Content Note: depression, trauma, sexual violence
The last time I saw a friend in person by choice was September 22, 2019.
That was three weeks ago, a probably unhealthy amount of time without socializing. And I have zero plans to change that pattern.
This loneliness, this self-imposed isolation, is not new to me, but my awareness of both what I’m doing and why I’m doing adds a dimension of frustration and sadness and even self-loathing. I stay home and avoid contact because I am afraid of confrontation with everything. I am stuck in a hypervigilance mode, so I’m bombarded by sensory red-alerts that are exhausting and terrifying.
I’m haunted both by my own memory, my pain, my self-loathing, my disdain for recovery and by the moments when it seemed that I could love myself better. Or at least try.
Hypervigilance is something you probably know, but for me – it is a 24/7 status these days. It isn’t an irrational fear or paranoia, it is my mind and body responding to the very real threat of uncovering and addressing the trauma in my life. I’m not flashing back (I have,) I’m having an appropriate degree of fear and apprehension to digging up something that actually happened to me.
It is not all-encompassing. I drive Laura to and from work every week day. I have kept my appointments and had some light social contact there, although I definitely put on my ‘I don’t want to talk’ persona to keep it to a minimum. I’m polite to strangers we run into when I do leave the house, but in the back of my mind, I just want to go home.
But it has been a tough period. I organized a social gathering for my writing colleagues, but everyone cancelled and no one tried to reschedule. So I let it go. My column was cut to every six weeks from every other week. Even though I’m transparent as fuck about this pain, I get texts and emails demanding I explain myself or my wondering why I didn’t respond. People aren’t listening to me or realizing how bad it is. I quit another gig because they were ignoring my email and texts and not explaining their delays. Go figure. I have good ideas write now, but I don’t have the resources to begin working on them.
October is a tough month for me anyway – it is my birthday month (October 22) and has historically been a chaotic time of anticipation mixed with dread. I’m not afraid of aging; getting older means I’m one year further away from my childhood and one year closer to recovery. I’m afraid that no one cares it is my birthday and/or understands how very deeply I want to be assured that it does matter that I was born and continue to exist. That’s one benefit of the Facebook birthday feature: a tangible series of well-wishes and remembrances from people who cared enough to at least type it out.
But I don’t want to actually go anywhere. No movies, no fall festivals, no plays, nothing. Those things seem very nice, but no thank you. Let me take care of my business and go home to feel both safe and depressed about not enjoying my favorite season of the year.
I had a plan this year. We had several nice evenings of sitting out on porches during our recent trip and enjoying the comfy furniture while the sun set and the evening turned into night. So I thought we’d come back to Pittsburgh, hit up the sales at the local outdoor furnishings stores and get ourselves a nice albeit temporary comfy set of chairs and a table for our kitchen deck. I thought that might be the trick to get me to go outside at my own home. Our deck furniture is functional and nice, but not comfy or cosy.
I go out into the backyard when I have a task – recycling, trash, cat feeding, etc. But I don’t tarry and I don’t relax. And I have no explanation. So I hoped this plan would help. But the trick is that I have to actually go and pick out the furniture to make sure it is comfortable, right? And find a deal because this is an unexpected expense that may not be longterm. And that means I have to outside in the front of the house and unload the stuff in our Kia, risking having to talk with someone or being yelled at my some of my grouchy neighbors. Or I have to dump all that responsibility on Laura.
So I just didn’t do it. I let myself down again and added a new layer to my sense of failure and disappointment. This makes it hard to try again with another tactic. It physically hurts.
And I’m watching October fade away without accomplishing even a single damn thing.
Then there’s the big picture – the world is scary right now. I’m 49 without children so I realistically know that we will likely live the rest of our lives with a relative degree of okayness and then just let go of this realm when the time comes. I’ve done some good things to make the world a little better in some ways or at least make the world easier to endure for a little while. So in the big picture, I know that individually I’ll be okay, but the reality that the world is literally and figuratively on fire is terrifying. And I don’t want to find comfort in knowing that I’ll die relatively soon anyway. Jesus Fucking Christ, that’s not me.
I feel really bad. I’m in therapy and have a psychiatrist, my meds are okay. But the realities of Persad Center’s implosion are also terrifying, making it hard to do the work of recovery. I have a Plan B for when Persad either kicks me out for being a threat or simply shuts its doors. But there are no other settings in Pittsburgh where I can find a LGBTQ culturally competent clinical setting with access to a psychiatrist and a therapist who is certified in trauma. Those three prongs are like a mental health unicorn. So it is a challenge to get more invested in my trauma processing work with that looming fear of the very real deterioration of my mental health provider.
“This bitter pill I swallow Is the silence that I keep It poisons me I can’t swim free The river is too deep”
This is where people often try to give me unsolicited advice on a therapist they know or what their experience has been or how Persad is just fine, etc. Not helpful or needed. I have to exist with the institutional tension and I have a Plan B. But it is important to note that when one source of uncertainty is your actual mental health provider, that’s not good. I need more supports right now, not hesitation.
Loneliness just echoes through my days and nights. I’m not uncomfortable being alone; I’ve been home every day all day since I was disabled in 2010. I have the critters. I have causes and projects and streaming services.
But I have very little peace of mind. Nightmares plague me, some enough to wake me screaming into the stillness of the silent house and others just enough to make sleep undesirable. I’m irritable and cranky and fussy because I’m hurting. I have zero appetite which adds both to the problem and to the layer of things I have to manage each day. Applauding myself for making a peanut butter sandwich is not helpful right now. I just make it, eat some of it, and go about the rest of my day. Or I don’t.
And that’s a problem – one of the tools of trauma processing *is* acknowledging what’s gone right and giving myself credit for the things I do accomplish and keeping in perspective the reality that I am suffering from a terrible illness that is not my fault. Saying those things out loud and to myself and the world is an important part of rewiring the broken parts of my cognitive thinking.
So the physical loneliness is compounded by the company I keep – my own thoughts. They know the truth – I have good reason to be afraid because my trauma is fucking awful. They are trying to using long-standing maladaptive coping skills to get me to stop poking around in that muck and distract myself while my subconscious repacks the trauma into its corner of my mind.
I don’t pick up the mail, I don’t pick up the phone, I don’t answer the door, I just soon be alone
My trauma is rooted in sexualized violence toward children and neglect and horrifying sad experiences. Very few people want to hear those stories and even fewer can resist offering me advice or perspective when all I want is comfort.
I want October to be a comfort for me. I want comfortable patio furniture to watch the sunset for a few minutes so I can ground myself. I want the comfort of picking our pumpkins and gourds. I want the comfort of being prepared for Trick-or-Treat and selecting a haunted house tour. I want apple cider and pumpkin cake and drives into the scenic forests with the sun warming my face. I want a month filled with good experiences and moments that I can at the very least intellectually revisit even if the resiliency of those moments begins to fade. I want it to matter that I feel so bad.
I want the comfort of quiet companionship, from someone who can bite back their impulse to challenge or debate or push me or fill the silence with their own stories. I just want to be around people who feel safe and okay. And will listen to my story. And I have zero capacity to make that happen.
Instead, I just walk around in my lonely life, like a ghost in this house. The ghost that haunts me is not a lost love, I have an amazing love right here who is trying hard to help me. The ghost is the love that I had begun to gain for myself through very hard work. I’m haunted both by my own memory, my pain, my self-loathing, my disdain for recovery and by the moments when it seemed that I could love myself better. Or at least try.
So here’s a record of this moment. I’m doing everything I can write and being transparent about the struggle and fighting for my supports. But it is not enough to turn the tide right now. I just have to keep rattling around with these ghosts.
Please know that this is an essay. I am not suicidal nor do I have suicidal thoughts. Ghosts are metaphors here. I expect to live a long life filled with them.