The Box

WARNING: If you are a multiple, this piece contains references to integration. Take care of yourself and your system. I also refer indirectly to childhood abuse, both physical and sexual. Think about it before proceeding. Talk to your p-doc or whomever is your mental health professional go-to.

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Paul Atreides:
What’s in the box?

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam:
Pain.

~ Frank Herbert, Dune

The silence has been frightening. It’s still not quiet in my brain – it never is unless i’m sleeping or unconscious. What i mean is that certain people who live in my brain aren’t talking anymore. It took a while to identify what the problem was, but i knew something wasn’t right because i began having trouble sleeping and i was dreaming more than usual. At first, my whole system feared they were dead, and wondered if everyone was going to die. I couldn’t sleep at all without nightmares, and even booze provided little escape. (I sure tried for a few weeks, though. Blargh.) I was losing time and feeling that old pull to “go home”, which is a place that doesn’t exist, and would be dangerous for me if it did.

I had the sense to get back into therapy, where the first thing i learned was that they weren’t dead, that none of us were going to die – that it’s impossible for any of my precious Bits N’ Pieces to die. They’re resting, or hiding even, and that’s okay by me. I came to understand that, contrary to what i’d assumed when i walked away from therapy — all cocksure and pleased with myself — i wasn’t done. I learned that maybe my brain and my body are healing so well that i’m evolving to a higher level of function that i’d thought was possible for me. I am currently, carefully, gently, quietly, considering the possibility that a lot of my voices may go silent. That there may be room inside my skull for nothingness. The pulse of blood and the throb of tissue, and soft, warm, blankety silence wrapped around space, thick, with no echoes.
Some call it integration, but i prefer my therapist’s term: homeostasis.
The instinctual tendency of the body to seek a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements.
When i’m cold i shiver. When i’m hot i sweat.
I shattered into pieces to survive the unsurvivable. I broke things into pieces that i could not process in order to live. I kept things away from each other so i didn’t die or go insane. I had a mom who fed and clothed me and told me i was smart and pretty, and i kept her for me, and then i chipped off a chunk of myself and made her handle the woman who beat me, and another who went for rides with strangers, and another who cleaned up and made dinner, and another who spent weekends with daddies and uncles.

I’m Humpty Dumpty. And the King’s horses and his men, too.
I’m the pieces in a quest movie. You know how it goes, they finally get all the pieces together in the right order, and then a glowy light flows through it all and some magical, glorious shit happens?
You know, except for the glorious part. I’m not feeling glorious.
I do feel the shit part, though.

So yeah, Sunday. Sunday i wake, sleep deprived as fuck, grumpy and snarky and in full fibro flareup, with my psychic skin about as thin as a gnat’s wing. I try to keep it to myself, because i know what’s going on with me and why, and it’s certainly no one’s fault that i live with…
But people are annoying, and no one more so than family. And they are in my space, breathing and being flawed creatures. I’m trying and i know they are too, but something happens with someone and i blink right out of existence.

It’s not a slippery slide from one part of me to another. It’s not like when i recede into the background and watch someone else standing in front of me. It’s not like when i’m suddenly slapped in a jail cell and i’m watching myself on a tv screen and  can’t reach the dial to change the channel (i’m that old, okay?). It’s a hard switch, when i disappear in an instant, like i’ve ceased to exist.
And unfortunately, it was just as hard coming back.
Suddenly, i’m looking up at my husband, and he’s got this smile on his face that i’m very familiar with – it’s the one he uses on young parts of me, when they’re afraid.
I feel myself lurch, once, twice, 3 times. It’s like when you’re going to sleep and you feel like you’re falling and your body jerks you back awake. I’m on my ass on the dirty gravel shoulder of a snowy back road. Our van is behind him, and a friend of mine stands to his right. He’s talking and she’s talking, but i don’t understand for a while. My brain is sizzling with synapses, trying to figure out what is required of me in this moment:

– an apology? (almost certainly),
– an excuse? (i might throw a generic one to see if it hits the target),
– can i safely ask a question?

Sometimes it’s not safe to ask, because i’m not with safe people. My husband’s dealt with this hundreds of times, so i trot out the old familiar, “What did i do?”
It’s a cut-to-the-chase question. I can tell i’ve been gone for some time, and my system has been handling things, and we both have a lot of experience with this, so let’s start dealing with whatever has happened.

I’m in my pajamas, with a very thin housecoat (funny story: it’s a hospital gown from one of many visits), with my winter coat over top, and i’m wearing my husband’s work boots. I’m covered in dirt, and leaves, and there’s sticks in my hair.
I know i’ve been out for some time, because i’m cold in my bones and my skin feels numb. My clothes are soaked through on the ass end, and it would seem i’ve been hiding in a ditch. He says he’s been looking for me for hours, and she says i’d been texting but had stopped. Even with warm clean clothes, hot tea, and a raging fire, it takes hours and hours before i’m warm. I need to cry, but i can’t; parts of me fight it hard. I eat because my body is starving, hubby gets take-away because i’m not functional, and he asks if i like it and i say it’s good, but i can’t taste a thing.

I’m numb and yet everything hurts and my brain buzzes like it’s full of old tv snow… And i still can’t fucking sleep.

This is writing through the hard parts. I don’t usually write until after the rough stuff passes. I want to look back and analyse, it feels safer. It’s easier to do when the feelings have faded. Word paintings with muted washes of watercolours. Instead i have this jumble of splotches, like a wannabe Pollock that’s just a weird bore. Trying too hard to be something.

It’s okay, though. I’m not mad, or even disappointed. I don’t need to tie it all up in a pretty bow with some pithy observations and sign off with forced optimism.
I can be pithy later (betcher sweet bippy), and i know from experience that the sun’s gone shine, cuz that’s what the sun do.

This is a process, and it’s never been easy. There’s no need to think it’ll be any other way now. I can do hard, hell, getting here has been so close to impossible i can smell the devil’s breath and feel the heat on the back of my neck. If it’s gotta be ugly and painful, so be it. I’ve come too far now to stop. I should literally be dead, many times over. There ain’t nothing so scary that i can’t live through lookin’ at it.

I’m scared, but it’s not the fear of a child: nameless, faceless, squeezing all the breath out of me with icy claws. It’s a fear of the unknown, but one i believe i’m prepared to face, and before which i stand, resolute. Come what may. I’ve said it many times since i read it in junior high, when the young prince that spoke them, first grabbed my heart and spirited it away in adventure and joy and wonder:

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

~Frank Herbert, Dune

I’m going to be putting my hand in the box very soon now. I think i’m as ready as i can be.

~H~
(Yes, this one is even more dramatic than usual – you’ve seen the name i go by, right?)

 

Slow Trees and Sweet Fruit

Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.
~Molière

To be committed this year to writing through the bad, means that i must write today.
Because yesterday was bad.

I’m not sleeping well. I haven’t in months, but it’s taken a steep downturn these last few weeks. I don’t think i’m getting enough restorative sleep. I sleep without dreams for the first 2 or 3hrs, but then a dream will wake me, and after that i’m awake every half hour or so for the rest of the night. If i have a nightmare, i usually have to get up and write a bit about it before i can get back to sleep. In the morning i can usually catch another hour or 2 unbroken, but it’s not enough, and i’m not sure i’m hitting D-level sleep.

I’ve struggled with sleep issues since childhood:
It started with night terrors, which eventually got so bad my mother actually sought treatment for me (unless i needed stitches, i was generally on my own). Learning lucid dreaming helped me drastically improve my sleep, which was particularly important as a child with epilepsy.
Abuse would sometimes come to visit me in my room at night, so i’ve spent a lifetime as a light sleeper.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in ’95. It’s known to those who’ve heard of it as chronic, deep muscle pain, and it sure is, but what most who don’t suffer don’t know, is that it’s also characterised by an inability to reach the restorative level of sleep that follows REM.
Although i practised good sleep hygiene in my 30s, manic bipolar episodes regularly threw me waaaay out of whack, and i began using alcohol as a way to get some sleep. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it seemed to be a favourite way of my system to cope, too. Imagine that, heh. I’m sure you can imagine the price i paid for it, too. The problem wasn’t so much that, for me it was the toll it took on my husband and children.

The cost is simply too high.

These last few years have consisted of learning how to live with how my brain works, and building quality of life. I settled in to checking in with my brain at the start of the day, tailoring my activities to optimise function, monitoring my inside chatter and maintaining connection with my Bits N’ Pieces, and ending with a little roundtable at the edge of my bed each night. This was designed to set me up for success in the morning, and also to quiet my mind as much as possible, in order to achieve restful sleep.

I’ve plugged away rather successfully at this for some time now, i think. I set a very small goal, and i work slowly and methodically to reach it. Once i do, i practise it until it becomes an unconscious part of my daily routine, and then i set to adding in another little thing. I tweak things a bit here and there to improve my efficiency, and i’ve needed the odd course correction, but i haven’t gone too far astray. In fact, i did so well for so long a time that i felt like i needed to set bigger goals; things like working parttime, volunteering, and more peopling – including building friendships.

You may gasp now. Heh.
You may also understand how i found myself back in therapy, tits deep, and not sleeping for shit.

Looking back at the last year, at first i thought i’d been going too fast. Now, i think that may have played a part, but it’s not the crux of it. There’s a tinge of fear too, the waiting for the other shoe to drop, but that was my childhood. Once i got away from my parents, my physical and mental well-being were no longer in serious jeopardy. After that, when a bad thing would happen it could be traced back to some genuine responsibility on my part, usually accompanied by some unconscious actions/reactions and choices i’d made due to my upbringing.
It might also be something utterly out of my control.

But that’s not this. I think this is homeostasis.
I’m establishing a baseline. It’s a minimum level of quality and safety that i must have in order to live the life of my choosing. I’ve never had this before. I’ve spent most of my life just surviving, much more time than was necessary. I’m not blaming myself – it was all i knew, and like Maya Angelou said, when i knew better, i did better. And i’ve done better. So much better, in fact, that some parts of me are resting now. I think the nightlights inside my brain that various parts of me keep on for fear, my dear, hypervigilant little soldiers, are blinking off because they can finally rest. They’re leaving their posts to go home for a rest, and i think they may sleep for a very long time.

But hey, just because going too fast wasn’t what got me here — fucked up and freaking out — that doesn’t mean that slowing down isn’t part of the solution. I think it is. When i get upset and anxious i’ve learned that dialing it back a bit can free up some much needed energy to deal with the stress. And Boy Howdy! has there been stress.
I’ll tell you about yesterday, tomorrow.

See You Then,
~H~

Come With Me

Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me, 
only a wound that love had opened.
~Pablo Neruda, Come With Me, I Said, And No One Knew (VII)

Surprise twist movies have been done to death. I’m over them, especially when there’s nothing much going for it besides the twist, which is often the case these days. There are some that stand out because the story is masterfully told, the buildup too subtle to notice until it’s revealed. With them it’s like suddenly, the entire landscape of the story changes, becoming something you hadn’t foreseen, and looking back you almost can’t see what it once was. And now, oh! how you see all the little clues, and feel a fool, for you’re certainly clever enough and experienced enough in these things to have seen it coming.

I should have seen it coming.

I’m not exactly full of myself about it, but i am proud of all the hard work i’ve done. I’ve accomplished more than i’d thought i could, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that i was afraid that i wouldn’t be able to get this far. Yet i’m here. I stubbornly, doggedly, resolutely, and with no small amount of backing myself into a corner and its resultant terror, have managed to be able to navigate the day-to-days of an almost-normal life. I must do a great many things that most others do not in order to achieve this, but these things have become a part of my daily routine, my mental toilette, if you will. My life is ordinary and average, and by me being me and it being so, it is absolutely not.
Well! Heh. I guess i do sound a bit conceited.

It’s funny (peculiar AND haha), i’ve almost always guessed correctly and way ahead of time when the twist is that someone’s a multiple (what a sad, tired trope that is, UGH). Not only do i know personally what it’s like, but i’m a smug and jaded movie lover from way back who has pissed off many a friend and family member by guessing the end, and taking an annoying amount of satisfaction in how smart i am. (Don’t hate me – i don’t do it anymore unless i’m with my husband, who must legally tolerate it, or someone who also loves guessing.)

I see dead people.
Just kidding, i only hear people who aren’t actually real and am occasionally possessed by them. It’s no big deal. Not really. Not comparatively or relatively or even practically. I did all this work and now i have this life. There will very likely always be the odd hiccough here and there, but i have this life now and i made it, and i like it this way. I’ve had enough change, and turmoil, and chaos, and drama to choke a horse, feed an army, and slap your mama. I’m happy and satisfied with this quiet, bucolic existence.
I figured i’d plug along like this for the rest of my life. Well, i think that’s what i thought.

I try not to think too much on the future, as it tends to trigger anxiety and depression. Most of my long term successes have come from small tweaks to thinking or action, built upon slowly. Sweeping changes and massive lifestyle overhauls can easily kick me into mania, which usually finds me at least 3 steps back when the dust settles.
If life is Mario Bros., i play all the way through. I know i can skip through quickly and just ride that flag to the top, but i collect all the powerups and coins available before i level up. And I don’t skip any levels either, for the same reason. When i get up to those tougher levels (like Ice World – fuck that world, man), i know i’m going to need extra life, and all the mushrooms and stars i’ve got to make it out of there.
I need to be prepared with a strong foundation, and i need practise to succeed. I need to go slowly too, because i’m clumsy and i stumble – regularly, and hard.

I keep my eyes on the ground in front of me. I choose where to put my foot next. I do look up periodically, lest i walk off a cliff or run into a tree, but i’m more concerned with firm footing, and avoiding the odd stone or embedded root.
And i’m the type that does better by looking back and seeing how far i’ve come, rather than looking ahead to see how far i’ve yet to go.
I could see some potential for trouble up ahead, but what i couldn’t see was that i was slowly descending into a valley. The scenery changed very gradually, and it all looked fine until dusk. I look up and around me now, in all directions, and it’s all vaguely sinister. I’m standing here, trepidatious, afraid to take the next step. The warmth of the day is fading with the light, replaced with the chill that tags along with the bleeding of the night, seeping into my bones as dread.

I’m frozen here. I’m unable to move. I can’t tear my eyes away from what is ahead of me. It’s like the dirty snow on the screen of my tv when i was a child, at the end of the programming day. I’d stare at the funny coloured bars that would pop up after the playing of the national anthem. The fear would gather slowly in the pit of my stomach once the late night news was over. If i was lucky there’d be a movie, but often it was just some old cop show, like Barnaby Jones or Cannon. They scared me a little, but i suffered them because it was better than being alone. My mother would be out somewhere, doing whatever, and i was 4, 5, 6 (and older), and terrified of the dark and being alone. Of course i was, and that box filled with pictures and voices of people was company and distraction from the places my superpowered, mutant imagination could take me. Would take me. Even just with the snow, at least it was a beacon of light, and i’d stare at it, and imagine i could see figures and hear whispers… The movie Poltergeist triggered me so hard; those glowing, dancing specks were alive for me, too.

What i see before me is like that dirty snow – it buzzes fuzzily, like millions of bees crammed together yet still in flight. But it’s not greyish white with black flecks like that old tv with the foil wrapped bunny ears, it’s black. It’s dozens of shades of black, giving depth and detail, giving off heat like a fever or infected flesh. It’s insidious.

I can’t walk into that, let alone through it.

I can’t talk about the fear that’s in me and on me every day now. Sucking all my energy and wearing at my will, making me snappish and easily hurt. I hide and i switch and i often cannot get more than a half hour’s sleep at a time before dreams wake me. At least with dreams i can go back to sleep, but when the nightmares come i’m up, sometimes for an hour, sometimes until i get my family up and out for the day, when i’m sometimes able to nap a bit. I don’t know if i can do this work that’s presented itself for me to do.
I know myself and so i know i’m going to try – my hardest, my best – but i sincerely don’t know if i’ll succeed, or even if that’s possible.

Today i am leaning on my New Year’s Resolution to blog through the bad.
Sorry it’s mostly just a nonsensical mishmash of metaphor and analogy, seasoned liberally with histrionics, but it’s what i can do, for now.

the geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.
~Neruda

Image: Promotional poster from the movie Poltergeist (1982)