Little Earthquakes

I recently shared an article on Facebook where Justin Timberlake said that Tori Amos’ album, Little Earthquakes, changed his life. Sometimes I agree with this thought—other times I feel like it doesn’t go far enough. Little Earthquakes was to my life what Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was to second-wave feminists: it didn’t just change my life, it gave voice to a part of me that had previously been silent. It put into words all of my conflicted emotions and helped me feel like maybe I wasn’t as lost as I felt.
There have been times when I wished I could say that I discovered Little Earthquakes entirely on my own. But I have to confess that it was a bit of an accident. During my sophomore year of high school, I briefly dated a guy who offered to make me a mix tape (his music collection was vastly superior to my own and he was older and therefore much cooler than me). He asked if there were any songs I especially wanted on it, and I told him that I loved “Silent Lucidity” by Queensryche. Well, that was the one song that wasn’t on the tape, at least not entirely. Instead, the tape was filled with songs I’d never heard before. The first one of those songs to really catch my attention was one called “Silent All These Years.” And that was the moment that everything changed. 
I remember times when I cranked up the volume on my stereo and lay down on my bed with my eyes closed, allowing myself, no, willing myself to become fully immersed in the music and lyrics (at least until my father interrupted because he was having a hissy fit over the volume). I would ride on this roller coaster of emotions and just for a moment I could feel like it all made sense. I would choose my start and stop point based on where I wanted to be when I ended, sometimes starting at the beginning, but just as often starting in the middle and circling back around.

That was almost 25 years ago, but Little Earthquakes continues to speak to me and for me. I don’t think there was ever a consequential moment in my life that wasn’t set to a soundtrack of snippets of these songs.

“She’s been everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own.”

“All the world is all I am.”

“Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.”

“Sometimes I hear my voice and it’s been here, silent all these years… I’ve been here, silent all these years.”

It’s the last quote that lives in me right now, as I still struggle to process my post-election thoughts. While having a blog has theoretically allowed me more freedom to expand on my thoughts than Facebook, I find that the new format does not really alleviate the biggest hurdle: my concern about hurting feelings. I still censor myself, sometimes intentionally, but it’s often an automatic reflex at this point.

What drives this need to polish my thoughts for public consumption? And, more importantly, how do I break the habit? After all, it’s not like polished and censored really prevented any sort of fallout. I spent a full day watching an argument ensue in the comments of the following post:

While I’ve shared plenty of other people’s words, I’ve been generally hesitant to add my own, but I think it’s time to change that.

For those of you who missed my post a few years ago, I am a rape survivor. What most people do not know is that I was also sexually assaulted when I was 16.

Let me be very clear- I’m not offended by the fact that Trump used the word “pussy.” I don’t care if he’s caught on tape using the work “fuck” or any other obscenity. What does offend me is the context in which the word was used. Make no mistakes, what this man was describing was sexual assault. Whether it’s walking up to a woman and kissing her (which he said that he did), or grabbing her by the pussy (based on transcript this was more of a hypothetical), this is unwanted contact of a sexual nature and it is a crime. And if this is truly what all locker room talk is like (which I already know is not the case), all that does is explain why we have this ridiculous ingrained rape culture where men like Donald Trump or Brock Turner believe that they have a God-given right to take what they want from a woman, regardless of her own wants.

Do you really still think that this is okay? Because I don’t.

I spent close to 30 minutes drafting those words, making sure that I didn’t attack anyone and that I presented something that should have been fairly non-controversial. And yet, not one, but two different pro-Trump acquaintances felt the need to defend his honor and throw in some jabs at Secretary Clinton while they were at it. Another post (that I shared from a friend) resulted in my cousin calling me a bitch and ultimately unfriending me.

Probably the biggest reason for my silence is the sometimes challenging relationship I have with my father. I love my father, but our views couldn’t be more different. As a result, my first thought isn’t “what am I really feeling,” but “what can I say that won’t hurt my father’s feelings if he reads it…” It’s easy to see how giving more weight to an opposing opinion than to your own is nothing but a call to silence.

I’ve been presented an opportunity to write an essay pertaining to my perspective before and after the election. It will be published in the spring. I’ve known for a couple weeks now, but my parents will only find out about it when they read this post. My father has dreamed for years about seeing my writing published, but I feel torn because I know that what I have to say will upset him. My words will be published and I my biggest concern is my father’s feelings, rather than my own.

I suppose this is an age-old problem, and I could go into a short dissertation about women’s voices in the patriarchy, but that’s not totally my point. My point is that I’ve become more and more aware of it and I’m making it a New Year’s resolution to stop it. My voice is just as worthy to be heard, my feelings just as valid, and the gloves are coming off.

All In (or Here Goes Nothing)

Despite my high level of sensitivity, I often joke about becoming a bit of a cynic. One of the lessons I’ve learned from all of the ups an downs is to always have a plan B and to never really let go of the ledge. As you can imagine, sometimes it can be difficult to tell if my hesitation saves me from difficult situations or causes them.

There is no better example of need for a security blanket than my refusal to delete my online dating profiles. Sure, I’ll hide my profile, or just ignore winks or messages, but I always know my profile is ready and waiting for me, just in case… It’s reached the point where I’m not sure exactly how to answer when a guy asks me how long I’ve been on a particular site. After all, I’ve only been looking for a few months, but technically I signed up in 2007.

Somewhere in between my posts about feeling too little and feeling too much, I realized that my self preservation instincts are probably running a little too high. They say you can only know real happiness when you’ve also experienced pain, but I’ve subconsciously opted for none of the above. Instead, just give me some superficial ups and downs and let me continue on my boring but blissfully unaware way.

After reading some of my old poetry a couple weeks ago, I could see “Life Lite” being the ultimate in self preservation, in the most literal sense. After the pill swallowing episode, I made a promise to myself that I would never again attempt to take my own life, almost entirely for the sake of my grandmother–I couldn’t bring myself to put her through that. It’s obvious that the pain was still there. My poetry was all written in the years following that episode. And then the poems stopped. As I stopped writing poems, I started writing a satire about my classmates and teachers at school (with the help of a friend), and that was the birth of my more matter-of-fact/flippant/sarcastic writing style. Where my words once channeled the extreme highs and lows I felt, now they reflected a carefully crafted persona. And to be perfectly clear: this perfectly crafted persona would never allow herself to be vulnerable to those crazy pesky feelings.

The question is: does art mimic life or does life mimic art? No matter if the chicken or the egg came first, the end result was the same: I learned to protect myself emotionally through any and all means necessary. But maybe that really isn’t the right answer.

And so we return to those online dating profiles (I’m sure you were beginning to wonder what they had to do with anything)…

I recently found myself in the situation of questioning if it was time to hide the profiles again. I’m not in a relationship, but I’m in a situation where there is a possibility of a relationship developing. A few years ago, I wouldn’t even be questioning- I would remain active on dating sites until I was very definitely in a relationship and then I would hide my profiles, where they could easily be dusted off if needed again in the future. And hey, maybe while I’m wading though the Marsh of Vague, Ambiguous and Uncertain I’ll meet someone I like better. (Note to self: must add the Marsh of Vague, Ambiguous and Uncertain to the map of Sick and Twisted, perhaps on the edge of the Forrest of Confusion?)

The only problem is, as much as I loathe Vague, Ambiguous and Uncertain (also known as the Great Maybe), there’s a part of me that wants to keep exploring and try to make it to the other side. And maybe there’s even a part of me that doesn’t really want to meet someone else right now, even if I might like him better. So today I did the previously unthinkable. I didn’t hide, I deleted. I deleted profiles; I deleted apps. I decided to let go of the ledge, and let myself fall, no matter what might await me when I land.

The Sensitive Writer: Some Thoughts on the Obvious

A few years ago, I purchased a book by Elaine Aron called The Highly Sensitive Person.  Based on the brief quiz in the front of the book, it sounded like the book was applicable to my life.  I will now confess that there are a lot of books that I buy that I don’t get to read right away, and this was one of them.  A couple weeks ago I finally started reading it.  Coincidentally, right after I started reading the book, there was a brief flurry of articles popping up in my newsfeed on Facebook about highly sensitive people, some posted by friends or former classmates that I never would have considered to have this trait.

In one of the chapters, Aron explained something that is probably obvious to most people–highly sensitive people (HSPs)are often creatively and artistically inclined.  In a way, she confirmed what I already knew to be true with my own writing.  Over the years, most of my best work has been written during depressive episodes.  It was always pain that inspired my writing and it was always the need for catharsis that drove me to write during my lowest moods.  This was no more obvious than when I spent an afternoon last week sorting through a box of my old short stories and poetry from high school (because let’s face it, high school was almost entirely one big depressive episode for me).

I had such mixed feelings as I read through those glimpses of teen angst.  Some of the writing was quite good for a 15 or 16-year-old.  At the same time, I saw my cries for help in those pages, over and over again.  Through my writing I began to remember the pain I felt back then.  I tell people all the time that I’ve blocked out most of my life before college, and it’s true.  In that sense, my old writing is similar to Dumbledore’s pensieve in the Harry Potter series:  it’s as if all of those old and painful memories were drained out into my writing.

The pensieve analogy is all the more appropriate as I consider my writing versus my moods.  Pain drives me to write–it’s like a compulsion to get the words out so that they can stop occupying a place in my mind.  Happiness and even contentment do not drive me to write in the same way.  In fact, I often find it impossible to work on my novel when I’m in a good mood.  I also notice as I work on the novel that I tend to skim over the good parts and draw out the bad stuff.  I’ve joked with people about being selfish about certain memories, but I suspect there’s more truth to that than I wanted to admit.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m subconsciously attempting to save those good memories out of fear that writing about them will cause them to disappear the same way the bad memories have in the past.

All of this brings me to a peculiar dilemma.  I really would like to start writing blogs more consistently again, and I’d certainly like to make considerably more progress on my novel, but I’ve been mostly happy lately.  I’m not saying I would rather be sad.  I’m only saying that I struggle to find the words when I still want to selfishly horde all of my good memories.

Maybe the Walls Aren’t All That Bad

I’ve written before about feeling like the wall I put up around me is even stronger than I ever hoped it would be. Maybe it was even a little too strong.

But then life reminds me why I wanted to close off part of myself in the first place.

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks. Up and down, up and down. The events themselves stop mattering. All that matters is trying to deal with the onslaught of raw emotion.

It’s times like these that I realize I seem to be lacking in coping skills. There are only so many friends I can text. There are only so many words I can find to put a name to the hollow feeling. Today I spent two hours on my novel and barely made a dent. Maybe I’m taking the wrong approach. Right now it’s all trapped inside, but maybe I need to fully open the floodgates before I try to control and shape the river of thoughts. I wish I could say that this is my attempt to do exactly that, but we all know I would be lying.

I’ve certainly made it clear that my emotions are raw and spent, and yet I can’t bring myself to say much more. I’m too selfish to share some memories. Other memories remind me of how weak I feel, and my pride prevents me from sharing those.

Hell, I’m so afraid of my own thoughts that even the anonymity of Whisper doesn’t seem to provide enough cover. Believe me, I tried. I downloaded the app last week in hopes that I could share with strangers the thoughts I was too scared to share with friends. Instead I kept typing the words only to delete them.

Last fall I wanted to break free of the prison that’s been guarding my heart and soul for so long. Tonight, I just want to find refuge within.

Writer’s Block?

I’ve obviously been pretty quiet for the last few months. Ironically, it’s not for lack of things I want to write. My problem had been getting my thoughts into somewhat coherent sentences.

Okay, that’s not entirely true (but it’s also not entirely false). The other huge piece has been balancing my need to process my thoughts through writing with my desire to keep certain pieces of my life private. There are some memories that I selfishly want to keep stored only in my own head. Then there are others that I know need to stay silent because of how it could impact other people involved. Because let’s face it, even with fake names, there’s a limit to how much I can protect someone’s identity when most people who read this blog know me personally.

It’s the same pressure that keeps the majority of my Facebook posts on the obnoxiously vague side. I want to talk about my life, but not at the expense of someone else’s privacy. Seriously, trying to be ethical really sucks sometimes.

My problem is that my reluctance to open up about anything has carried into my other writing and brought my novel to a complete stand still. I need to either find a way to work around it or spill it all and just duck and cover from the fallout. I guess we’ll see how it goes…

Breaking Down the Walls

During my first semester of college, I was required to take a writing class (as was every other incoming freshman).  No sweat, I thought to myself.  After all, I love to write and had been told that I was pretty good at it.  Then our final assignment provided the ultimate twist.  We had to analyze our own writing and write up a report.  I’m not ashamed to admit that this is when I ended up with my very first ulcer.  Although I’ve always been an avid reader and writer, literary analysis has never been something that I particularly enjoyed, and especially back then, was something I didn’t think I was really good at.  In the end, it was a great project and really taught me a lot about myself, even if I did make myself sick over it.

Last night, after I finished writing my previous post, I looked briefly at my full list of posts and had the sort of sudden insight that would have made my writing professor proud.  Completely unintentionally, I analyzed my own writing.  And once I understood what I was seeing, I became very grateful that I made that appointment to begin therapy tomorrow.

I realized last night that my posts are very reminiscent of my two sessions with my psychiatrist.  One of her biggest concerns has been that I don’t present like a typical depressed person.  I can be talkative, I laugh, I make jokes (especially about myself and my situation).  I explain about entering a semi-vegetative state once I get home and not being able to move.  But I talk about it in a very matter-of-fact way, almost as if I was talking about a totally different person.  I can discuss my thoughts, and even my feelings, but have a way of doing it where I’m still not really being open about anything.  I can verbally express feelings of despair and/or vulnerability, but cannot actually demonstrate these emotions at all.  And this is what I saw in my writing last night.

I began writing this blog for two different (but very intertwined) reasons.  The first reason was to give myself an outlet as I work through my current depressive episode and try to understand the bipolar II diagnosis my psychiatrist has been considering.  I feel like I’ve been holding so much in for so long that it’s started to affect me physically and mentally, even if it’s not readily apparent to other people.  The second reason is because my regular writing has stagnated.  The book bearing the same name as my blog has always been more difficult to write than I ever imagined, and I found that I did my best work when I was in one of those somewhat emotional states.  The problem is that apparently as much as I’ve shut down what I show to others, I’ve also shut down my own ability to channel those feelings into my writing.

I sincerely hope that as time goes on I’m able to let down my walls more and really let my feelings come out through my writing.