Dangerously Alive

As you get older, years start going by faster. Time begins to slip through your fingers and you wonder how so much could have happened so fast. Or in my case, how you could have wasted so much time.

I’m twenty-eight now. This blog has existed for eight years. I look back on who I was when I started it and see how sad he was, but still how bright his hopes and dreams for the future were. I don’t think I’m the same person I was then. It makes me sad.

Sadness is basically my default state now. I spend so much time in a state of melancholy that it’s honestly where I feel most comfortable. It’s better to accept the sadness and become friends with it than to dread it, and really why dread it? Being sad is kind of a nice feeling. People say you shouldn’t wallow in self-pity, but sometimes wallowing in self-pity is the most intense emotional experience I’m capable of having.

So much of my time this year has been spent in a state of deep, painful self-reflection. I try to be honest with myself, I try not to lie to myself, because I’ve done that in the past and it’s a terrible feeling. I try not to keep secrets, and especially not to keep secrets from myself. When you try to lie to yourself you do a weird thing where you split yourself into two versions: the version of you that believes the lie, and the version of you that is lying to the other one. And you have to constantly navigate life with these two dissonant voices clashing in your head. I’ve spent a lot of this year absolutely hating myself.

It’s something I can’t truly talk about in specific terms. There were some things that happened to me a year or two ago, things that left me feeling profoundly dirty, and guilt-ridden, and ashamed. And I was transformed by those experiences in a fundamentally negative way, no longer able to see myself as the naive, innocent person I’d been before. At a certain point in everyone’s life, there comes a time when you do something that you’re really ashamed of. You hurt someone you love, or you do something petty and spiteful, or you physically strike someone, or you disregard someone else’s feelings, or you take pleasure in someone else’s suffering, or you do something really perverted or fantasize about violence, or you openly admit something shameful to someone who won’t be sympathetic because you kind of want them to expose you and make you suffer. It’s a weird mix of emotions. I’ve done some of those things, at different times, for different reasons. I believe that deep down I’m a good person, but I’ve spent so much time hating myself for mistakes that I’ve made, for things that I’ve done that I have no power to change, and for people that I’ve hurt, knowingly and unknowingly, and for pain that I’ve played a role in.

The thing is, how do you go on living with yourself when you’ve done something wrong? You can’t exactly turn yourself over to the police, cause either you haven’t committed a crime or what you’ve done is just morally questionable but not legally questionable, or it’s entirely something in your head and it wouldn’t make any sense to do that. You can’t always tell a therapist because maybe you’re poor and can’t afford therapy. Telling friends doesn’t always help because sometimes your friends can’t handle it or they don’t understand.

So you spend your time sitting alone in your room, playing video games and drinking soda, going from day to day, meal to meal, trying just to focus on what’s happening right now, because you don’t know how you’re ever going to make it into the future living with the person you’ve become.

Of course I’m talking about myself. I always am. I don’t know if I have any particular skill apart from painful self-reflection.

There have been so many moments where I’ve thought “I’m setting this pain down now and walking away. I forgive myself. I love myself.”

But you know, sometimes even when you say it and you mean it, it still doesn’t change anything.

Sometimes it just takes a lot of time and a lot of pain for you to feel any different. A couple of months ago, I got very sick and lost my job because of it. After that, I stopped taking my antidepressants and fell into a state of perpetual anxiety and self-hatred, where I kept telling myself that the mistakes I’ve made in my life are unforgivable, that I’m not worth loving or keeping around, and that it would GENUINELY be better for the world if I were dead or behind bars somewhere. That my mind is unclean and sick, that I am a bad influence on other people, that I am twisted and warped and I don’t deserve a second chance.

And the worst part is, those weren’t fleeting angry thoughts. I really meant them. I really felt them. I still do. They live inside of me, questioning me, these fears. I’ve had nightmares and been unable to sleep. I’ve been afraid that people I’ve talked to about the things that haunt me will go around telling others what I’ve told them to try and hurt me as a person. It’s happened already, more than once. There are people who’ve made me want to die. I’ve thought over and over again about what I would say in a suicide note.

And you know, this kind of stuff, it’s really easy to look at and say “There’s someone who needs help. This person needs therapy, this person is a danger to themselves.” But when you’re really there, inside your own head, and you can’t control these thoughts and this awful, awful hopelessness, it’s a crisis. You’re in the middle of a hurricane and just thinking “How do I survive?” The wind is whipping all around you and you become acutely aware that you really might actually die. And you grab onto something and think just survive, just for ten more seconds, just for twenty more seconds, just for thirty more seconds.

Some days are unbearable. Sometimes you lie to yourself to survive. Sometimes you tell the truth and it feels good, but then the truth is unbearable and it hurts even more. I think you have to try every road to understand what it is to be alive. You have to experience the breadth of being human. You have to feel love and compassion, and also anger and rage and lust and the capacity for evil within yourself. You have to see that part of yourself and understand it, and approach it with compassion and say “I see you. I understand you. I love you.”

You can’t chain your demons up in the attic. Because then they’re just up there wailing and struggling against their chains. You have to go up there and sit down in front of the demons and hold out your arms and say “It’s okay, sweetie. I still love you.”

Being alive is a terrible, difficult business. When you really get down to the core of everything, you have to face uncomfortable truths about yourself and about the world, and you don’t get to see things the same way you did before.

I don’t know if I’ll ever truly get over the things that I’m afraid of, the things I’m ashamed of, the things that I carry with me. But I believe that I have the capacity to do good in the world, and to help people see things in a more fulfilling way, and that I can make good music or write in a way that makes people feel something profound for a moment, and that all of the people throughout my life who have told me that I’m special are right in some way, and that I actually am special.

I don’t know the meaning to any of it. I don’t know why life happens the way it does. I don’t think anything happens after we die. But I also know that I’ve got to make this life work somehow, for me.

So as I approach the end of this year, I’m trying, like always, to shed my skin, and to love the past and it’s miseries and accept them as a part of myself, without being chained to them and sinking into hopelessness.

And I keep searching for a place where I’m loved, where I feel complete, and where I can do good, for myself and for others.

It’s a scary, dangerous, dirty thing, being alive. But it’s what we are. We didn’t have any choice in the matter. And we can’t decide how long we’re going to live. I’ve been sick for about five days. I’ve got a ton of cold/flu medicines and vitamin C and antibiotics coursing through me. I’m swimming around in my head. My fingers are moving so fast they don’t feel like they’re attached to me.

I’m alive. This is who I am. I’m gonna try to love me for who and what I am, to accept the sick parts and the well parts, to be better than I was yesterday.

Yesterday is over. No matter if it was a triumph or a failure, today is another chance, and tomorrow is another. If you don’t believe it, wait until tomorrow. Eventually you will.

“Living Like I’m Not Alive”

How do you stay alive? It’s all so much. The worst part of being happy, of finding friendship and love and hope, of traveling to new places, is when you lose it all. When you move back to the past, and you’re surrounded by the places and the people you hate. And suddenly, those weeks and months of happy times, of meeting friends, of laughing and being told how good you are, they’re all distant memories, and they feel like they’re fading away so fast.
 
I can’t take care of myself. What will I do next? Find someone else to take care of me? I don’t mean to be down on myself when I say I can’t take care of myself, I truly mean it. And I’m shouting out to everyone: “HEY! I can’t take care of myself! Someone, help me!” And everyone responds with “Oh no, don’t say that about yourself, you’ll be fine! You CAN take care of yourself!” But that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that I just can’t, and I need someone to help.
 
Where do I go? All of my friends are so far away. All of my hope is back in Delaware, with Zack and Robert, with the dogs, with the living room and my bedroom and the office and the computer. With the places where I belonged. My parking spot in their driveway is empty. And I’m empty. I hate that they aren’t here every day, that I go moments and hours without thinking about them. I hate that I’m losing them. They’re not leaving, but they’re transitioning. They’re becoming Zack and Robert Three States Away, instead of Zack and Robert In The Next Room. I didn’t want that transition. I didn’t want any of this. I didn’t want my world to shake and crumble.
 
How do you keep living? It’s not that I want to die. I want to live. If I wanted to die, this wouldn’t hurt so much. The fact that I can’t live, it makes it so much harder because now I want to. And they’re so far from me. They can’t pull me up here. And I can’t pull myself up. I can’t take care of myself.
 
I need safe arms to hold me. I need a place to recuperate. But there isn’t one. I have to get up and find a job. And I just… I don’t want to live like this anymore. What can I do? Where can I go? How can this be happening?
 
How can you live?

The Mind Killer

ampersand

(Originally posted a few days ago, September 19, 2016, on Facebook)

Probably the hardest thing about living with anxiety disorder is that once you’ve had a panic attack, your natural inclination is to run away from where you had the attack and never come back. But most of the time the place you had the panic attack is somewhere you have to go on a daily basis, like work or school. In my case both have happened. Many times.

Sometimes you go back and you see that you’re going to be alright, and that just being somewhere can’t hurt you. And sometimes it’s even worse than before, and absolutely nothing, no matter how hard you try, can make the anxiety, the fear, the panic, and the misery stop. There are times when no amount of optimism and positive attitude can fix the problem, and the anxiety just. Gets. Worse.

Today I’m going back to work after having an incredibly bad panic attack yesterday and getting in trouble with management besides, because I had this panic attack while berating the management for doing a shit job. I’m lucky not to have been fired. But the fact is I have to go back, and the anticipation and the anxiety is absolutely unbearable. I’ve taken my meds but honestly they aren’t doing much of anything anymore (made an appointment with my doctor for next week), and I just have to do it. I have no choice. I have to work. There are no other options.

This is the hopelessness of living with anxiety. This is why people say they can’t bare to be alive because of the fear. Every breath is a battle against your own body, and the more you try to take care of it and help yourself the more it betrays you. Frank Herbert says in Dune, “fear is the mind killer.” Anxiety is a personification of fear that grips tightly around your body, tendrils that suffocate and paralyze you.

But still, you have to get out of bed. You have to brush your teeth, and take a shower, and put on your shoes, and drive to work. And smile at customers. And spend hours wondering if you’ll make it through the night. And you know that this will go in indefinitely, until you’re given enough drugs to numb the sensation. Because every feeling is a jagged knife that cuts you.

I have to go back to my own battlefront. I am afraid. I am just… afraid.

Abortion

paint

Abortion.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject but here’s what I want to focus on right now: whether or not a fetus is actually a human. This may sound surprising but it’s truly something that’s really debated. A lot of pro-life people say “life starts at conception” and pro-choice people say… well, they don’t say anything definitively, but the popular notion seems to be that a baby begins it’s life once it’s been born.

I think they’re both wrong.

The pro choice side of the abortion debate is coming at the issue all wrong. They keep acting like a baby isn’t REALLY a person (whatever “being a person” is supposed to mean anyway) when it’s a fetus, either because it hasn’t developed a certain system or certain capabilities to feel, smell, etc. But the truth is, a fetus is a potential person. A person who has not yet begun living on it’s own, but it is a living being, and it IS alive. For this reason, it’s incredibly fragile and requires close protection, hence the reason it’s growing inside it’s mother.

This is WHY abortion is difficult. This is why it’s a difficult decision for everyone. If people truly believed a fetus wasn’t really a human being, then women who make the choice to have abortions wouldn’t be dealing with immense pain because of the loss, or guilt because of their decision.

And women SHOULD have that decision. Hard as the decision is, it’s still up the mother to decide what she wants to do with her body, even if her body is harboring another person. Whether or not the fetus has become “a person” is beside the point.

Think of it like this. Imagine that someone were terribly ill and dying, and the only way to keep them alive would be to hook yourself up to a machine that used YOUR body to keep that person alive. A machine that kept them alive using your blood, your oxygen, your lungs, etc. If you were in that position, dealing with all of the potential problems that arise from another person using yours to survive, you would still have the CHOICE to end the treatment if it were using your body. You have autonomy over your own body, you have the right to decide what happens with your own body. It would be WRONG for the doctors to force you, against your will, to remain hooked up to a machine to keep someone else alive if you didn’t want to.

Imagine something much simpler: a parent or a sibling is dying, and they need one of your kidneys to survive. It would be WRONG for a doctor to sedate you, remove one of your kidneys, and use it to save your relatives life, WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION. Sure, it’s a moral dilemma. What if removing one of your kidneys would drastically decrease your own lifespan? What if YOU can’t live without both kidneys? There are a million perfectly valid reasons why you might not want to give up your kidney, painful as the decision would be. And in fact, you may choose not to give your kidney for any reason or no reason at all. But the reasons don’t actually matter, because it would still be your choice to do so or not to do so, and it would be wrong for someone else to force you to give a kidney without your consent. It would also be wrong for someone else to force you to keep someone else alive with your body without your consent, or force you to carry a baby inside your body and give birth to it without your consent.

The problem with this issue is there is no right answer. In any case, someone is undergoing grave harm. On the pro-life side of this argument, where a woman is required to carry a baby to term without her consent, that woman could be going through any number of traumas, and then the baby who is born could have any number of difficulties ahead of it just because of the situation of it’s birth. And what if that baby, through no fault of the parents, would be born with some severe defect that would prevent them from living a normal life? Does everyone else suddenly get to be the arbiter of what happens to that child? Or does the woman carrying it get to decide? The answer is the latter. It’s a difficult choice, sure, but it is HER choice to make, no one else’s.

As a sidebar: there are plenty of circumstances where I believe the father’s input should be considered. Those circumstances do NOT include a father who raped the mother, or who has no interest in being a part of the child’s life. But even a father in a perfectly benign situation (i.e. one who loves the mother and will support her and the child), even if he wants her to keep the baby, it doesn’t mean he has the choice. It’s hard, but it’s the truth. Think about the kidney situation again: maybe your friends or your spouse or whoever really wants you to give that kidney to save your relative. There are situations where it would be a good idea to hear that person’s opinion and take it into consideration. But honestly? It isn’t the father’s right to decide what the mother does, it isn’t even really his right to give his opinion if the mother doesn’t want to hear it, because hard as it is, it’s STILL HER CHOICE. There are plenty of circumstances where I believe the father’s input should be considered, or at least the mother should hear him out, but there are plenty of other circumstances where I don’t think his opinion matters whatsoever. Like if he raped her, for instance.

On that question, by the way, of “is a sperm alive”? It’s important because it’s a parallel that’s drawn all the time between ejaculation and abortion. If depriving a possible human of it’s potential life is murder, then isn’t ejaculation murdering thousands of sperm? Well, here’s what I have to say to that. Sperm HAVE to be released, one way or the other. The male body will release the sperm on it’s own if it isn’t done through sexual activity. So, whether or not the release of sperm is murder actually doesn’t truly matter, because it’s going to happen to one way or another. And really, I think the real question is, will something SUFFER when it dies? A sperm won’t. And as far as I know, aborted fetuses don’t suffer either.

The release of sperm is a part of the natural course of how our bodies work. The growth and birth of a fetus is a part of that same natural course. An abortion is, by definition, something that changes that natural course. But that is not in an of itself a bad thing. After all, the practice of medicine changes that natural course. Surgery, antibiotics, vaccinations, chemotherapy, these things are all “playing god” in the same way that an abortion is, changing the natural course of our bodies, for whatever reason, it’s just that in an abortion, there’s an added question about whether or not a human life is being taken. We don’t worry about the moral implications of taking antibiotics, because we ARE killing living bacteria, and those bacteria are living organisms, but we don’t assign the same importance to those bacteria as we do to an unborn human (and for the record, I don’t think we should. Bacteria don’t feel pain, and it would not do us any good on an evolutionary scale to worry about the potential moral implications of killing a bacteria).

dudes

So, let’s be real. Abortion is taking away a potential life. That’s WHY it’s so difficult for the mother, who may have very, very good reasons for choosing not to allow her body to be used for the child to grow inside of. There are valid reasons why a person may need to stop the growth of a living organism inside of them. When that organism is a flu virus, we don’t hold pro-flu-life rallies, and that’s because we don’t assign any meaning to the life of a bacteria. But when the organism is a person, we understandably and rightfully assign meaning to it. But we still, in the course of life, have to take the lives of others. Humans in our history have needed to take the lives of animals for food, for warmth, for a million valid reasons. And there is a way to do that, to take that animals life, and to acknowledge the difficulty of the fact that another creature needed to be sacrificed for some reason, and to honor it. So when it becomes necessary, for any variety of good reasons, to end a pregnancy through abortion, we can be honest and acknowledge that yes, a potential human life was in fact ended. And yes, that is terribly sad. More so for the mother than anyone else. And it’s so strange that the people holding signs up at pro-life rallies are really concerned about THEIR feelings about an abortion, but don’t give any thought to the way the mother having the abortion feels. She’s the one who has to deal with these philosophical issues. She’s the one who has to wrestle with this. But no one seems to worry about her feelings.

But just because an abortion means the death of a person, or of a potential person, doesn’t make the mother a murderer. Like I said, if you choose not give someone else a kidney, and they died, would you be a murderer? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t (I would say, by the way, that you wouldn’t), but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s your right to control what happens to your own body. People don’t deserve to have their own bodies taken hostage for any reason.

And finally, we keep running up against this question of “is the aborted baby a person?” Well… what IS a person? How do we know what is and isn’t a person? Pro-life people say “life begins at conception,” and pro-choice people say “life begins at birth.” But… what IS “life” in this sense? Isn’t a sperm alive? Isn’t the fetus itself a collection of cells? When does it start to be “alive?”

I think the truth is, what we’re really asking here is, when does the baby have a SOUL? When does the baby have consciousness? When does the baby have sentience?

But there is no way of measuring when a person is “a person,” when a person “has a soul,” when a person is truly “alive.” It’s all caught up in an infinite philosophical grey area that we can’t solve in this discussion. Because even though the abortion questions calls into question a lot of our beliefs about sentience and consciousness and death and life and taking life, the truth is, none of that actually CHANGES the fact that a woman has a right to choose. And these questions? The questions about whether or not the aborted baby had a soul? Had a life? Was a person? These are the questions that that mother will struggle with. And rather than have the debate FOR her, rather than SHAME her for not doing what you wanted her to do, you need to respect that she has the right to make the decision. It is NOT an easy decision.

There is no woman in the world who just goes around getting pregnant and having abortions willie-nillie like it’s no big deal. This an actual myth that is perpetuated, that there are these “immoral whores” who are just going around getting pregnant and having abortions thoughtlessly, that they use abortion as a form of birth control. But it just isn’t true. And guess what?  Even if it WERE, those women would STILL have the right to do it, REGARDLESS of the philosophical implications.

In the end, it doesn’t MATTER whether the aborted baby is a person. Not because the subject in an of itself is unimportant, but because it has no real bearing on whether or not a person should have autonomy over their own body. It’s difficult, yes. It’s an upsetting situation on all sides. But it doesn’t change the fact that a woman has the right to decide what does or does not happen with her own body. Just because there are a lot of upsetting questions about life and death, sentience and living, doesn’t change that. It’s still her body that this child is being grown in, and she still has the right to decide whether or not that continues to happen. And she doesn’t deserve to be shamed for her choice.

amanda