Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love Thy Self

I pushed myself too far. And the consequence was disaster.

I am part of a three women group who have been picked by the minister to put together a church pictorial directory. Olan Mills is a photography company that took pictures of all the church members. They also sent the church an instruction packet to layout a directory including; cover page, staff page and message from the minister, activities pages, the photographs, photographs of missing people (people who did not sit for Olan Mills) and a long list of addresses, phone numbers and emails.

We have almost arrived at the point where we cut and paste photographs of church activities. One of the women in our group ran a newspaper and she is driving us to perfection. We are making mock-ups of the pages before we crop any of the precious photographs (for many no duplicates exist), it is exacting work and requires precise measurements. We are working with tolerances of an eighth of an inch. When you are off an eight of an inch it shows.

I worked for two hours and began loosing my concentration. Oh I lost other things as well. I lost my sense of humor. I lost the ability to socialize. One woman asked me a question and I said, "Could you repeat that please, I didn't understand what you said". Trouble was none of these women know I have a mental illness, and I had to leave their house fast, but did not know how to arrange an exit. I told them "my concentration was gone". The woman who had owned the newspaper and whose house we were visiting got confused and offered to make me a cup of tea. As if my nerves needed soothing. I am certain negative energy was rolling off of me. I probably looked upset. She offered twice to make me a cup of tea.

When I got home I gobbled down a ham sandwich, ate an apple too, and then got into bed. My body was so cold, it was shivering. I have no doubt that my body temperature going haywire was a direct result of my mind being over-driven. I existed in a cocoon of blankets waiting for my mind to heal. No music, no people, no activity, no sleep.

When my husband came home from work he suggested that evening I "pick out a comedy-romance" movie to watch that night. He basically said, "pick out whatever will make you feel better, don't worry about my tastes". He does this when I am very ill. He sacrifices his own right to negotiate over the movie we watch. It is very honorable and caring.

The next day I talked to my therapist about the disaster. I said that if you had put me in an MRI you would have seen odd or diminished patterns of blood flow to my brain during my experience. Nothing says "brain damage" to me as having an experience such as becoming overwhelmed and over stimulated. It was especially humiliating because the other two ladies, who have both spent lives working full time jobs, found two hours of activity completely non-stressful. They could have gone on for several more hours. I told my therapist that I was depressed while I was recuperating, but I was not suicidal. I did not hate myself enough to want myself dead.

My therapist suggested that while I was "wounded" I try loving myself.

So yesterday, I went back to the ladies and we had another meeting. It was supposed to end after two hours (I had made it clear that I couldn't work longer) but me being me, I pushed myself for an extra hour and a half. Disaster again. My brain was in a weak, exhausted state and all I could do was cocoon myself in bed.

This time I tried loving myself. And this is what I could manage.

I thought of a heart. It was a very specific heart. It was made out of squishy, clear plastic. The interior of the heart was filled with a red gel. Suspended in the red gel were sparkly pieces of glitter. It was the type of toy heart that would be on sale as a novelty item at Wal-Mart or a pharmacy. I thought, as I was imagining it that it was a toy that I would have loved to have owned as a ten or twelve year old little girl. But I did wonder, why not a picture of something organic? Plastic is fake. So I searched my mind and came up with a green moss heart, but that picture could not be held for very long in my mind, it was the plastic heart or nothing. My mind really liked the plastic heart. So I gave all myself to this heart, quietly holding it in my mind. This was the best I could do to love myself, not being certain how to do it.

Later that night my husband and I discussed the experiment. I said that while the picture of the heart was being concentrated on I did not hate myself, there was the absence of malice, but not much warmth of love.

The heart brought about a cathartic moment though. After picturing it for a while I started crying. Soft crying. Purging crying. Tears that cleaned me up. Oh, I know that if I hadn't been picturing the heart there would have been self-hatred, self-disgust, and there would have been no crying. Without the heart I would have been thinking of only how sick I was. This is cold fury and it leads to thoughts of worthlessness and killing. I doubt most people kill while they cry. They kill dry eyed. When you cry you are giving yourself mercy. So when I cried, after picturing the heart, it was a setting free and a relief. I had to cry because the pain in my mind was real. My mind had been over worked. It was malfunctioning. I cried as a child when I got a vaccination shot. The needle, the pain, it leads me to crying. I was afraid. The pressure of the vaccination experience is expelled through tears. What imagining a heart did for me is it let the pressure of the malfunction in my mind be expelled through tears instead of thoughts of killing myself. When I cried there was, surprisingly, no sadness. Perhaps helplessness. Yes, I felt weak as I cried. I WAS exceedingly weak. I am wounded (by God) and sometimes the wound bleeds. The tears felt as natural as blood leaking from a cut in the flesh.

I did not cry for long.

Two things I have discovered about love. 1) If someone were hurt like I was hurt I would have compassion for them and love would flow out of me. I can feel my concern and need to nurture when my husband is in bed, cocooned as I was, but sick with the flu. When the object is outside of me I can love. 2) I can ritualistically love myself. When I put on a pretty necklace I feel a prick of self love. When I buy a new piece of clothing or a new tablecloth I feel a prick of self love. When I light the candles on our kitchen table, and we sit and have a discussion by candle light I feel a warmth inside that is good. After I shower, and am clean, especially if I have not showered for several days, I feel self love. There are little acts that make me feel that life is good. But to lie in bed, and suffer, too weak to do any type of activity what-so-ever, I cannot self love. I can't turn a light on inside of myself. I can't nourish myself when I am wounded. The best I can do is to place an image in front of myself (the plastic gel heart) and turn all my thoughts toward contemplating the image. This is a little ritual within the mind. I can only conclude that love must have an object to admire. And if the object is to be the self, something must sit in for the self.

My husband began describing a beautiful little girl that I was to imagine as myself. He gave her bouncing dark curls, large dark eyes, and porcelain skin. He suggested that when I was wounded to use this image of myself to love. This agitated me and I said that I could not imagine myself as a little girl who was pretty or worthy of love. And then I ended his line of reasoning by saying I would kill the little girl. My husband was speechless that I should think of doing this. I don't know where the instinct came from. But as I write this I am just as certain - that imagining a little, sweet darling and trying to give her love does not feel natural, does not feel as though it has anything to do with my version of my self.

No other therapist has ever suggested my loving myself when I am most damaged, when I am suffering the dark night of my soul. Oh, and its my therapist's idea to call it something poetic instead of "sick" or "brain damaged", my two most favorite terms for mental illness. All he and I have tactfully agreed is that I have mythologized my beginnings, that the mental illness is a chosen, spiritual path in life rather than victimhood. The start of my mental illness was not a rape. The start of my mental illness was a pact, an agreement, a challenge in pursuit of growth. A wanting improvement. That myth is described at the side of my blog.

There is another myth of wounding that is important to me. When Jacob was wrestling with the angel the angel both blessed him and wounded him at the same time. I am shocked at the audacity and strength it takes to wrestle with an angel, and then, to win. One of the most important dreams of my entire life was a dream of Jacob wrestling with the angel, although, at the time I did not know the outcome of the story. It took a therapist who has memorized quotes from the Bible to direct my attention to the myth, and perhaps, make it my own.

I must investigate more the myth of Jacob wrestling with the angel. Perhaps read the original in the Bible.

Kate, do you find writing to be lonely? I like that you find the path you are taking in the book to be mysterious rather than chaotic. If you would like someone to read what you have written, I would volunteer to take a look. I've been involved in writing groups, not online, rather, women meeting together in a class or in a special room in the library and critiquing each other's writing. I know how to be kind and gentle. I know how to find the gems. We both are writing about illness, who better to read your writing than a person who has been through an illness?

Ever notice in the beginning, or ending pages of a good book, where the author gives praise to people who have helped him or her write a book? It has always astonished me the number of people who have given feedback and are noted - the sign to me was that authors rely upon others reading their work. If you want the exchange can be mutual, I can send you something from my book and you can send me something from your book. I know an element of trust here is needed, perhaps you want to wait a while to get to know me better. But think seriously upon my offer of help - its given freely and with sincerity.

I have two people I send my work out to when it is readable, when I've got something with a beginning, middle and end. Like a chapter or two. I send a package containing a self-addressed stamped envelope that has correct postage for the weight of the manuscript to then be sent back to me. I send it to my brother and my best friend Rocki who both live in Connecticut (I live in Vermont). Their comments are really helpful. Once my brother said that he couldn't "see" my characters as he read - so this was a sign to add a lot of personal description. In that section, truth be told, I had gotten carried away with dialogue.

Authors should help authors whenever possible. Its a fraternity, or in our case, a sisterhood.

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