Towers

Guilt-vs.-Shame1

This morning I was listening to a program about the nature of shame overall, and shame versus guilt. The experts were all people who had written books about these subjects, but with different contexts. One was about using shame to shape corporate responsibility, one discussed Judas and the nature of shame and guilt in relation to Jesus’s betrayal, and one referenced an author I wasn’t familiar with.

This got me thinking about the role shame and guilt play in my own life, and the way I see them working on me even today. The nature of regret and betrayal were also elements of discussion.

Last year, my life changed dramatically. I did things that today, thinking about it, make me feel ashamed. Guilt is gone, because there’s no longer anything to be guilty about (I see guilt as a present tense thing, a current emotional state related to a behavior, rather than a long term one. I see shame as the long term effect, because that’s when other people’s perceptions come into play and influence my feelings about myself. The differences are subtle, but there.)

How does one move beyond shame and develop a sense of forgiveness? How does one let go of the past, of the shame, and determine to allow the experience to make them a better person? Learn from the mistakes of the past, if you’ll excuse the cliche.

As I take the time to try and understand my behaviors and where they come from, I’m desperately trying to be a better person. While I can’t undo the shame of the past, or undo the damage caused by my life-long demons (which have built shame-towers that reach higher than the clouds and deeper than the earth’s core), I can use the experience to grow, to not make the same mistakes again, and to be a better person. One I’m not ashamed of, one who doesn’t live with fear, with regrets, with crippling self-doubt.

It’s going to be a long road. My therapist ‘broke-up’ with me because I need far more intensive, and longer-term, help than she can give me. This kind of dismantling and rebuilding is going to be soul crushing, at times. But I’m tired of beating myself up. I want to move forward without the weight of my past pushing down on my shoulders like an angry leopard waiting to pounce. Living in the present is helping–when these things start to weigh me down I try and concentrate on the here and now rather than the days I can’t change. I try and focus, and find myself laughing and smiling beyond the self-doubt and self-recriminations.

So, along those lines: I have decided to move to a different blog site. This will still be here in some form, but I will no longer be adding words to it. If you’d like to keep following me, and I really hope you do, I’ll be posting the link to the new blog in the next few days (once I figure out how to do it.)

I hope you are all well and being gentle with yourselves.

~v

 

Old Ground, New Pavement

RoadLessTraveled-StevanNoronha

 

A seemingly innocuous day.

Friday, January 16th, 2015.

But for me, it was looming large well before it arrived.

That was the day I’d chosen, in the autumn of 2014, as the day I was going to leave this existence.

It was far enough from birthdays, anniversary’s and holidays so as not to impact the future celebration of such events.

As it came closer, I started to sweat. My life had changed, irrevocably, unquestionably. So what was I going to do? Was I still going to make my exit? A quiet, graceful thing, with as little fuss as I could manage? Would those letters I’d written get sent after all? Would it disappoint those in my life who knew I’d reached that point, if I didn’t do it? Would it mean they’d suffered through my illness for nothing, if I stuck around?

Or, would I choose instead to move forward? Would I allow the day to come and go? Would I choose possibility, a future, love, instead of the darkness that has threatened to take me to its abscessed bosom for so long?

The weekend before, I admitted that it was weighing heavy on me. That I was struggling. And I was held, and cried with. I was understood, and I wasn’t alone. I was shown love and gentleness. When the day came, I was taken away, out of town, to a hotel. A place I hadn’t been, to shop, and relax, and think of other things. At one point in the day, I was asked if, at that moment, had things been different, I would already have been gone.

Yes. I would have.

It was strange to consider. Had I made a different choice, had I kept my plans and thoughts to myself, I wouldn’t have been there, about to have coffee and play arcade games. Someone would be home, wondering, waiting, for a phone call. In a parallel universe, was I already gone?

The following morning, with the critical choice day behind me, it felt…new. Like I’d passed some kind of test, some kind of marker that said, “right. Now that you’re here, now, you get to start again.”

It’s not that easy, obviously. And, of course, there’s no reason I can’t still decide another time. And yet, it’s like that one moment you have to declare your undying love in a romantic movie–miss it, and it’s gone. Like that, I had the option, and I didn’t take it. Now I get to head down roads less traveled, and decide on the future I want.. Not the one dictated by my past, or by guilt, or by survival, but because it’s something I want.

It’s difficult to swallow, that I was so very, very close. One different decision, and I’d no longer be here. I doubt it’s an anniversary I’ll forget for a long time.

So, now I have some decisions to make. Who do I want to be now? What do I want to be when I grow up? Where do I want to take my business? How do I learn to think I’m worthy? What is the meaning of life (my life)?

Thank you for reading. Thanks for sticking around, and thanks for all the support. At some point, these blogs will once again become blogs about writing, about philosophical questions, about the nature of gender and existence. Bear with me, and always…

be gentle with yourselves.

V

Rebuilding

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I don’t even know where to start.

Where do you begin when the life you had planned, the one you were living in like a comfortable, favorite worn slipper, is suddenly blown to bits, and you find yourself somewhere you never expected? Somewhere you couldn’t possibly have anticipated?

I started 2014 unsure how I was going to manage the mountainous work load ahead of me. I’d booked business and travel for the ten months to come. I was buried in PhD work, frazzled at the mere thought of the balancing act in play.

And there was my depression, which I’d been battling like a drunken, blindfolded clown with a dull plastic sword made of cheese puffs.

By May, I was running on empty. Commitments were falling by the wayside, and I cried myself into a snotty, swollen heap on the bathroom floor/kitchen floor/bed/couch/bus/tram repeatedly. And then things blew up with my PhD work, and I ended up dropping it, something I found deeply stressful, though I knew it was the right thing to do.

And that should have eased the stress, but it didn’t. I was still overwhelmed, still a dark mass of sludge, slowly sinking into the mire. I couldn’t breathe. I stopped eating. I stopped talking. No one could reach me, no one could help me.

I stopped fully investing in anything. Trips were taken and enjoyed, but the darkness was still swallowing me, though I desperately tried to hide it. I missed deadlines, started laying on the couch all the time, head barely peeking over the covers.

The darkness won.

I gave up. I planned my suicide. I wrote my letters and chose the date and location, hoping it was far enough from any events that would be ruined for people in years to come. I was done. I was at peace with it. I was ready and biding my time. (I wrote this blog on depression after Robin William’s suicide, but I was already in emotional quicksand).

And then…

Things changed. I won’t go into detail, because there are still things I keep private, things we, together, decided not to share with other people. It is enough to say that after twelve years together, my partner and I split up. It was horrendous, it was hard, it was painful. But we remain friends, and I am grateful for every moment of our time together. Though there are still raw moments, as there will be for awhile, we are both moving forward with our lives.

In the Jan 1st blog for 2014, I couldn’t have anticipated that the butt-end of 2014 would include an entirely new life, one as unrecognizable from the previous life as chicken nuggets are from a living chicken. I suppose you can’t really prepare for the total dismantling and rebuilding of your life (at nearly 40). (Side-note: It was intense, the way people quickly took sides, and I found out I was the part of the couple people didn’t like–‘friends’ reached out to her, some whom I’ve known almost my entire life, and many of them I have yet to hear from. Hurtful, unexpected, but so be it. Though I can now count my friends on one hand, at least I know they’re true.)

I am still beset with self-doubt, as is no doubt normal right now. I’m not good enough. I’m broken beyond repair. I’m not worthy. I’m a moron, a fake, a fraud, an impostor. I’m nothing, and never will be. I’m far less intelligent than I pretend, and far less capable than I portray. I am weak. This is only a delay to the inevitable.

I am doing battle with these internalized gremlins who run riot through my brain, infecting my body with their poison. I am trying to reign them in, if not kill them altogether. But damn, they’re stubborn little beasties. No matter what those close to me tell me, no matter how much love and acceptance come my way, the sludge-gremlins scuttle through my psyche, peeling apart any positive construction and feeding it to the tar that is my self-esteem.

But: I’m in a new relationship, one in which I laugh often and wake smiling, where I am feeling once more that life is worth living. I am making plans again, beyond the previously planned exit from this lifetime. Now, though that black tar still bubbles quietly in my soul, I am afraid of it rather than accepting of it. There are things I want to do, experiences and love I want to grab hold of, if only the tar, the sludge, can be kept at bay. Perhaps with love, patience, understanding and the ability to embrace every aspect of who, and what, I am, I will learn to see myself as more, as worthy of the love being offered so beautifully and freely to me. I am ready to be different–to be better, to be more, to be capable of loving without a fortress of walls and caveats. It will take time, and work. But my new relationship understands that, even as she pulls me, gently and constantly, into the light, while still embracing and caring for my dark.

2015. A new beginning. A new life, with possibilities and options. Full of love, and laughter, and adventure. Full of quiet conversations, of travel, of plans. Of building my business, of working with marginalized groups on writing projects. Of doing less, but enjoying what I am doing, more. Of growth, and communication.

This year, I will try to learn to be me–authentically, genuinely me. I will either vanquish my demons, or learn to coexist with them without them dragging me under. I will no longer let them define me or ruin my chances of happiness. I will not let them hurt others. I will let go of regrets and the toxicity that is guilt.

I will move forward. I will thrive. I will love and be loved. I will be Me.

Happy 2015, everyone. May it be the start of something special in so many ways.

It’s Not About You

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Taking a deep breath...

13.

That was the first time I considered suicide. That was the first time I thought the world might be better off without me.

I’m 38 now.

I have attempted suicide at other times in my life. I still live with depression, all these years later. It’s been a bit of a joke lately, that stress and depression look good on me, as I’ve dropped two sizes.

I read a great comic today, in the aftermath of Robin Williams suicide (here–you may want to stop and read it before you go on…go ahead, I’ll wait…done? Okay, moving on…) and it’s pretty accurate. That whole ‘push a button’ thing–yeah.

Because, you see, it’s not about you. Or them. Or life. It isn’t because someone has done something hurtful, or because life isn’t good. Great, even.

It’s not.

It’s about this deep onyx ectoplasm that coats your soul in a profound, unfathomable desperation and genuine belief that you are not worthy–of anything. Ever. That the people around you would grieve for a while, yes, but ultimately, they would be better off without you. They’d know that, eventually. There is a feeling, an unshakeable one, that says the only way out, the only way to shake the despair, is to leave. To not exist any longer.

Is this logical?

Of course not. It’s not logical in the least. And there often is no explainable reason–no one has done anything, no one is bad, life isn’t bad, work is fine, etc, etc, etc.

It just is. And there’s a stigma attached, one where people say the words coward and selfish, and it keeps sufferers from speaking out loud. The people who love you can’t understand that it has nothing to do with them, and they take it personally, that you would want to end your life. Surely if you loved them, or understood how much they loved you…

But it doesn’t work that way.

This is me, coming out of the depression closet. I was prompted to do so by someone saying it was good, and brave, to say the words out loud. And, because when you shut it all up inside you, that feeling of aloneness grows, fast. It goes from ant hill to Mount Everest in the blink of a thought, and the darkness descends, and the air grows thinner, and eventually you’re sobbing so hard you’re nearly retching as you lay curled in a ball on the kitchen floor, staring at a piece of last week’s pasta under the sideboard.

So. Know this: you are not alone. If you can’t talk to someone in your life, then find a group. Find someone on cyberspace, if you need to (I’m not advocating stranger-danger–find someone safe). But find someone–don’t dwell in darkness by yourself. Reach out and let others pull you back into the light. It is not weak to ask for help. It takes strength to let someone know you are not okay. And, if you’re with someone who lives with depression, be empathetic, even if you can’t be sympathetic. Remember that it isn’t about you, it’s about something inside them that needs a gentle hand, a kind word, a hug, some reassurance. Remember that it isn’t something they can control, any more than you can control your need to breathe.

You may never live without depression. But you can live with it, and live well. Just don’t give up.

Don’t. Give. Up.

Quick Trip Rundown

Wow.

I’ve been gone for 15 days, including travel days.

The primary purpose of the trip was to attend the BSB Writing Retreat for BSB authors and staff. Then, it was to do a bit of sight seeing and shopping.

Done:

  • Times square at night (and during the day).
  • SoHo, Greenwich Village, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem.
  • Upstate NY. Writing retreat, shopping with a friend. Hanging out with other authors, editors and friends in general. Saw: snakes, deer, beavers, wild turkey babies, turkey vultures. Presented a workshop on macro self editing.
  • Niagara Falls. (The town is not so great. The falls themselves are beautiful.)
  • Lake Erie: hotel on the water, and a boat ride along the shore.
  • Lunch with author-editor friends.
  • Drove the length of Pennsylvania. The state looks like a massive carpet of trees.
  • New Jersey, night on the harbor.

The flight, both there and back, was a nightmare. On the way back it turned a one hour layover into a nine hour layover. Paris airport is pretty, but not exactly user friendly.

Which leads me to a thought: The entire time I was in NY, I didn’t turn on the tv. I was also mostly wifi-less,except in the hotels at night, which meant I was actually paying attention to the world around me. Although I didn’t miss the tv at all, I did miss the wifi–the instant gratification of being able to share a moment, or check in at some interesting spot…basically, pre-social networks.

In a way that’s good, because it meant I was actually present, something I’ve been trying hard to be. But there’s something to be said for sharing, too, and bringing people with you on your journey. And of course, it’s easier to remember that feeling, that moment, in an instant, rather than later that night, or even the next day.

Now I’m home. The suitcases look like they’ve projectile vomited all over my house. I’ve got some thoughts about gender and such that I want to share in a different post. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of work to catch up on, and lots of folks to reconnect with.

Today’s question:

How is your summer going? Are you a city or a non-city person?

Photos:

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Pride-Limbo-Land

 

28cm_chalkboard_so_proud

So, if you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’ve been on this crazy ass journey of intense self-discovery. (Intense is too mild, perhaps. Biggest- underground- scary rollercoaster- through- dark places and light places- and limbo places- while -deciding -what- I -want -to- be- when- I- grow- up- and how- important- certain- things are -and arent- and who- i am- as- a -general- being- on -a -planet- full- of- other- beings, is more like it).

And as it’s “Pride Month” in many places in the world, I’ve been thinking about pride as a general thing.

It’s waffley, that pride thing. Intangible, vague, slippery and sudsy.

What does it actually mean?

To be ‘prideful’ is considered a bad thing, right? Pride comes before a fall and all that stuff. Calling someone ‘proud’ can be insulting. Or a compliment.

It’s okay to be proud of an accomplishment, but not too proud.

Don’t want to eat gravel.

I’m not generally a proud person. My self esteem (which I’m working on) is generally low enough I have trouble admitting to being proud of good work, let alone of myself.  So in an effort to combat this sticky mire of consistent self-loathing:

Let’s talk about what we’re proud of. (maybe if I use the Royal We I can get some of this out.)

Things to be proud of:

not giving up. not giving in. standing up. laying down. getting help. letting go. learning that ego is best left behind. sometimes. the lgbtq memoir. getting up every day. being kind. being compassionate. being loving. loving. loving. loving. being brave. sometimes. making someone laugh. giving a hug when it wasn’t asked for, but knowing it was needed. of being femme. of losing weight, though not by intent. of admitting i am not an island. of accepting i am an island. sometimes. of having difficult conversations. of communicating when i don’t want to. of not communicating before i am ready.

It’s a start, right? It’s amazing how hard it is to say good things about ourselves, but how easy to say negative things.

I’m not attending any Pride events this year. Not for any particular reason except that I’m busy, and the one local event is while I’m away. I don’t know if I’d say I’m ‘proud’ to be a lesbian. I just…am, these days. I wonder if that’s an age thing. As I get older, my focus is on things other than my sexuality, and the friendships I have are based less on similar experiences with regard to orientation than they are on similar likes and dislikes with regard to life overall. Maybe that self-acceptance is something to be proud of. I’m not sure. That’s a ponder moment, I think…

Today’s Question:

What are you proud of? *caveat: you can’t be proud of others accomplishments. It needs to be about you. That’s what makes it important-hard.* Carry on.  Are you doing the Pride thing this year?

Queer June

Life is good.

I made the decision I needed to make and I’m at peace with it.

Teaching in Spain was amazing, as I mentioned. And I get to do it again in October (still places available!)

When I got back from Spain, I put together my first ever book as a press, and I have to say, I’m really proud of it.

My first ever publication was Late Outbursts: LGBTQ Memoirs.

So not only my first, but a queer community project as well. That fills me with all kinds of happy.

We launched it at Waterstones (our version in the UK of Barnes and Noble/Borders). Peter Tatchell, human rights activist, was our guest speaker, and we had a fantastic turnout. I was so frigging proud to be a part of it. There they were, eight people who had no real interest in writing in general, reading their work out of a published book at a major book store.

Frigging awesome.

So, that was last weekend. This weekend is the 5th Annual Bold Strokes Book Festival.

Five years I’ve been doing this.

Wow.

This year we’ve got twelve people on the panels, and next year we’re going to have even more. Two from the States, one from Belgium, and a mass from the UK. Even a newbie or two.

Here’s what I’m thinking this morning: I’m so damn lucky to be doing what I love. I’m an editor for lesbian fiction. I work with community groups. I put on and join LGBTQ events. I didn’t set out to work in the community, but that’s where I’ve ended up, and I really, really love it. I’ve been asked to do another memoir workshop by the Council for the next age group below the over fifties, and I’m wickedly excited about that.

This weekend, I get to spend my time with twelve authors and editors I admire greatly, who inspire me to be better and to work harder. I get to meet the readers who come along to the event and have a laugh and a chat. Is it crazy-insane-exhausting hard work? Well, yeah, it is.

But every second is worth it.

If you’re in England, or a country nearby, it would be awesome if you could come along to the event this weekend. If you’re not, I hope you’re doing something that makes you really, super-duper happy.

Myself and Peter Tatchell

Myself and Peter Tatchell