Cut the Cord

There’s a slough of things that come with advancing age that kind of suck. Arthritis, organs crap out on you, your brain starts slacking off, and you start stockpiling knowledge that you A) needed when you were younger, and B) debate whether you want in the first place. You know the lessons are valuable, but they’re rough lessons, bringing bruises, scrapes, and a lot of scarring.

This particular lesson goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge from Dancing on the Line. I won’t backtrack on that stance: you do need to acknowledge that there are multiple sides to every issue. However, I never said every side was RIGHT. There are certain issues that arise where you decide to draw a line. You plant your feet, you firm your jaw, and you say, “NO!” It takes a lot of courage to find your causes.

It takes more to hold that line.

Friends and even family won’t agree. People you love and admire will say things that shock you to your core. You’ll hear statements and see things that make you want to vomit. Your blood pressure will rise, your limbs will shake, you’ll lose the ability to hear, to see. Honestly, it’s like having a stroke without the medical consequences. You just suffer the mental and emotional consequences. That’s NOT better.

Time to make a decision.

When your mental health is on the line, you have to make a choice. Which is more important: You or that relationship? Keeping people like that around ISN’T healthy, and somewhere deep down inside, you know that. Witnessing that behavior is slowly poisoning yourself. How long do you want to ingest that toxin? When do you finally decide to cut off the drip of venom? After you’re so ill you can’t function? Or when you still have a chance for recovery?

Cutting the cord on a friendship is one of the most difficult lessons to learn. After all, people like to walk around, righteously declaring that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yes, yes, they are. That doesn’t mean they’re right, and it doesn’t mean you need to be subject to that opinion. Not when it’s damaging to your mental well-being. That’s a load of bull shit.

YOU matter more than that!

This year I learned to wield the scissors. I opened my eyes, and I put my foot down. Because I saw how sick the racism made me. I acknowledged the horror of the religious intolerance. I finally admitted to the basic ignorance of humanity. And I said ENOUGH. There are too many genuine loved ones in my circle – people the hatred excluded – for me to accept the blatant disregard any longer. I cut, and I cut, and I cut.

And now I can BREATHE!

I drew the line, and I’m holding it. Is it choosing a side? Yes, I suppose so – MINE. I make no excuses for what I’ll tolerate and what I WON’T. Are there regrets? Yes – I regret that I thought better of those people. I thought they were intelligent. I assumed they were educated. I believed they were good, thoughtful human beings. And THEY let ME down.

You make your own decisions on your life. You decide what you allow in your space and in your mind. If you feel you can stomach the poison, that’s your decision. I couldn’t swallow anymore.

Talk

“I usually know almost exactly how I feel. The problem is, I just can’t tell anyone.”

~Meg Cabot, Princess in Love

So here’s the thing: mental illness carries a stigma. We’re supposed to be enlightened and advanced in this day and age. (Pardon me while I pause to laugh hysterically) If you dare to stand up and admit to having a mental illness – any kind of mental illness – people look at you sideways. I’m not really sure what they picture, but you can visualize the box they shuffle you into.

“Uh-oh, crazy person right there.”

Imagine the shock when the majority of people opt out of standing, speaking up, or bringing any kind of attention to themselves. Why would you? Why would you voluntarily welcome getting tarred and feathered? Why would you step onto a stage and wait to get doused in a bucket of misconception and hatred from an uninformed public?

Odds are, you wouldn’t.

Here’s the catch-22. Mental illness and mental health demand conversation. Not just for people to understand they’re being morons (that’s a big part, though). No, we need to stand up and talk because that’s how we HEAL.

Oh, yeah – HEALING? Remember that?

Not a single person with mental illness is happy with their diagnosis. Not a single person battling with anxiety or depression or manic-depression or ADHD or any number of other illnesses is HAPPY. They don’t wake up, cheerily greeting the imbalance in their brain. We confront our reflections every day cursing our biochemistry to the ends of the universe and beyond. We run through checklists to even GET OUT OF BED! You think we want to exist like this every day?!

We want to heal. Which means admitting a need to talk about the things going on in our screwed-up brains. It means sitting down and discussing the thoughts rattling around in ours heads. We know they aren’t always logical (somewhere), but until we get them out in the open, we can’t deal with them.

Want an example? My anxiety amps up beyond my limit to control it. Worries stack up and stack up and stack up. If you think I haven’t thought of something to worry about, you are in for a surprise – I’ve got EVERYTHING mapped out with every possible scenario. And I know I can’t control 90% of those things. But I CAN control a lot of things. Like the way the towels in the kitchen and bathroom are folded. Like the way the dishes are stacked in the cabinet. Like the way the books and movies are organized. That order is my way of staying calm and organized and in control in a world that is literally planning to fall apart around me.

So when my fiance’ decides to ignore that order, my world comes apart. And I break down. It took me a long time to finally open up and explain why the towel folding was so important. That it keeps my tiny part of the world SANE. I had to TALK to him, to sit down and TALK through my insane logic. Is it his logic? Of course not. But when I finally talked to him, he understood. He laughs, but the towels are always in place now. He understands he’s keeping my world safe.

If you don’t talk, people don’t know. They don’t understand what you need. They don’t know what you’re feeling, what you’re going through. And so they can’t help. People out there DO want to help, they really do. They just need to understand. Which means opening your mouth.

No, not everyone.

But we fix that by talking, too. Mental health is repaired by making discussion open. By not shuttling it into the shadows. By not stigmatizing it as “crazy,” or “disturbed,” or any other number of fucked up labels. The world has done those of us battling these diseases a disservice. And we fix that by standing up and speaking up. It’s the only way things are ever going to get better.

Dancing on the Line

Black and white image of trees fading into fog
Photo by Vlad Bagacian from Pexels

Black and white. Us versus them. Right and wrong. This or that. Ever notice how many extremes things appear to come in? People like to turn ANYTHING into an issue with polar opposites, and they set up camps in the two extremes. Then they look at you and expect you to choose one option or the other. Failure to do so, or (universe-forbid) failure to choose the “correct” option results in abuse, sneering, and insistence that you fix your way of thinking.

Because, of course, there’s a giant chasm in the middle.

Oh, wait – no there isn’t. Between those two poles is an entire gradient of colors (or, if you can’t see color, a spectrum of greys). The view from the middle lets you see EVERYTHING. Which, frankly, isn’t a bad thing. In fact, if more people took the time to stand on THAT line, maybe we wouldn’t have to cope with so much sniping and nastiness. (Go figure)

Unpopular truth: There’s no one right way.

Crazy, right? Probably why I spend a lot of time with people casting ugly looks in my direction (don’t worry – I get over it). But it’s how I was raised. I look at things from every angle before I make a decision (and sometimes that decision is to park myself in the very middle). I don’t necessarily LIKE considering issues from the other side (because sometimes the other side is incredibly stupid), but it’s the only way to be fair. It’s a necessary dance in order to remain objective.

Wait, objective with idiots? Yeah, I know – it sucks. My fiance’ shakes his head a lot when I start a conversation with the words, “But think of it from their side.” Does it mean I agree with them? No, not a lot of the time. But it means I need to take five minutes to stop and consider things from the other side. I can’t rush into an argument screaming from my heart. I have to give my brain time to process every angle first. (Don’t you wish everyone did this?)

It won’t win you any friends.

Want an example? I’ve read Mein Kampf. (Not in the original German, but a faithful translation) Hitler was an extremely intelligent man, and the book is a brilliant read – I recommend it to anyone. When I say those words, people act like I’ve executed a country in front of them. Do I agree with what he did? Of course I don’t! But can I admire the brain of the person who wrote that book? Yeah, I can. Can I point out the fact that someone so simple was able to corrupt an entire nation (an entire region) using simple rhetoric and propaganda? Yeah, I can. I can look at BOTH sides of something.

It takes practice and a backbone to dance on the line of objectivity. Standing still while someone rails in your face that you’re a horrible person is difficult. (Of course, unless you agree with them in the first place, you’ll probably have to do the same thing) You need a strong stomach to look at the other side of some issues, too. Again, you DON’T have to agree with them (I don’t support racism, religious intolerance, discrimination of ANY kind, and in our current pandemic situation, I support science and doctors – NOT politicians).

Once you learn to look at both camps, you find yourself sitting outside of them – even when you pick one. They WON’T let you stay inside the tent if you utter a single “but.” And a lot of times, you’ll end up in that fictional middle ground they told you didn’t exist. It gets lonely, but you’ll be stronger for it. While the others are busy screaming at each other, you get to note how similar they actually are (and refuse to acknowledge).

Plus, when you’re willing to learn more, you become a stronger ally. You know what to say to shut someone down when they try to abuse a person you’ve elected to defend. After all, you understand that side as well as they do, right? So you know where to aim your words. (Maybe it’s a LITTLE petty, but I personally take joy in watching bigots deflate and skulk away)

You DON’T have to pick a side, not if you don’t feel comfortable. There’s no chasm between them. You don’t have to remain ignorant of what the other “side” has to say. Knowledge doesn’t make you a traitor, it makes you smart. If your friends can’t accept that, are they the friends you want to keep?

The Constant Battle

“You may have to fight a battle more than once.”

~Margaret Thatcher

Chronic illness sucks. Actually, let me clarify that: chronic illness SUCKS! When you have a chronic illness that brings pain along for funsies…suffice it to say there aren’t enough expletives available in every language in the known universe. Don’t get me wrong, we all get good days. We get days without pain (ha, just kidding – we get days with manageable pain). We get days where we get to function like semi-normal human beings. Those are usually days when we overdo it in a heady rush to catch up on everything we’ve slacked on during the bad days.

Because the bad days…

Pain takes a big toll on mental health. Not just for people with chronic illness, but anyone. Nerves screaming for your brain’s attention diverts blood flow and resources away from – well, pretty much everything. (I’m not making this up, either. This is genuine science) There’s only so much the brain is capable of handling at one time. When pain demands too much focus, that beautiful machine sacrifices other functions to try to cope with the raw nerves. Guess what that leads to?

The dreaded FOG!

Doesn’t matter how well-educated you are, how fluent your usual vocabulary. You are suddenly reduced to a complete and utter idjit. You lose entire sections of the dictionary. Not just the big words, either. I’ve stared at a table and come up with nothing more than, “flat thingy.” (Oh, yeah, people look at you with respect then!) Sentences trail off to nowhere. Focus? Forget it. Your poor brain doesn’t have time to help you concentrate. You stare at computer screens while clocks tick by, wondering what you’re supposed to be doing. You wander into rooms with no clue why (assuming you remember what the room is in the first place).

And you’re mental health tanks behind it. You KNOW you’re intelligent. You KNOW you’re competent. You KNOW you can write and speak and read at more than a kindergarten level! But you’re sure as hell not demonstrating that fact! So you hide away from friends and family. You avoid speaking aloud lest some brainless phrase escape your lips. You frantically run documents through spellcheck and Grammarly to save yourself from looking stupid. You feel less than a milometer tall.

All from a physical reaction.

Pain is a powerful thing. It really can sabotage your brain that easily. I don’t want to say those of us with chronic illness are used to it, because we’re not. We hate sputtering through our flares. We hate canceling plans to avoid looking like certifiable morons. But we at least know it comes with our diagnoses. Someone experiencing nexus-level pain for the first time? Yeah, no clue what they’re in store for.

Spoon theory works for chronic illness when measuring physical activity. But it fails when we try to account for our mental well-being. How many spoons to speak like an educated person? How many to write a thought-out article? How many to describe a room? How many to understand a Dad joke? Who freaking knows?! It never comes up in all of those cute memes displayed around social media. But it matters. Our mental health and well-being is just as important as our physical capabilities.

Yes, I want to know what I’m going to accomplish each day. (And, yes, I overspend my spoons pretty much every day) But I also want to know how much fog I’m going to cope with. I want to know if I’m going to sound like a moron with a new client. I want to know if I’m going to have a sentence fade out when talking with my fiance’ at the end of the day. I want to know if I’m going to just curl into a ball mid-way. Not just because the pain is getting to me, but because I feel like my brain is failing on me.

How many spoons to feel like a real person again? That’s what I want to know.

Finding the Closure Store

How many times in your life has someone insisted you “need closure?” You end a relationship – you need closure. You get in an argument with a friend (or even just an acquaintance) – you need closure. You have some kind of incident (I’ll leave the details up to you) – you need closure. Your barista hands you the wrong cup of coffee in the morning? Dammit – you need closure!

Closure starts to sound like a physical object after awhile doesn’t it? Either that, or it starts sounding like some kind of talk show “professional” advertised on late-night television. (Personally, I’d prefer the kitschy object) Everyone has the opinion you need it, they strongly recommend you seek it out, but no one quite knows where the store selling this magnificent solution is located.

Where IS that elusive closure store?

Allow me to clear things up for you. Closure is different for every person and every situation. Which is probably why you’re having so much trouble tracking down that store. (And please DON’T try booking yourself onto a talk show) Also, whether you NEED it or not is entirely up to you. You NEED to breathe. You NEED shelter. You NEED food. You NEED water. Closure? Nah, not in the essential pyramid.

So what is closure?

Closure is nothing more than the point where you can finally move on from a bad situation. (Which means you should probably let your barista off the hook. Seriously, was one wrong order THAT detrimental?) That is the entire magical definition. It’s also why it’s different for every person and every situation. Some people do have physical objects – like baseball bats to their ex’s heads (please note: I’m NOT advocating this!). Some people are subtler: they finally manage to tell their story without crying. You might even achieve closure and NEVER REALIZE IT! All of a sudden you look back and realize you’re miles away from that nightmare. Who knew!

If you’re still fixated on something, then you haven’t achieved closure. No magical store is going to do it for you, either. Trust me. You think I haven’t hunted for that store over the years? Of course I did! I wanted that wand (baseball bat – I’ll admit it; I wanted a baseball bat) in my hands SO many times. I never found it. Instead, I found paper shredders (paper shredders are awesome – just watch your fingers and remember they overheat), Unfriend buttons, and weeds in the yard. Did you know you can rip weeds out of the yard without any repercussions? True story.

You do what it takes to mark something OVER.

The point of CLOSURE is to END it. You don’t revisit it, you don’t bring it back to conversations, and you don’t give it space in your mind. You want that anxiety OUT of your head space. If that means visiting a gun range and turning a target to Swiss cheese, so be it. If it means turning old records to confetti, do it! Take the burden of liars, manipulation, and misery OFF your shoulders. Dump it in a hole and bury it out in the woods where no one can find it ever again. (No physical people – I’ve been informed this is illegal)

But stop looking for the store. It’s just not there. And what works for one person won’t work you, anyway.