’s happening to me. A few days later, when I start feeling vulnerable, I make the post private, log out, close my laptop, and forget about writing for another year.

It’s funny, really, to find the words I need to say and then immediately hide them for only me to see. That’s how I got in this whole mess in the first place: filtering my words because it might hurt others. I don’t want anyone to feel any discomfort, so I carry it in myself so no one has to deal with it. I pretend it’s not happening. If it never happened, what’s there to feel bad about?

What I’m learning, with the help of my amazing therapist, is that swallowing what’s happening is killing me from the inside out. I recently watched 13 Reasons Why, and there was a quote that rang really true: “If you’re lucky, you live a long life, and one day your body stops working and it’s over. But if you’re not lucky, you die a little bit over and over until you realize it’s too late.”

Now, I will say this: I don’t think I’ve died a million times. In fact, I think very few things have taken any piece of me. But if you go through life swallowing every emotion you have, I think it’s as close to death as you can get. And you become this person who is lost when looking in the mirror. That’s what happened to me. Or what I learned to let happen.

Save yourself the tears: I’ve had a hundred great moments in life for every dozen bad ones. But I believe covering up the bad also mutes the good, so it’s no wonder it’s taken me so long to realize I didn’t really feel joy anymore. If you teach yourself to never feel sad, or angry, or used, or hurt, you’ll also teach yourself to never feel excited, thrilled, happy. The moments of laughing until you cry become few and far between. And so do the moments where you mourn. Everything becomes either muted or manufactured. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I can’t live that way.

Imagine you’re a woodworker. You go to the lumber store and buy a 2×4 that’s 10′ tall out of the bargain bin. Take it home. Lay it on your work bench. Take your marker and make a line at the 5′ line – exactly in the middle. Now, you’re going to use this as piece of a seesaw you’re making for the local park. At that 5′ mark, that’s where the hinge is going to go. So if you cut off a foot from the left side, you’re going to have to cut off a foot from the right. Otherwise, it’s not going to balance in the way you need it to. Also, if you take too much material from each side to make it balance, this is going to be one really short, shitty seesaw. So we need to make sure you’re leaving as much of the wood on the table as possible. Now, this piece of lumber came out of the bargain bin and has a few knots that are really going to rub people the wrong way when they’re on the seesaw, but with your limited funds, it’s what you have to work with, so you’re going to make the best of it. Again, you can’t take a lot from the left or the right, and you can’t take from just one side, so you’re going to have to repair those knots. They’re not going away on their own. So what can you do to make this seesaw comfortable? First off, you need to sand those knots down to make them smooth. This is going to take a little away from the top, which will make the surface uneven. To even it out, you’ll want to fill in those spots with something. This can be done with any number of wood fillers. You choose your favorite option based on the depth of the knot, cost, ease of use, etc. Once all of this is done, you of course have to sand the thing as a whole, maybe put a little wood tint on it, and a good sealant. Finally, you install this piece of wood – with the rest of the pieces of your seesaw – in the local park for all to enjoy. And, being the diligent woodworker you are, you check in on the seesaw from time to time to make sure it’s in tiptop shape.

Now, let’s revisit that entire woodworker scenario: The lumber store is life. Unfortunately, you have limited control on the life you’re born into, just as you have limited funds at the lumber store. Hence the bargain bin: you get what you get. The work bench is your objective reality. It’s what you see if you lay out everything you have and face your own truth. The local park is society. The seesaw is your contribution to the world, and you should want this to be as great as possible, even if it’s small and on a budget. Seesaws may be flawed, but they’re often the most fun at the park. The wood is your emotional spectrum. Take too much from one side (the bad), and you have to take from the other (the good). Take too much from both sides, and you’re going to become numb. You want a wide emotional spectrum. The knots? Those are the wounds you have. And yes, they can be on both sides of the wood. The sanding? That’s to open up the wounds, learn about them, and understand the emotions behind them. The filler? That’s therapy, and it comes in all different forms. Second sanding? This is your reevaluation of your situation. And the tint and sealant? That’s the way you approach the world with your wounds. They’re probably not going to go away, just like the knots won’t in wood, but you can learn to live with them, even love them. Lastly, it’s important to check in on yourself – the wood in your seesaw – from time to time. Sometimes you don’t know a crack developed until too late.

In the past year of working with my therapist, the most important thing I’ve learned is how limited my emotional spectrum became at the worst of it all. It’s amazing to wake up to a real feeling of joy. It’s also terrifying to wake up and think, I really wish I hadn’t woke up this morning. But it’s a lot better than what happened for months before therapy: waking up and not caring. Feeling nothing.

That’s a really real thing I felt. Nothing. I’d get up and shower and not even remember showering. Or I’d get to work and have no recollection of getting there. I’d be in meetings and think, how can I get out of here and just go back to sleep? At home, my partner would cook amazing dinners to bring a smile to my face…and I’d order fast food. Around this time, luckily, in some ways, I got laid off from work. So I had a lot of time to devote to my peril. Mostly it was spent on the couch staring at my phone. It seems weird to say this now, but I couldn’t really see past about three feet in front of me at this time. It’s as if a bubble was around me and anything outside a three-foot radius didn’t exist.

Another show I watched recently, You’re The Worst, has this scene that shows what depression sometimes feels like. And the alcohol…oh the alcohol. No amount of booze can bring back the feeling you’re chasing. But you still chase it. If anything, it just makes you more dead inside. Makes it harder to wake up in the morning. Thickens the cloud around you and between you and all the world. Three feet became about two feet in my field of vision.

When I finally broke, it wasn’t even me that broke. It was actually a sink. My ex-boyfriend (we had decided to end things by this point and he was working on moving out) shaved in the bathroom. He pushed the plug out to let the water drain, and instead the pipe fell completely out, drowning all the items in the limited space below. I calmly went and started to clean up the mess while he completely lost it in anger. And I felt pretty much nothing. Until I started crying. Something I hadn’t really done in a while. The sobbing eventually led me to the couch where I couldn’t move. And finally, after I broke, I decided to find a therapist.

I have great healthcare, and I know that I’m extremely lucky in this regard. But even trying to find help in a limited amount of time with one of the best healthcare providers in the states is not easy. The day after the sink scenario, I must’ve called five different psych offices. Most suggested that I go to an emergency room and report myself as a danger if I wanted immediate help. I was lost. But one that I contacted called me back to say they had a therapist available who was not yet licensed and studied under someone else. She could see me close to where I worked, had an opening soon, and wasn’t that expensive. I was admittedly hesitant, but meeting her just days later fundamentally set me out on a path to healing I may never have found had not that fucking sink broken.

312 Miles

From somewhere west of Houston, jump on I-10. Take the highway until you hit 96 just north of Beaumont. Once you get to Kirbyville, take 252 northwest until it intersects with 1005. There you’ll find the most quaint white church so perfect it looks as though the perfect biblio-american newlyweds might manifest at any moment with a picturesque family to throw rice on her vail.

It was there I found myself this past Saturday with Brother Harold.

A few weeks ago, though we’re not entirely sure when, my aunt passed away. I say I’m not sure because she was found on Monday, March 14th curled into the fetal position at the end of her bed after calls went unanswered and my mother forced the issue with building management until they finally agreed to unlock the door.

So I drove home last weekend to help with the arrangements. Hence the church. And Harold.

Here’s the weird thing about death: no one knows what their reaction should be. For Mom, it was a lot of frustration with the family who wouldn’t help her plan. For my other aunts and uncles, it was another person in a long and painful decade or five. Life has not gone easy on them. For my cousin who just lost her mother, answering the phone wasn’t interesting. Who could blame her? She’d lost her only sister to suicide just a few years before on July 4th.

Brother Harold led my mother and me around the old church. Though it was freshly painted and recently upgraded with six additional ceiling fans, the biblical roots had been awarded to it in 1962. Before that, it was a one room schoolhouse I later learned my grandma had attended.

To the right stood two fenced-in cemeteries. One held roughly twenty headstones overcome with long grass. Brother Harold explained that a man used to come and clean up the small area, but he died. So a friendly neighbor took on the task in order to honor whatever family owned the plot only to be scorned later for the good deed. Guilt, I guess, is also weird.

The other cemetery had markedly more headstones. I had to guess 50 or so. And the four of us zigzagged in between them all as my mother commented on who they are. Or were. Only a handful she couldn’t place.

Six of them were people I met. And as I walked by each grave, I noticed something that made every cell in my body light up. Every one of these people – my family members – died by some sort of suicide. Cancer due to smoking. Mental deterioration brought on by severe PTSD. Another smoker. Drug overdose. Diabetes (with refusal of treatment). And the sixth would be my aunt. COPD. Emphysema. Smoking.

***

I wrote the passage you just read in my head driving back from that place on Sunday to my home in Austin. It came to life on its own and I knew I needed to put it somewhere. So I decided to post it here, on Bag of Rainbows, a domain I’ve owned for so long and has held so many different forms. But now I know what it is I need to say.

A few months ago, I noticed something happening. I don’t know what else to call what the feeling was. I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to go to work. I cried with every commercial. And I was drinking (and smoking) far too much for someone in her late 20s. So I did what everyone does: tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. And I drank more. And I smoked more. And I tried to smile. Clothes went unwashed. Dinner went uneaten. And my live-in boyfriend was hardly speaking to me anymore. Every time he did, I snarled.

Around mid-February, it got so bad I was scared of myself. Clearly I was in the deepest depression I’d ever experienced. Honestly, I think I had been there for the better part of 5 years but never realized it.