I’ve been wondering lately, about time.
Is it a riddle to be solved?
Or an illusion to be shattered?
I’ve been wondering lately, about time.
Is it a riddle to be solved?
Or an illusion to be shattered?
October was far too kind. Temperate and lovely as ever, the buttery golden glow of Autumn greeted me each morning through my window, and waved goodbye in a heavenly display of color each night, if ever a heaven could there be.
A long-awaited solace after a season that seemed determined to break me to the point of what felt like near-insanity; my first deep breath in months. A phrase I have uttered many times before, it bears repeating: I love you, October.
Lately, between long swaths of editing photos, I am captivated by the image outside the window to my left. The vines that grow on the north side of our house surround the glass in a dreamy foreground, the leaves fade each day from brilliant green to yellows, oranges, reds. I look beyond, and the great old trees in my neighbors yard seem to wave, dance, greet me in the happy October sunshine. I answer the call, and wander out my front door.
I walk down my front steps into that same sun, I lift my face upward, eyes closed, and breathe. I pretend I am a tree, and all I must do is grow my roots deep into the ground as I reach, stretch my branches into the sky, cast sweet shade onto the ground, become a home for birds and bugs, and dance when the wind comes. Something about the simplicity, the absolute clarity of that existence calms me. The sun gently kisses my face, and it almost feels like if I love it hard enough, I could stop time. I could stop time, and dance in the Autumn splendour for the rest of my days.
But reality is a cruel alarm. I know this thought is only vapor, the mist of my dreams. Swipe a hand through it a few times, and it’s gone. I’m grown now. I can no longer live entire days in the comfort of the imaginary. I have responsibilities, obligations, roles to fill. There are rivers and chasms in the landscape of my face that weren’t there before. I’m not as soft anymore, not near as gentle as that October sunshine. Not as hopeful as I used to be.
I’ve been here too many times before to allow such notions to sweep me away. I remember too vividly the pain of hitting the hard earth again when those gusts of delusion settle. I don’t know how to hold onto her anymore, the little girl who tugs at my jacket, begging me to play in imaginary. I don’t know where she fits among all of this harsh reality. The truth is, she’s grown up. It’s done. She’s grown and she cannot go backwards. You never can. That’s the trick of it, time. When you’re younger, it feels fluid, bendable, fickle. But as you age, it becomes so strict, stiff, hardened like lines in your aging face.
I am now a grown up girl who knows that time can’t be altered, that seasons can’t be put on pause, that loving something enough will never transform it into what you hope it might be. Even if you wish for it with every birthday candle, desperately beg for it in every prayer, give up your identity to help it find its own. No matter how many times you take it by the shoulders, and shake it with violent motion, it will never be enough. It is out of your control.
It is a losing game, always, to spend your precious effort on transforming what was never yours to change.
There's a storm over the mountains. I can see it, the way the clouds streak downward, like spilled ink, signaling rain. I wish it would come back this way. I sit on my porch, taking in the second-to-last day of July. The sun descends gradually behind the horizon, its last rays bleeding brilliant color from the sky. It's a miracle, a masterpiece. I don't understand how everyone doesn't come running out of their houses to kneel at its presence.
Everything is alive. A friendly breeze sweeps down our street, sweetly enveloping me, dragging its feet through the tree tops. Something about the summer breeze, it feels like a deep, satisfied sigh.
Contentment. Peace. Such simple gifts I find on summer evenings just by walking out my front door. The kitty runs across the yard to meet me where I stand in the road, marveling at the sky. I scoop her up, and we're still. We take it in. Crickets. Sprinklers. Cars passing by. The light of day slowly fades. I can almost hear them, the last breaths of July.
“We deny that in order to do something well we must first be willing to do it badly. Instead, we opt for setting our limits at the point where we feel stifled, smothered, despairing, bored. But yes, we do feel safe. And safety is a very expensive illusion.” –Julia Cameron
A railroad-switch, from one track to another. That’s what my mental and emotional recovery has felt like: a railroad-switch in my brain. My usual train of thought was on a fixed course of depression, anxiety, and crippling low self-esteem. This was how it had always been: the same track, the same thoughts, the same overpowering monologue repeating the same theme, “Something is wrong with you. You’re not enough. You never will be.” My Inner Critic playing the role of the maniacal conductor, driving me forward, hellbent on my destruction – or on keeping me from ever taking a single risk – though I would consider those things the same.
When you have issues in such areas, people like to offer advice. Ironically, the people who are most vocal about what you should do are those who have never known such a struggle. They ask questions like, “What are you depressed about?” Which is like asking someone with Cancer, “What are you cancered about?”
See, it isn’t about anything. It’s just there, hanging on to you, enveloping everything in a dense fog, making the smallest tasks seem impossible.
People like to tell you what you need to do. “You just need to be happier, more grateful. You just need to stop letting those things bother you. You just need to believe in yourself.”
They’re all eager to tell you what to do. But no one tells you how.
How to begin to love yourself. How to feel happier every day. How to stop giving people or situations the power to derail your entire day or week or month.
And so, this is my how.
A few years ago, something in me snapped. It became clear that this route I was on, I didn’t like. It no longer seemed acceptable to feel the way I did every day. What’s funny is, it hadn’t occurred to me until that point that I had any right to even have an opinion about the state of my existence. I had been stuck in survival mode, accepting any scraps that were left to me without considering I could ever have more, calling any good things happy accidents, flukes, not to be expected or depended upon.
This was the breaking point. It was as if my heart had become so tired of watching me sleepwalk into co-dependent relationships, crippling self-doubt, impulsive people-pleasing, social anxiety, wishing I could just disappear into walls, that it started acting out. From deep within me, it began demanding more, causing a ruckus in my soul, making every effort it could to wake me up.
And bless my heart, wake up I did. I can’t say exactly when. It was a process. Up to that point, I had been living in a zombie-like resignation to my day-to-day life. After a while, I started getting anxious, fidgety, discontented, and I didn’t know why. Everything was the same. But that was the problem. Everything was the freaking same. So many aspects of my life started to feel silly, contrived, pointless. I started to dream, all day, of other worlds, other lives. My boss pulled me into her office to point out that I had been neglecting my work.
Then came the anger, which, I see now, is one of my dearest friends and allies.
“Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit…but we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.
Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. Anger shows us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and lets us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger. In the recovery of a blocked artist, anger is a sign of health. Anger is meant to be acted upon. It is not meant to be acted out. Anger points direction. We are meant to use anger as a fuel to take the action we need to move where our anger points us. With a little thought, we can usually translate the message that our anger is sending us.” -Julia Cameron
Seeing it was going to take more than a bit of day dreaming to get me to make a move, anger rose up and shoved me in the right direction. It was like the Darvaza gas crater burning in my soul. I got defensive of my own time, of the things that actually mattered. I started yelling in rush-hour traffic, beating my fists on the steering wheel at anything that stood in my way. I took an art class. I started setting boundaries with people. I stopped giving time to those who mistreated me. I started trying new things, not to appear good at them, but to just see how it felt. Work became intolerable, an obstacle in the way of real life. My boss pulled me into her office to tell me I needed to stop yelling at customers.
I felt less like me and more like myself than ever before. I slowly realized that, hang on, this is my train! My identity! My existence! I needed to take control, to claim my own life because nobody else was going to, nobody else could. I needed a new way of thinking.
“Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go.” -Alan Watts
Oddly enough, the first step to that was surrender. Letting go:
-Of trying to save everyone. (They can walk.)
-Of trying to control other’s perception of me. (Impossible.)
-Of the concept of security. (Delusion.)
-Of harmful love. (Aka: not love.)
-Of the Frankenstein standard of who I was “supposed” to be. (Funny, but not annoying. Smart, but not intimidating. Nice, but not a pushover. Creative, but not weird. Open-minded, but not one of those liberal hippies. Pretty, but still tough. Assertive, but not a bitch.)
((Basically, I took a scalpel to any admirable part of another person and stitched them together until I was left with a big sack of dead skin. And this is what I was comparing myself to. Self-sabotage is hilarious.))
Once I gave myself permission to obliterate this illusion, this unattainable standard, I was finally able to begin the process of actually liking myself for the first time. That is not an exaggeration. I’ve only recently learned to like who I am for the first time, ever.
Because that’s where it all begins and ends: my relationship with myself. The way I treat myself. What I believe about myself. To me, the world is a mirror. We see what we want to see by projecting our feelings, perspective, opinions, onto everything.
“Destiny is a feeling you have that you know something about yourself no one else does. The picture you have in your own mind of what you’re about will come true.” –Bob Dylan
I learned, from a young age, to disapprove of myself. In fourth grade, all of the kids in my class loved recess. I hated it. I wasn’t social, and didn’t have anyone my age to play with. I’ve never really liked games. Where’s the story? The deeper meaning? Why I am making an ass of myself attempting to wrap this stupid tether ball around a pole? Recess was loud, chaotic. All I wanted to do was stay inside the quiet classroom and read Harry Potter. Which I did, as often as my teacher would allow.
It was at that point where I started to see the ways in which I was unique. Only, I didn’t see it as uniqueness. Because of my environment, I saw it as something weird, strange, wrong, undesirable, deficient, broken. I saw myself as broken.
Enter my obsessive concern for what others think of me. It creeped up, wrapped itself around me in a tight grip, sunk its invasive roots into my skin, heart, bones, entangling itself so deeply into the substance of me until I could no longer separate the two. It took over my every conscious thought, projected my insecurities onto everyone’s faces, twisted their expressions until they were all jeering, laughing, staring in disgust.
“They think I’m broken,” was more or less the anthem to my existence. Anything anyone did, regardless of their real intent, was evidence of it. Why? Because I believed it myself. And, of course, there were payoffs to the belief. If I’m broken, if I already know that I can’t, then I’m the exception – I don’t need to try.
Life, over the past few years, has been the process of painstakingly detangling this belief from what I really am.
“I literally had to reprogram my brain. You can’t take one workshop or read one book and say, ‘It didn’t work.’ No. No. You must say your life is worth fighting for, you are worth fighting for, and you must decide to be worth fighting for.” –Rhonda Britten
To love myself, I had to first convince myself that I was worth loving. I didn’t believe it. This was obvious in the way I was suspicious of anyone who offered me a compliment. “They had to say that,” I’d think. Or, “They’re just trying to manipulate me. They can’t actually admire me. That’s ridiculous!” And this is where the track switch comes in. I had to begin to build a new track. Pave a new road. Blaze a new trail in my mind. Make way for new thoughts, for entirely new ways of being.
Think. How many negative thoughts about yourself do you have on a daily basis?
If you’re lucky, it’s a pretty low number. For me, it was huge. That little voice in my head would berate me, criticize and pick apart every single thing I did. And so, it was time to fight back. It was time to say nice things to myself. To compliment her. To nurture her. To give her permission to exist. To give her some damn credit.
At first, it felt hopeless. Impossible. Pointless. We resist change, even good change, because it’s more comfortable to just stay where we are. Even if that’s a horrible place that does us no justice. Building a new track is difficult. It doesn’t happen all at once. Certainly not. You do it piece by piece. There is no other way. Sometimes, it feels like progress. Other times, it feels like trying to puzzle back together every star in the sky. (Though, I suppose that would be beautiful no matter where you put the pieces. And maybe that’s the point. Just build the thing. Get going. You’ll figure it out as you go.)
But, eventually, there was a shift, a change. I started having more good days than bad. Even the bad days weren’t quite as deep and dark and devastating as they used to be. I learned to be aware, mindful of my own thoughts and feelings, to identify that inner critic, to argue with it, to fight back against it.
It would make the same old attempts at devaluing me. Some snarky comment after a particularly awkward social exchange, “That was horrible. Who would ever want to be friends with someone as painful to talk to as you? I mean, you can’t even manage a normal human interaction! You’re worthless.”
Only, instead of allowing that thought to snowball out of control and convince me to run home and hide for a week, my thoughts went something like this: “Actually, no. False. I’m not worthless. And here are five reasons why that I have stored in my mind because I wrote them down yesterday and read them to myself again this morning. So THERE, Inner Critic. You’re not only inaccurate but unpleasant in a manner most unnecessary.”
Though sometimes, I want to give up, go back to sleep, to the familiar, let my inner critic take over again. But that’s the point, I think, of this whole thing. This is why I refer to my experience as a “recovery” instead of a cure or permanent shift in consciousness. Just like an addiction, these core negative beliefs that fuel my mental illness will most likely be there, in some capacity, my entire life. They are deeply rooted and know exactly how to break me down. I’ll have the occasional relapse, but now I know what those beliefs are. I’ve identified where they came from, how they serve me and how they hurt me. And because I know them, I’m learning how to keep them at bay.
You can’t fight an enemy that you’re unable to identify or don’t understand. And so, that’s my how. Lean into your demons, your shame, your dark parts. Listen to what they’re telling you, learn their stories. And then fight them. Fight for your own self. No one else can.
You must make your life happen, or your life will happen to you. And the things that scare you the most are the very things you must do.
Within the warm, post-winter air, I swear, must be a drug.
I walk outside this morning. The air smells sweet with fresh-cut grass, and lilacs. This season sedates me, cradles my head and lays me back into a contented, unyielding state of daydreams. My inner child pulls at my hand, tugging me away from routine, responsibility, obligation. Anything that even resembles work, she insists I escape.
“We need to go,” she says, “There is so much out there!”
I am intoxicated with nostalgia, dragged backward into memories of the black road moving rapidly behind me in the middle of the desert somewhere. There is something about Spring, that demands variety, adventure, something to make you feel as new and alive as the world has once again become.
A few weeks ago, Drew comes down with a cold. A week later, I come down with a cold. I have a photo shoot, then a wedding, and another wedding, three days in a row. Not much time for rest. I can hear my mother’s concern over the phone, “Meghan, you need to lay down. You’re sick, you need rest.” I drink more caffeine and push through, because you can’t reschedule a wedding day.
I have dates with friends that I can’t cancel, don’t want to cancel. If I cancelled, I wouldn’t see them until June. I can’t cancel because these individuals are my sanity. I have band practice, because we have a show in a week, which also can’t be cancelled because you don’t cancel your band’s second show that’s going to take place somewhere with an actual stage, with an actual sound tech and actual drum mics.
I am coughing, here and there. Which turns to coughing constantly. Which leads to a night of a hopeful dose of Nyquil, yielding a foggy mentality, but no sleep, because of the coughing. The clock keeps changing numbers, and I am still awake. Watching The Office again, because what else do you do at 4 a.m.?
I fall asleep, finally, at 6:30. What is it about the sun coming up that seems to raise a white flag? Drew kisses me goodbye, leaves on a business trip. I sleep until 1:30 p.m. I schedule a doctor’s appointment. Moving is difficult. My entire face hurts. And my teeth. I use two entire boxes of tissues and all of the toilet paper. The doctor tells me it’s Bronchitis and a sinus infection.
There’s something so validating about being told by a medical professional with an expensive degree that, yes, something is wrong with you. Here are some drugs.
I go home. I take showers in the morning and baths at night, because the hot water soothes the battle going on inside of my nose and throat and chest. What a luxury it is, to be able to breathe through your nose. You don’t appreciate things until they’re gone. How lucky I am to live in a time with antibiotics. If this were the 1800’s, I’d probably be on my death bed.
Though it kind of feels like I am anyway.
I reschedule photo shoots. I lay. Kind friends bring me food and supplies. Three days alone and coughing. I wonder what on earth I would do if I had kids right now. What do sick moms do? How?
So many tissues. So much of The Office. I really focus on it. This is a serious viewing, with pausing when I have to leave the room to pee, rewinding the parts I had never noticed before. I’m sure the world will hate me for this (because the world is good at that), but I almost like it better after Michael leaves. It’s fun to get to know the other characters in greater depth.
Also, I’m not saying that spicy Thai soup is the cure to Bronchitis, per se, but I am saying there’s a lack of research there.
It’s May, suddenly. I feel a little better every day. We play our little show at Kilby Court. I’m always surprised at how many people show up. All of these people I love. Two sticks in my hands, I sit behind the rest of the band and my drum set. I see the faces of my dad, mom, brother, so many friends. I drum my little heart out. I feel like I’m buzzing, electric, I feel like me.
I realize that I’m a little bit addicted to this. Playing music is another level of being. Because, most days, I walk around feeling like almost every interaction I have is pointless. But I’ll get to that another time, in another post. It’s just there seems to be so little room in life for real connection, the honest conversations I’m interested in having. I really have to work to make them happen, find the people who want to have them. I guess that’s why art exists in the first place, as an outlet for the things you feel, but don’t feel able to say.
When I’m playing music, watching music being made, it feels like connection. It feels sacred, otherworldly. And that might sound cheesy, but I don’t know what else to call it.
The swallows are back in their nest on our porch. The sun turns the little corner in our kitchen to gold every evening. The days are long. The hills are green. It’s the season for living. I turn my face into the light and allow it to enfold me again. I become a version of myself I prefer to all others. This time of year, I get to shine.
I feel like myself in our little home. I get distracted by the light on the walls, the sky, the pink hue that is cast upon everything just before the day is finally gone. I feel like myself when I am still, when I listen and once again find that every moment has a rhythm, a melody, a pulse, where all the magic and energy of life is stored. It’s just waiting to be tapped into. I feel like myself when clicking a shutter, in a futile attempt to keep a hold on it, on these moments I can’t find a way to thank or appreciate before they’re gone.
I feel like myself when scribbling thoughts into disorganized journals with my favorite pen. I forget them almost as soon as they’re written, after I’ve transferred their fever to the page from my chaotic mind where they’ve no doubt been taunting me, maddeningly so, for days.
Within peace, I find myself. That is where my motive lies.
I feel like myself when I’m with him. Some days we’re somber and serious. Our words are few and our company subdued. Other times, we seem to bring each other to life. Laughing across the table at a restaurant, just him and I. It feels as if we’ve got something figured out that the rest don’t. And all it really is, in truth: All of these supposed-to’s, all of these expectations laid upon us to fit a mold, are really just other people’s projections. It is other people waiting for you to justify their own life to them. But we see this for what it is: a trap, disguised as convention. We know our life is ours. We’re making our own way. Everything else is just a template.