Honesty is easy when the sun is shining. When you're abstractly picking apart the challenges facing others in between sips of tea. A different matter when the storm grabs you yourself and won't let go. I'll be honest too: when I read Caren Jeskey's essay for today, I phoned her and asked: Do you really want to say this? Because I was worried, as a friend. But she's a hard ass, and she does indeed knows what she's writing, and wants it read by others, because it expresses where she's at and might, we both hope, help others in the same storm-tossed boat. It probably will. Her Saturday report:
Family can be intense. Interactions might range from a bit stressful to (spoiler alert for the Stuart Smalley 1995 movie) a family member accidentally shooting another in the Al Franken movie "Stuart Saves His Family."
Now that I am back home after seven years away, I have managed to regress to the maturity level of a 12 year old more than once. I am not proud of this, and it saddens me. I thought I’d be able to show up, enjoy them, and part after magical, long overdue visits after a bellyful of laughs. Thankfully, we’ve had many laughs, but the little girl in me has acting up. She wants to be seen with unconditional positive regard! Heard! Understood! In other words she wants the impossible.
Oftentimes, family members inherently lack the ability to see each other clearly instead of seeing them as abstractions we’ve created in our minds about who each other is. We don’t give each other room to evolve. The moments where we step out of painting each other into boxes, and enjoy cultural events and passionate discussions about things we agree about are the salve, but not the norm. As my therapist says, we tend to project all over each other. We take things personally that have nothing to do with us and argue from the back seat of the car like George Costanza.
One of my missions in life is to see my parents and siblings as people outside of the role that includes me. To see their wit, intelligence, and talent and to move away from the triggers that perpetuate endless, tiring loops. It’s called individuation. (https://www.thesap.org.uk/resources/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/individuation/). It’s much easier when life is good, when I am happy and peaceful.
These days I have a handful of peaceful hours each day—with clients, when walking, at the beach immersed in the impossible blue and the sound of waves of Chicago’s ocean, Lake Michigan. Fear and frustration melt away standing before frothy peaks and pink sunsets. My goal is to bring that inner peace into all of my interactions. I’ve succeeded at times, but with multiple challenges that seem comedic at this point, my resistance is down.
I’ve bloodied my knee and scratched my glasses in a fall. I have yet to sleep since I am living under the Final Approach Fix of the O’Hare flight path. A decent, reasonably priced rental in the expensive city is a needle in a haystack. The suitcase full of my best clothes and perhaps a family heirloom (not sure yet) was stolen from my car. I smashed my finger and might lose the nail. I think my fall clothes are in the storage unit and it’s getting chilly. My broken toe is still healing. This on top of a tragic year where I felt terrified and alone at times, and was isolated from my loved ones. Now that I am back in Chicago where I wanted to be I am too stressed out to enjoy this gorgeous summer.
Today I listened to Glennon Doyle’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things. (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/we-can-do-hard-things-with-glennon-doyle/id1564530722). Her sister was her guest, and the topic was “ANXIETY: Is it just love holding its breath?” I was struck at the grace Doyle’s sister gives to her. Doyle experiences debilitating, clinical anxiety that she is doing an impressive job of taking care of. Her sister holds her when she’s falling apart, and speaks lovingly and tenderly about Doyle. She doesn’t judge her sister when she melts down due to being neuro-atypical. The podcast brought tears to my eyes, and made me long for a world where we treated our vulnerable family members and friends with support rather than judgment. Where we treated everyone that way.
It makes sense to shun a difficult family member or friend. They can be a lot of work. I think the biggest problem is that we don’t know how to deal with them, and so we become frustrated and angry. We want them to be different. But they can’t be. Doyle so beautifully describes her clinical anxiety as a deficit that will never be cured, and instead something that she’ll have to learn to cope with one step at a time. She describes her anxiety as preventing her from looking at her life one day at a time, since days can seem endless. Instead she uses techniques to eke out one hour at a time some days, doing her best to survive her inner turmoil.
Her children can also see when she’s falling apart, and have learned to empathize in those moments. Is that ideal? No. Ideally a parent is balanced and giving and the roles are not reversed. How many of us in this world have an ideal life?
You will not find it surprising that I have dealt—with varying degrees of success—with debilitating anxiety and depression in my life, since I was a child. I wish this was not so, but wishing it away will not make it disappear. I am not as courageous as Neil or Glennon. I am scared to share the real story. That’s OK though. I am fine keeping it under wraps for now, though I hope one day I can stand tall and proud even with my dark corners exposed. For now I’ll rely on them to speak their truth so I feel less alone.
Podcasts like Glennon’s and The Hilarious World of Depression (https://www.hilariousworld.org/episodes) keep me company. Mike Birbiglia, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Chris Gethard (the host of the podcast Beautiful Stories by Anonymous People), Neko Case (one of my favorite musicians who I get to see in Evanston in September), Jeff Tweedy, Aimee Mann, Margaret Cho, Peter Sagal, Billy Joel, Dick Cavett and others share their survival stories there. Some of the most talented folks who show us their best in their public faces have to overcome one demon at a time in their personal lives.
I am fortunate to have a great therapist, I keep myself pretty fit, eat well, do not have an active substance use problem (I take a medication to stave off cravings), I have a lot of love and support in my life (even though sometimes my mind tells me I don’t), and I have a lot to live for. Still, some days feel like everything is broken and nothing will be ok again.
As I sit here on a patio on Wilson and Ravenswood eating curry fries and basking in the dusk of the day, life feels just right. For now I will take the good moments when I can and cope as well as possible. I’ll hold on to what my friends keep telling me, and my inner self knows: a brighter day is coming. I hope you are living in the light of a good day, and if not I hope you can find the help that you need.