Wednesday, April 04, 2012

States of Disunion

I have started three or four different new essays on various topics this past week, but have been unable to finish any of them. I wrote a single poem a week or so ago, but am sure if it's any good. It felt scattered, unfocused, raw.

I have a lot on my mind, a lot of worries about my future, my health, my finances, my personal state of being. I am continuously angry and resentful, day in, day out, and have no outlet for it. I'm feeling stuck, on multiple levels. Right now, unless I finish a piece of writing in one sitting, it gets set aside unfinished, and not returned to. Maybe I'll be able to come back to those other essays soon—they are on topics important to me—but not today.

I am mentally at odds with life, and don't find art-making soothing enough right now to be either curative or distracting enough. I have rarely felt this stuck in my life, and it bothers me more now than it ever has before. I can feel my shoulder and neck muscles aching more and more as I sit and type this. Will I even finish this, which is likely to be a rant that no one wants to hear? No guesses either way.

Everything that has been going on that's been good and fun has been overshadowed in recent weeks, and it's been hard to "think positive." (Actually, I'm going to slap the next person who gives that advice to me.) There have been good and fun moments, yet the overall baseline has been unhappy, frustrated, discontent, irritable, resentful, angry. Circumstances have prevented me from venting this backlog easily, yet I need to. So consider this a rant, if you wish, if I finish it, if you're reading it. If you don't want to read it, kindly soar off.

I don't actually enjoy feeling angry and resentful all the time. I don't take pleasure in it. It's just there, like the weather. It would be a lie to deny it, a lie to try to conceal it or dismiss it as unimportant. A lot of friends have lately been telling me how well they think I'm doing, how good I look—compared to how I used to look when I was dying, I surmise—and I listen, but I feel like I'm lying if I pretend that I feel as good as they think I do, or should.

Sometimes in more cynical moments I am convinced that the main reason people want you to be doing well is so that it doesn't upset them. In my more cynical moments, I am quite sure that the reason we medicate people out of their mental difficulties is not for their own benefit, but for our ours: because we find them disturbing. I suppose that's a step up from institutionalizing them in a mental hospital, in Bedlam, but it's still a kind of prison. I feel like I've been lying to people who feel I'm doing well, albeit it's mostly lies of omission: I just haven't been saying what I'm thinking and feeling to most people. There's a disconnect, a disunity, between what I feel and what people seem to want me to be feeling. It can be impossible to reconcile.

All of this is exacerbated by the current social environment, the ridiculously fouled political climate of rhetoric going on around me as my nation continues to fragment rather than cohere. I guess these are after all the end times: the end-of-something-or-other times. Kali Yuga, or the last days of extreme, violent turbulence, before the Sixth World begins. I do my best to avoid most political horsecrap, but if one is going to be an engaged, active citizen-participant in the civil contract, in the social fabric of one's own country, one cannot avoid everything. Some toxins slip through.

I haven't been in a good place mentally for several weeks. Some days I'd like nothing more than to get in the truck and disappear on another roadtrip for awhile, but you can't really run away from your problems. You can only avoid them for so long. Wherever you go, you take your troubles with you. You might be able to ignore them for awhile, in a new setting, but they'll eventually re-emerge.

I'm experiencing a lot of delayed grief, a lot of PTSD, a lot of strong emotion right now. Much of it is from the very invasive surgery performed on my flesh last summer, a lot of feelings I didn't have time to deal with back then. So some old stuff is coming home to roost. This is all made worse by the fact that a big part of my daily life is spent focusing on preparing for the next, even more violating surgery, which becomes existential angst because I still can't get any clear answers about a timeline, or about what's expected of me. "Lose weight and exercise" is all I'm given. It makes me furious, because it keeps me in emotional limbo for the convenience of others. I'm about to explode at whichever medical professional next tries to condescend to me, or keep me in the dark, or whatever. What they think is supportive isn't. I'm on the verge of firing all of them. Even the one or two who are not totally clueless have pissed me off one too many times.

This isn't even about my own impatience anymore. This is about the frustration I am having to deal with on a continuous basis, because no one will give me the straight story. I know that life has no guarantees, I don't need to be told that. I'm at the point where I need at least partial guarantees, not prevarication. Is it so hard to say what you mean and keep your word to me? I have weight-loss goals to achieve, yet no one seems willing to help me get there. I'm completely on my own, with a proven track record of not being able to do this on my own. I ask for help, and I get evasiveness. I ask for answers, and I get none. I do not feel listened to.

Of course I'm hardly the first patient to feel this way. But it's a new feeling for me, because never before have I needed and asked for this much assistance, with no response. Of course I must do it all on my own: the veiled implication being, if you don't succeed it's your own fault. Yes, let's blame the victim. Let's put all the pressure on the patient and not provide any resources to lighten the burden. Yes, let's do that.

When this all began, I was sold a medical narrative of surgery to cure my chronic illness, of wounding and recovery and healing, that has yet to be delivered. I just want the story I was originally told. I want what I was told would happen to actually happen. I want the story I was told to be the story for real, without these endless avoidances, delays, and misdirections. I feel lied to, when the narrative that was originally promised me for various reasons seems to be infinitely put off. Was I sold a bill of goods? Was I lied to? At the moment, I certainly feel that way. Meanwhile I am left in limbo, with this ostomy bag that makes my life pretty much a living hell.

The truth is, I'm still in the midst of this medical journey. I'm not "all better now." I have a long way to go.

I may in some ways be physically stronger and healthier than I have been in years, but that's only half the story. The other half is that I'm not done yet, it's not going to be over and done with till the next surgery and recovery. The single advantage that I have going into the second surgery is that I'm stronger and healthier overall, now, since the first surgery, than I have been a very long time. So I'm going in with better chances than I had with the first surgery. But that doesn't mean it will be easy, or simple, or a quick recovery. There are no guarantees, not even many promises. I'm nowhere near finished with any of this. Any idea that I'm "all better now" exists in contradiction to and denial of the actual facts. Lots of people nonetheless want to cling to that idea about me; I suppose it's less upsetting to them to believe that I'm all better now rather than that I still have a very long way to go. I understand that; nonetheless it doesn't help me get through, it doesn't help me at all.

So be it.

I'm pissed off enough right now that it might be getting in my way at times, but my rage also fuels my determination. Despite everything, despite everyone who claims to be on my side but isn't, at least not in any helpful way, I intend to survive, to get through, to move on with my life. Somehow. I don't know how.

I am well aware, however, that determination and intention are not enough. There has to be more. There has to be real, genuine, pragmatic support. If I'm supposed to lose weight, fine, help me with that. Don't just brush me off with a command to do better.

So this is what I did today: I went looking for a fight. I found a few. I went looking, mind on fire, for stupidity, judgmentalism, and the like, and I found them in spades. They're actually very easy to find, since even smart people often trip over their own blind spots. As Frank Zappa once said, Stupidity is actually most prevalent element in the universe, since stupidity is more prevalent than hydrogen. I spent a big part of my day commenting on threads on two or three websites wherein I thought people were using incredibly sloppy logic to bolster their arguments (usually ending up undermining them), and I pointed that out.

I got into an argument with a smart yet occasionally reactionary academic about how hate speech is something real and tangible, not merely a semantic trope that needs to stop being used—but maybe you had to be there. I stand by my point that calling people on their hate and on their bullying isn't hating in return, it's shedding a light in dark places. Changing the rhetoric alone isn't enough to cancel out the hate. Calling bullies on their bullying isn't "hating back," it's turning over rocks to air out the slime underneath.

I got into a couple of discussions regarding gays (equal rights) vs. the Bible (as quoted by the religious right), pointing out quite rationally and calmly how most anti-gay sentiments expressed by the religious right use verses from the Bible that are known mistranslations and misreadings. Even Biblical scholars who don't like gays will agree that the King James Version of the Bible is one of the most inaccurate translations ever made, and the source of many misinterpretations.

I got into a long argument about people being judgmental of other people being judgmental of other people, at the end of which I pointed out that, yes, I too was being judgmental of those who being judgmental, etc., to make a point by example: where do you stop? At the end of the day, no one looked particularly good in that discussion. Everybody judged everybody else, and only one person had the guts to step back, look at his own rushes to judgment, think better of them, and apologize.

Yes, I was occasionally as insulting and judgmental in reply to those I saw being judgmental and insulting to me and to others. Yes, I was occasionally quite withering in my contempt.

And at the end of the day, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I'm tired, but I'm more cheerful than I've felt in days.

Now, I can hear a voice at the back of the auditorium already saying things like, "Aren't you supposed to be better than that? Was that the enlightened path to take?" Well, perhaps it was some sort of sin to take out my anger on others. In my defense, on those rare occasions that I indulge in this, I pick my targets very carefully. I harness my anger to do my best to make the world a finer place, by calling bullies what they are, by speaking truth to power, by doing my best to find light in the darkness. Just because I fight on the side of the light doesn't mean I don't contain darkness as well. You do too, don't pretend otherwise. It may not he the most enlightened thing to vent my anger and frustration on others—I agree—but what would you have me do? Suppress it, swallow it, till I make myself sick with it? No, better to get it out my of my body, for my own health and peace of mind. Better to harness anger to be used as fuel for other kinds of enlightenment. To wake up.

You see, that's Tantra in action: harnessing the power of "negative" or "corrosive" emotions, turning them into fuel for enlightenment. I try to at least do it consciously, using skillful means. I am by nature the Dragon, at core the Warrior, and I have more affinity for the Wrathful Deities than the peaceful ones. Perhaps that is a failing. Then again, I never claimed to have achieved enlightenment in this lifetime, or even to be likely to. I am as flawed as anyone else. My biggest vice is impatience, my biggest flaw is anger and judgmentalism. I recognize other people being judgmental because I don't like that tendency in myself. Nonetheless I will use judgment as a tool of discernment, if it serves to make the world a finer place. I struggle along, imperfect, failing often—the same as you, as everyone else.

Today I went looking for a fight, to get myself unstuck, and I found one, and I feel no need to apologize. I don't do this often, because in fact I don't really value it highly. I know very well that is an indulgence in raw negativity. At least i attempt to do it using skillful means, to do it consciously. Today I did it for reasons essentially of mental health, for medical reasons. Today I did it because the steam release valve needed to be uncocked. Tonight I am more energized and and clear-headed than I have felt in several days. I may not sleep any better than before, but I may be more rested nonetheless.

So mote it be.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Well I read to the very end and I’m glad you didn’t choose to berate me about misclassifying Bach. I replaced him with Schubert and now I’m thinking, But wasn’t he a Romantic composer? I’m too tired to be bothered. No one but you will notice or give a damn anyway. Stuff like that bothers me because I’m a perfectionist and I pretty much check everything I post even when I’m sure I’m right because I simply don’t trust myself these days.

I can sympathise with your situation, Art. It’s different here in the UK with our National Health but I guess doctors are doctors the world over. I don’t think Carrie has ever been officially diagnosed; they treat the symptoms but no one seems to want to say definitively, “This is what’s wrong with you,” I suppose in case they get sued somewhere down the line; we’re nowhere near as litigious as the States but we are getting there.

She went to a weight loss clinic for a few months which she found helpful but that’s dried up now; they only have limited resources so you get your ride on the swings and then it’s someone else’s go. I put on some extra weight when I was on the pills for my anxiety but I’ve lost them all now. My problem is remembering that I don’t need as many calories as I did when I was active but we’ve pretty much got into a routine and I’m managing to keep under 13st which I can live with. I was shocked when I visited America to see the size of the portions people eat. I know when Carrie first came over here she struggled to feed me only what I wanted. I remember the first time she gave me a bowl of ice cream and that’s what it was, a bowl full of ice cream, enough for three people easily. Even now she’ll give me two scoops when one would suffice; a taste is enough.

I have never set out to row with anyone in my life. I can’t stand confrontation. That doesn’t mean I won’t stand up for myself when I think I’m in the right but I no longer have the passion to want to change the world; let them think and do what they will. I like to be right, don’t get me wrong, but I have no desire to fight with anyone over it. I would never, never go looking for a fight.

As regards your mental state at the moment I have no real advice. Work when you can and try to not get frustrated when you can’t. I hate that my brain fog comes and goes on a whim but I pace myself accordingly. I know exactly what would happen if I had a clear head every day: I’d do what I always do, overdo it and burn myself out. Other people will never understand. If you were in perfect health there will be people who won’t understand you. And you won’t understand them. I don’t understand you—your life is so different to mine in almost every conceivable way—but that’s what makes you interesting even when you’re moaning.

3:43 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks, Jim, sometimes it's good just to feel like someone is listening, and actually hears you.

I don't usually publicly share these sorts of vents or rants or moans or whatever we want to call them. This time I did, following my intuition about things, and it did seem to help, because in the last couple of days since I wrote this, I've felt less bad about things. I can still find some frustration-based anger if I go looking, but only if I go looking. And it did seem to get me past being stuck creatively. I've finished a couple of those essays I couldn't finish before.

Going looking a fight is something I have done probably less than a dozen times in my entire life. Like you, I don't really like confrontation or fighting. Sometimes I do feel like Wolverine, though, maybe it's the Dragon in me. It is indeed different than standing up for yourself, and it's not something I've really ever publicly admitted to before. I think the last time I consciously went looking for a fight like this, to relieve pressure, was several years ago. Like I said, I do try to be selective about it, at least.

On the other hand, with what I've been through the past few years, it's been a battle just to stay afloat at times, so I don't feel guilty about it. I'll use whatever tools I have to keep myself alive, even the less than pretty ones.

10:53 AM  

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