A lazy form of grief

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I’ve been listening to Tara Brach’s incredible three part series of talks “Freedom From Othering: Undoing the Myths that Imprison Us”. In part 2, she quotes a line from a Nicole Kidman movie that made me feel like I was being punched in the chest.

“Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.”

Brach suggested that the reasons we might decide a person is wrong or bad is because it is a defensive stance that masks deeper feelings of vulnerability, of hurt. In fact, I already knew that because in recent times, I had to cultivate an artificial sort of hatred within myself towards two people I loved. I cultivated this hate in order to create the sort of boundaries, safety and distance that I needed from those people who I’d loved deeply but who were no longer emotionally safe for me during the biggest crisis point in my life. Since then, I have experienced a childish frustration within myself because I did not believe they were behaving in ways that were right, or kind, or good. And the honest truth is that these stories about their bad, hurtful behaviour were playing in my head on repeat. No matter how much effort I made to process, to meditate on forgiveness, on compassion, no matter what magic rituals I undertook to move on and let go… in any moment when my emotions were just a little shaky, I would be right back to ruminating. It felt like my brain was stuck and I was sick and bored of these emotions. I am sick and bored of those emotions.

In Brach’s talk, we were invited to investigate our feelings towards a person who we had placed in our mind as a “bad other” and the reasons we might do that. We were told to look beyond the surface of our anger and disgust with them to the soft place, the truth of our feelings towards them. This wasn’t difficult at all for me, my carefully constructed hate was like the thinnest membrane spread protectively across something deep, almost unfathomably deep.

When you strip away the storylines, all that is left is the truth of our hearts, an animal, vulnerable, child’s need for love and as I pushed through that membrane and into the murky depths of things that hurt, a voice within me cried:

“Why did you hurt me? I thought that you loved me! Why? I thought you loved me! Why?”

I collapsed on the floor where, for a few minutes, I allowed myself an ugly, loud, childish sobbing. I allowed myself to whisper “why?” over and over in the pitiful, superstitious hope for an answer I’d never receive. Then that thing happened that I learned to do last year where I just thought “Enough.” And just… turned the emotion off.

I don’t like that. I don’t this new skill, this ability to go numb and disconnect from my emotions. One of the biggest reasons that I realised I needed to leave him was because, in order to be around him, I was having to switch off my emotions for fear of his disgust. And then I just kept those emotions switched off in order to just… cope. Survive. Live. But as Brene Brown says, if you want to do more than just survive, if you want to thrive and live wholeheartedly, you cannot selectively numb because when you numb your capacity for pain, you also numb your capacity for joy.

I believe this to the marrow of my bone and so I continually strive to allow myself my emotions. Not to get caught up in the stream of them, but to simply honour their transient presence and allow them to flow through me. And so I’ve been turning things back on lately. Processing. Letting myself feel through what I need to feel through. It’s frustrating work, I am tired of my heartbreak and bored of the ways my brain still obsesses over hurt that happened many months ago. But I get it, I get that it won’t go away through sheer force of will, instead I need to grow with and through it. I need to honour my heartbreak and past experiences, even as I continue to move forward.

I loved him so much. I loved her so much. Life is long, hurt happens. I do feel myself moving on but… but when I stop numbing, I am faced with the truth; I still love him. I still love her. So much. Neither are in my life anymore and the part of me that clings, that wants everything to stay the same, that struggles with loss and the ugly sadness of life… that part wants to hear their laughter and to wrap my arms around them and feel the glow of the love we once shared. I miss the way her eyes went wide with the wonder of the world. And fuck… I miss the way he would whisper “you’re the love of my life” in my ear. I miss his whisper with an intense sorrow that doesn’t seem to lessen as time goes by.

So I guess that once someone occupies my heart, they will always be there. And perhaps I will always see things that make me think of them and bring the taste of tears into the back of my throat. But when I let myself feel those things… they pass through me. They don’t pass permanently but they do not dominate with their original intensity. And allowing myself to connect to them, as painful as they are, is also allowing me to connect more deeply to every other intense sort of emotion.

I suppose this is what acceptance is. I am lonely. I am loved. I am heartbroken. I am joyful. I am slowly building a collection of scars both tangible and intangible and they are evidence of a life lived bravely and fully.

I had hoped to hate those who I felt wounded by because that strategy seemed safe and easy. But it doesn’t work for me. I allow myself my anger, yes and I know my boundaries, what behaviours I will and will not accept from the people I keep close to me… but just because they are no longer in my life, it doesn’t mean my heart has closed. My beautiful, broken, hurting, happy heart.

The harder task is wishing them joy. My sense of hurt still runs deep enough that a part of me wants them to suffer because a part of me feels they never learned any lesson from the hurt they “caused” me. That child crying “why?” and wanting the world to be simple and just. But I know everything is more complex than that and so when I go even deeper than my hurt, I can access a place where I genuinely wish them well. And I do. When I allow myself to accept just how much I still love them… I genuinely wish them well.

And that’s what I want. Love is hard work and anger is an important emotion to understand, honour and work with… but not hate. I reject hate. It’s just not for me. It’s lazy and ineffective. And so the process of moving forward isn’t a straight line but circuitous. And that’s just how it is and so that’s ok.

Suicide and Love

(Trigger warning for discussion of suicide and disability, this is actually a positive post but it’s still very intensely emotional stuff.)

Earlier this year, I stood on the edge of a train platform in New York City and nearly jumped. I had been struggling with suicidal ideation for the last two years, my chronic pain had pushed my brain into a clinical depression that was almost relentless and I had experienced several major mental breakdowns, the accumulation of which, coupled with a traumatic event, had left me feeling utterly useless and hopeless and so I stood on a train platform and contemplated jumping. In fact, the only thing that stopped me was the thought of Wes, one of my partners, having to pay a fortune to have my mangled body shipped back home. Sometimes I am still blindsided by the horror, the sickening realisation of what I nearly did.

Lately, my life is really incredible. My arm has been slowly improving and I’m getting back the things I thought I was losing forever, my ability to paint and write and drive and just… just live with some freedom of movement, without my body feeling like a cage that is shrinking smaller, smaller, smaller. I had lost all hope that I could ever be so lucky and so I feel my luck with an intense gratitude and a deep, heartbroken sadness and compassion for everyone who is currently lost, and scared, and hurting and may never be as lucky as I am.

I am also intensely aware that I don’t want anyone to think my life is only better now because my arm is getting better and frankly, that isn’t true. My life actually started getting better before the surgery, it started getting better on the night when, back from New York and in an abject, miserable, broken state, body trembling and eyes red from crying for days, I screamed at Wes to help me, to please help me, please why wouldn’t anyone help me.

He called suicide hotlines and they were not helpful (this is not a criticism of that resource, it’s just the advice that was offered was… ok it wasn’t useful so maybe this is a criticism?) and so instead he called my mother and with her advice and the help of some of my friends and lovers, Wes organised for me to go on suicide watch. For the next several weeks, I had somebody by my side every day and through that process, I realised how loved, how very loved I was. I realised how important love and community and kindness is and my life started getting better.

Then I started meditating, and reading books on shame and daring greatly and grief and finding Buddhism, and practising self-compassion and loving kindness and learning from the wisdom of an ancient philosophy that someone called “positive nihilism” which suits me well as it’s is all about love, connectedness and how to navigate the facts that suffering and change are unavoidable truths.

And I went on SNRI antidepressants as we came to realise that though my reasons for feeling unhappy were valid, nonetheless my health had pushed me into a clinical depression and my brain needed some assistance climbing out of that. And I was already getting therapy and that helped a little though not as much as the support of my friends and family because the mental health support system is overstretched and besides I was tired of the dehumanising process of being a problem to be fixed, that was in fact part of what was hurting me so badly.

And I went through loss, I had two important relationships fall apart at the exact same time and felt the ache and hurt and heartbreak and confusion that comes from conflict with those you love and then I practised self-compassion and honouring my heartbreak and sadness and letting myself move through all the stages of grief and anger and loss and letting go. I am still moving through those but the process of doing it with a great deal of compassion for myself is strengthening me further as heartbreak doesn’t have to harden me or destroy me, but instead can soften me to the pain of others. And as my compassion grew and therefore my sense of connectedness to others, my life started getting better.

And I started letting go of shame. I was shaming myself a little less for not earning money and struggling with mental health problems and I was valuing myself a little more for the contributions I was making in the world. And I realised my principals are entirely about kindness and that made me feel strengthened and driven. I decided I was going to be ferociously kind and I started to get more in touch with my anger (with unfortunate mishaps along the way because I’m still working through trauma and anger and it’s messy stuff) and I started to get more in touch with my pain. And my life started getting better.

Earlier this year, I stood on the edge of a train platform in New York City and nearly jumped. Sometimes I am still blindsided by the horror, the sickening realisation of what I nearly did. I saw oblivion and what I went through had the trauma of a near death experience. And now I look back, I can see that during that time, I felt utterly alone, utterly worthless and utterly helpless because I thought that my disability made me unworthy and meant I could not live a full life.

So though my life is definitely made -significantly- easier because of the surgery and the fact that I’m one of the lucky ones who might be able to get better, I want to reject the toxic notion that the only reason my life is better now is because I am starting to become more abled bodied, more “normal”. Yes, it’s true, I’m happier because I’m seeing that I can start to follow my biggest dreams again. Yes, I’m happier because life is fucking easier. This is true. But it’s not the only truth and not the only possibly positive outcome.

Because it may not have been the case. It was entirely possible that the surgery wouldn’t work and the thing I realised, before I went under the knife, was that even if my body didn’t improve, I could still live a good, full, rich life, it’s just I’d have to work a whole lot harder than most people and I would need to surround myself with gentle people who would not resent me for the things I could not do or be. In fact, I’m still disabled it’s just… less than I was.

So I really want to say this with as much emphasis as I possibly can… if you know someone who loudly complains about their pain, please think twice before you shame them for “whinging” because you don’t know what it feels like to be inside their skin. If you know someone who is engaging in acts of self-harm and suicidal ideation, please don’t dismiss them or get angry at them for the state they are in. It’s so hard to look straight at pain, it’s so hard to look at people who are suffering because the sheer existential horror of it scares us and so we’d rather look away in fear and disgust. But I need to say this with as much emphasis as I possibly can, the only reason that I am alive today is because of the people who didn’t walk away, didn’t angrily chastise me, who instead sat with me through my pain and reminded me that I could have joy. The only reason I am alive today is because of the people I gave love to and who loved me in return.

Let me say that again. The only reason that I am alive today is because of the people who didn’t walk away, didn’t angrily chastise me, who instead sat with me through my pain and reminded me that I could have joy. The only reason I am alive today is because of the people I gave love to and who loved me in return.

Disabled people and the chronically ill can have amazing lives, do amazing things, make the world richer, kinder, wiser. But so many of our struggles are invisible and so much greater than you may perhaps realise so please, as much as you can, strive to be patient and generous and kind and to realise that though someone might have more struggles than you, it doesn’t mean they can’t have brilliant, beautiful, valuable lives. Please, I implore you, behold the pain of others and of yourself with gentleness and kindness, not pity and anger.

My life started getting better when I started being kind to myself and surrounding myself in kindness. That was the thing that saved my life and made me want to stick around in this world for as long as I possibly can, love. Just love.

Heavy

Deciding to live is not the same as wanting to live. This depression is thick and heavy, I feel immobilised. I understand that there are still good things and that there is still hope but that only sits in the part of my brain that deals with concepts, nothing feels good and I guess feelings are the stuff of motivation.

I had a moment of feeling good the other day. The helplessness had become unbearable and so I worked on my website for an hour. It felt… good. Yeah. Good. Because there I was, there was the person that I love to be.  I am so capable of the things I love to do, the stuff of my art, the thinking with my arms. How do I explain that I think with my arms? How do I explain how much it breaks my heart, every single day, to struggle to simply hold them up?

I know I sound like a broken record. I know I am wallowing in self-pity, tortured by the person stuck inside my crippled body. I know there are people who get on with things, no matter what and I fear I am not one of those people. I’m trying. God, I’m trying. I diligently attend my therapy, I try to make myself do things that will be good for me but without my arms to think with, it all feels like a shitty substitute for the life I want and it’s hard to muster up the positivity to feel like there is a point to this. I’m supposed to accept, to adapt, to move forward… and maybe maybe maybe I could actually do that if I knew where I was going but I’m still waiting for the big unknown of surgery.

And it’s two days later and I am still paying for that thinking with my arms for an hour. My body doesn’t allow for much of that anymore. Yesterday, my battle for the entire day was just continuing to sit up because my head felt too heavy and my arms were enormous weights pulling on my neck, stretching what can’t be stretched because it is trapped in spaces that are too small. Nerve pain is like when you lower your body into a bath that is far too hot, you just want to get out get out get out get out get out get out get out but you can’t you can’t you can’t you can’t can’t. You can’t.

I went on holiday recently, two weeks in New York and my body demanded my attention the whole time. I understood then that there really is no escape from the prison of my flesh. It was devastating and lonely. Crying on trains in New York was good though because nobody even cares. Why can’t the world be more like that? Why can’t we just cry when we’re in pain? Why do I put so much effort into concealing how I feel so that people won’t reject me? Is pretending to be ok a prerequisite of love? Life is hard and hurts and why do I feel so much fucking shame for feeling so weakened?

Fuck.

I’ve not been okay for a while now but there have been good days among that. I’m not feeling those good days anymore. I’m just waiting. Waiting for a medical system that is slow, indifferent, expensive and has almost entirely failed me so far. Waiting for the day when I have muscles and bones cut from one side of me. Then the six months of healing. Then, best case scenario, I get muscles and bones removed from my other side and spend another six months healing. And a year later, if I’m really lucky, I might be a little better.

See this is all I can reasonably hope for, is that I might be a little less crippled, or at the very least, that I don’t keep getting worse. Best case scenario, I can be a little better. But I’ve already watched my life grow smaller over the last seven years and I’m so tired and so bitter. I hate watching people do what they love, I see their freedom and it makes me feel so sick with jealousy. And I hate them for not knowing how free they are. And I hate myself for becoming this. I feel like I’m getting old and ugly. I guess I should be in my life, I guess I should be using what I do have and being grateful.

But I’m just not. I’m trying so hard to be. But sometimes the battle just to remain sitting upright, or to not cry in pain when I’m socialising because I want people to still love me and not grow tired of the tedium of my existence… that just depletes me of my mental and emotional energy. I’m so low on motivation. I am afraid that the smaller my life becomes, the harder things become, the less I will have to offer. I feel distant and disconnected. I fear becoming unlovable.

Talking to other disabled people helps sometimes. They understand. They know what a battle just getting through a day is. But nothing seems to stick. Deciding to live is not the same as wanting to live. I’m not ok but I really don’t know what to do about that. I’m doing things, I’m getting therapy, I’m taking on projects but everything hurts and I’m struggling to see the point.

I’m trying. I’m living for him but struggling to want to for me. I guess I still feel some hope but I don’t have anything like faith. Inside my head I observe myself screaming “help” but what the fuck does that even mean.

Shame is Boring

Recently I started making my own little youtube videos and though I’m still feeling awkward as I learn to navigate a new medium, I am finding it to be a very exciting, raw and direct means of communication and self expression. I feel tremendously excited but also incredibly vulnerable, as I allow my imperfections and awkwardness to be seen.

But I am proud of this video particularly.

in and out

The rules state that pain must be internal. Like blood, milk, shit, piss, cum, tears, farts, ugly laughs, dirty sex, pubic hair… We are horrified by anything that highlights the truth of us as vulnerable, organic, meaty, stinking flesh. We love fruit when it is ripe and are revolted when it rots. We are tormented by taps that leak.

Those who expose the truth of us too freely are labelled impolite or scary or dangerous or insane. They are shunned, they are punished. If we don’t stone them to death, we laugh, we gossip or slowly, cautiously back away.

There are so many things we have all silently agreed not to talk about. Don’t talk about the things you want the most. Don’t talk about the things that really hurt. Don’t tell us how you really like to fuck. Don’t tell us how scared you really are. Don’t be too angry. Don’t be too much. Don’t.

The veneer of civilisation is thin and tenuous. We guard it out of necessity, it’s a useful structure, it’s a good thing that we’re not always raping and murdering each other. But within our constructed comfort, we become so fearful and feeble. We forget the flexible pragmatism of social structures and mistake them for inviolable law. We make Gods and use too much antibacterial hand wash and have too many four-wheel-drives in the city.

It’s claustrophobic. It’s suffocating. It makes deviants of us all and when we don’t fit in for our sex, our skin colour, our poor health, our pain… the feeling of isolation is devastating because we are social creatures who long to be loved. We fear that if we show the things we truly are, we will be shunned. But then we are alone and our loneliness accelerates our rot.

I hate it. I hate the artificial walls we thoughtlessly and religiously maintain. I grow all the more determined to smash them and this involves a process of directly observing myself and then attempting to communicate those observations. I try to catch myself when I engage in the act of self-censorship, I ask myself to be less fearful.

So tonight I’m going to attack a personal taboo that I never talk about publicly. Today I received a blow I’m struggling to cope with. The specificities of it don’t matter in this particular piece of writing, what matters is that tonight I was screaming at somebody who probably loves me more than anybody in the world because I was furious at the world and furious at him because sometimes he has been my only reason for living and today I hated him for that. For keeping me alive. For not letting me give up. For being my fucking hero.

I am not proud. I am whatever is the opposite. Ah, ashamed. I am ashamed. As I should be. My pain is not his fault. He tried to help me and I bit him.

He went to bed and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to paint but could not. I wanted to leave the house but my arms were throbbing in too much pain to drive. And though I was feeling self-destructive, I wasn’t up for going walking in the night-time and inviting other people to do the job for me.

So… I have no idea why, but I filled the bathtub with my UHT, lactose free milk that for some reason I always feel a mild and undefined embarrassment for drinking. Then I sat in the bath, singlet and underpants still on and gently pressed my surgical knife into my thighs to make the most slender red lines. It wasn’t a violent act, it required barely any pressure whatsoever.

It calmed me. Just like it calmed me when I used to engage in the same activity (minus the milk) as a chronically ill teenager. It gave me that same sense of control and quiet and I was in awe of the beauty of red blood on white milk. The bathroom was perfumed by the odor of milk. I have never experienced a room full of the smell of milk before. That comforted me. I swirled the creamy liquid around and watched the water turn pink. My mind became empty, the way it used to do when I would paint. The way it did when I smashed those glasses. 

Even as I write this I am so aware of how it could scare and anger people. I am not keen to be perceived of as crazy because I do not truly believe I am. What I think I am is someone who, like many people, is experiencing a lot of pain and sadness and is trying to find a way to effectively express, communicate and manage it. I’m not advocating for self-harm but… Fuck, maybe I am. Maybe tonight I can’t think of anything wrong with the pretty and harmless marks I made on myself.

I took photos on my phone. I think that they are beautiful and I love the raw immediacy of cell phone photography. I want to post them here and am going to. Even as I know that this thing which I think of as beautiful and vulnerable will be seen as… ugly, stupid, childish, scary. Even as I fear being feared and thought of as crazy and no longer taken seriously.

That’s ok. I have to be ok with that. I want to be brave. I want to be a person who isn’t afraid of the things that most people are.

The marks on my leg sting a little but a lot less than my arms hurt every day. I guess I am a mess. I guess maybe I need help but I also feel like… this isn’t a cry for help. This is… I don’t know what this is. I’m just tired of feeling trapped. My body is a cage I cannot escape because it is a tangible, physical thing but those invisible walls we construct, I just want to burn them to the ground and then stand in the ash and embers, screaming like Xena Warrior Princess. This is how I obtain a sense of power and that’s no small thing.

 

Procrastibation

Though I had been sexually active since I was 16, I didn’t learn how to orgasm until I was 22. So my first orgasm via masturbation wasn’t accidental, it was the result of a concerted effort, a campaign to cum that involved hours and months of exploration, wise advice from a sex worker friend and a savvy investment in an expensive vibrator from a female owned and operated toy store. I still remember how relieved I was to discover that I wasn’t broken, that I was completely capable of climax, I think I even cried.

That year, I spent a lot of time wanking in my tiny room in a student hostel overlooking Swanston Street. It was a joyous and unselfconscious experience that was dampened only slightly when one night I heard a bunch of drunk students making moaning sounds outside my room and then laughing uproariously, making me embarrassingly aware of how loud and obvious my activities had been. Orgasm was an exciting new discovery that I was a little bit obsessed with, sometimes I masturbated for hours, listening to music and focussing my attention on my clit. I was astounded by my own capacity for pleasure and it was entwined with my excitement about the new life I was starting in Melbourne.

Today I watched porn that I find morally objectionable while cumming distractedly. Procrastibation, the art of wanking to delay facing the mundane pain of reality. My mind wandered, I was feeling guilty and unattractive. This stuff is the junk food of sex. A little bit is comforting but too much is heavy lethargy.

I did house work. Necessary activities that give me little pleasure and also feel like an avoidance of more important things which is probably partially patriarchal smegma, something to do with domesticity and traditionally female activities being undervalued but it’s also because I just don’t want to be doing this. I want to be painting and working and able bodied and capable. I am avoiding things, I’m avoiding doing my physiotherapy that lately feels sort of futile because even though I know it helps, it doesn’t help a lot. The payoff feels like peanuts. Insulting and unfair.

I hate myself for that last bit. Life isn’t fair, bitch, get over it and get on with shit.

I bring towels in off the line outside because there is a forecast for wild weather. When I start folding them on my bed, I discover they are covered in tiny little winged insects. The bugs are coupled off in pairs that seem to be attached to one another by the rear end. Teensy little creatures fucking on our flannels, arse to arse, bound by the bum. I feel a stupid guilt for bringing them inside; perhaps now their mating is useless and pointless because how can such tiny creatures find their way back outside? Will they live and fuck and die in vain? Will I?

Stupid. Stupid useless thoughts, bitch. Guilt is boring. You’re being boring. The universe is brutally indifferent and existence is dumb luck. Just keep trying until you die and stop wasting your time agonising about wasted time.

I probably shouldn’t wank again today though. I really need to wash my hair.

Smash

Holding itself together is Life’s main job. We create ourselves out of the bits and pieces of stuff lying around and then spend the rest of our time desperately grabbing at the detritus of ourselves as time rapidly and indifferently happens and our bits and pieces crumble into dust and atoms that we can no longer grasp. It happens to us at different rates, those who have health problems in our youth perhaps witness the horror of our helplessness a little earlier than most. And sometimes there is an ugliness residing within those of us who have young broken bodies because we see the dumb bewilderment and despair on the faces of people who only experience physical suffering in their elderly years and our sympathy for them is tempered with the bitter knowledge that they never had the wisdom of experience to comprehend our own sort of agony when we needed it. So they are as alone in their pain as we are because we hate them for suffering at a slightly different frame rate to us. We are not as compassionate as we think we are and admitting that about ourselves is perhaps the most compassionate thing we can do. Hold my hand, tell me you love me, but don’t pretend you understand and I will do the same for you. Suffering is universal yet painfully solitary.

I am furious all the time. Furious at my mortality, furious because when I scream “help!” nobody can because that’s just not how it works, furious at myself for being so deeply involved in this, for not being Zen enough, Buddhist enough to rise above this. Sometimes I can sit with this. Often I can’t.

Holding oneself together is a full-time job, a hard job. Lately my edges have felt particularly crumbly and I haven’t been able to hold my consciousness above it, instead it is like I want to succumb to the violence of disintegration and in fact contribute to it, like I can no longer endure this laborious process of paddling my kayak upstream but if I paddle while going down with the current, it will be fast and glorious. But then everything will be over quicker which I don’t want because my belief systems have me close to certain that there is nothing over the waterfall but for empty oblivion and despite everything, I adore being alive. In fact, that’s what makes it so fucking hard, this goddamn mortal shell. This moronically limited mass of meat, fat, bones, genetics, electrical signals and emotional baggage. Biological machines are by their very nature imperfect, life has a desire to exist but there is no law of the universe saying it has to be easy.

Today is one of those days where I wake up sore. It’s perhaps been been months since I’ve had a proper sleep because my body is failing me again. I woke up with no fight in me, I would probably fall into one of those depressions where you sleep all day but for the fact that my body won’t allow that sort of escapism. So… I don’t know what have been doing with myself today. Drifting. Wearing my ugly grey dressing gown and filling the sink up with hot water to do the dishes. Trembling with frustrated fury.

I screamed in rage and hurled a glass at the ground.  What had been a functional object of substance, of density and mass, shattered into tiny fragments. For a beat, I felt horror and shame but one of the luxuries of being home alone is that you get to be crazy when you need to and so I started taking photos with my phone. Then I grabbed another glass, launched it at the kitchen floor and delighted in the eruption of my colourful cup from Kmart.

I luxuriated in the madness of it, of wasting resources, money, of creating the loud and ugly sort of sounds that might disturb the neighbours, of watching benign objects that I had comfortably lived with exploding into dangerous slivers that can get stuck under the skin and draw blood. It was the most fucking beautiful thing I had made in years. A moment of violent intensity glittering amongst the mundanity of domesticity. I broke two more glasses and then I stopped. A cacophony of clucking, the neighbour’s chickens must have been startled by the sounds. Maybe I smiled.

I felt better. The light and colour through the glass moved me and I took more photos, dodgy documentation that is not the actual experience. I felt better. I cleaned up. I resolved to feel no shame about this, to strive not to hide the ways in which being broken breaks me but to accept this non-acceptance as part of the price of existing. To write about these things and share these things and allow myself to fall into these things, do not be afraid of the mundane ugliness of it all but to find the poetry in the misery.

For a brief while I had a lover who used the word “catharsis” a lot. He understood something about that which has stuck with me. Broken glass is fucking beautiful.

Outback

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I need to find a way to capture some of this feeling before it dissolves in the atmosphere of the city.

It’s flat, the outback. It reminds me of the way the world felt when I was a kid, yanno, big. Big like when you stand outside at night and stare into the universe. That awestruck thing of you being so small, so insignificant, that liberating thing of some getting some goddamn perspective. Oh hey ego, shut up a tic and look at this cool shit, hey?

Over the anniversary of my 10th year living in Australia, we explored Lake Mungo, the ghost of a lake that once was. Now a dry and flat expanse covered in alien vegetation, 50, 000 years ago this place was freshwater mussels, giant marsupials and people. Some of their bones remain around the edges of the extinct lake and our guitar toting tour guide showed us ancient fire pits, fossilised fish scales, preserved footprints and freshwater mussel shells that looked as if they had been deposited on the ground just yesterday. Actually, the mussel shells were perhaps one of the most striking things – the fact that they did not look old gave me a strange sense of vertigo, a connection with the past and a palpable understanding of how recently that lake existed in the history of things.

For centuries the fossils and things have been preserved in a museum of mud and sand but now the wind is uncovering them and slowly they erode and disintegrate, blending with the dust and sand. Poetry like that is the kind of shit that puts a lump in your throat. Mortality, ephemerality, it makes you feel lonely and sad but in a good way, a poignant way. Isn’t everything just so fucking beautiful when you remember that it’s all temporary?

It’s dry, the outback. To an untrained eye it might seem hostile to life but in fact the biodiversity is astounding and you see things that are so alien and specifically evolved to the ecologies which they inhabit. Brilliantly coloured parrots screeching in voices that somehow remind me of Fran Drescher, lumpy turd shaped lizards with giant mouths, Emus that look like dinosaurs and a run like terrified but athletic nerds, beetles with markings that look tribal and might get them entangled in an online argument about cultural appropriation, weird fungus that is the texture of a pavlova filled with black nightmare weirdness and flowers with petals that feel like dry straw.

You have to stop though, you have to stop and stand still and pay attention. That’s a good rule of thumb in general when it comes to the natural world, remembering that it doesn’t exist to entertain you. The animals and plants have their own shit to do and if you take some time to tune into what that shit might be, you realise just how little you know, just how many worlds exist right before your mostly blind and ignorant eyes. It’s humbling.

“Humble” seems like an old fashioned word doesn’t it? I’d love to see a renaissance of humbleness. Can somebody bring it back into fashion? I don’t mean humble as in subservient or lacking in pride. I mean… Remembering how little any one person can ever truly know, remembering there is always more to learn. Always.

It’s bright, the outback. This part will go down as one of the great memories of my life. The part where we got out of the car and clambered up white sand dunes. When I reached the top of my first dune, I let out an involuntary and childish squeal of excitement and I started to run along it. I’m grateful for the times when I forget to be self-consciousness about what a giant dork I am.

I’ve never been on sand dunes before, not proper ones like this. They were a thing of myths, of the books I read in my childhood. It is utterly thrilling to be somewhere that just looks and feels so different from anything familiar and I swear, my heart raced with excitement as I bound down the side of the first dune in giant gravity propelled leaps! I ran through the flat valley between the dunes then up another, down another, up again. I felt a manic, brilliant joy.

When I paused for my breath to catch up on me, I realised that the white expanse seemed to be spinning and flickering just a little, as if my brain couldn’t quite take the exertion, the heat or the brightness of the sun reflecting with such intensity on the white surface. I wondered if I was going to faint and the idea seemed so hilariously pathetic that I burst into laughter. Then I stopped to breathe in the place and listen to the absence of traffic, the wind, bugs and the occasional bird or rare other tourist.

I watched him in the distance, my travel companion who is one of the great loves of my life and who has a thirst for adventure and novelty that feeds and ignites my own. I knew, through the excited grins we had shared all day, that he was finding this as magical as I, albeit in his own way. He looked up into the sky and I followed his gaze, it was a bird. The internet tells me it was probably a nankeen kestrel.

It hovered and wove silently through the sky and as it came towards me, that feeling of awe I had been experiencing all day seemed to reach a climactic peak. As it flew directly above me, I literally fell to my knees and watched it pass in front of the sun, an act which caused its feathers and much of its body to glow. Holy. Fuck.

I have a voice memo on my phone from after that moment. My voice is faint, trembling. You can barely hear it over the wind but I wanted to transcribe my words, rambling, unaltered.

“Today I saw the sun shining through a hawk while sitting on a sand dune… and I’m so glad I lived for this. I wanted to take a photo or a video for the memory and for writing about it but I thought that would be really inferior. And I thought about the shame I feel for taking photos instead of living in the moment. 
But then I thought about how we’ve always told stories, the thing that makes us human is telling stories about the things we do, that’s why we take photos of everything and try to record things… that’s something really special about us… that we… we tell each other stories about what we’ve done, what we’ve eaten, where we’ve been. It’s how we learn, it’s how we relate and I think we should tell all our stories. I don’t think there should be bad stories. I think we should tell stories about the most poignant moments in our lives, the moments when we run across sand dunes but also the time we shit our pants on the tram down Sydney Rd or the sex we had that was just so filthy or… the time we wanted to die.”

Exactly a week before I was running on the sand dunes, I wanted to die. The theme was one I had written of before, unhappiness with my health, sorrow about how significantly decreased my abilities are, chronic pain, lost potential, fears of things worsening, missing painting with the ever-present ache of lost love. I felt trapped, I had temporarily stopped seeing the colour in things. All I could see when I closed my eyes was a recent x-ray of my fucked up body and all the ways in which I cannot have the things I love.

Exactly a week afterwards, I sat in the dark where we had set up camp and though the suicidal inclinations had passed, I was still feeling tenuous. I decided to risk trusting this relatively new love of mine with the story of my sadness and he gave me the generous gift of listening and then just holding me for a little bit. Something lifted after that, it is such a fundamentally human need to have our sorrow witnessed. And our joy. One of the most meaningful things you can give another person is to listen to them when they tell you how they feel. I am tremendously grateful for the people who have loved and listened to me and I hope I do the same for them.

The next day, I was watching the sun shining through a hawk on a sand dune. Then I stood up and went to my love, we embraced and showed one another various treasures we had discovered – old fashioned glass fragments, dead bugs, bones. We both went wandering in separate directions again and I played a game with myself where I walked along the flat sand with my eyes closed until eventually I reached a dune that meant I was now climbing upwards with eyes still closed. Suddenly my foot touched air and, gasping in surprise, I fell onto my arse, I had reached the top of the dune and had fallen onto the other side of it. I laughed, filled with joy over how effective such a simple game had been at delighting me in this magical place.

I made a second voice memo.

“I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. It’s that thing… that thing where you have to tell the stories you don’t want to tell. You have to accept your vulnerabilities you have to (the wind gets too loud here and my voice is too faint to decipher for a moment) … somehow it just frees you up. It frees you up to feel good. It’s that Brené Brown thing about vulnerability it’s…oh my God I just found a little jawbone!”

A week ago I wanted to die. A week after that, I visited a place so special that it unlocked passions for the natural world which had lain relatively dormant within me since childhood. When we got back to Melbourne, my mood dropped and I cried when I walked into my house. But it was nothing dramatic, I’m feeling a lot stronger and my cat has been demanding cuddles which always helps me keep it real, yo.

It’s important to remember that the pain is real but so is the joy. It is so important to be reminded of how incredible the world is and I will hold onto that for dear life.

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Suicide

There have been a couple of times in my life where I have felt suicidal and though I’ve briefly mentioned it before, I don’t want to talk about it in detail so I am going to. When I was a teenager, I observed that my favourite artists were so often brutal, awkward and unattractive in their honesty which had the effect of making me feel more comfortable in my own skin and less alone, so I challenged myself to be the same. I still try to. Enough stalling, here goes.

I don’t know what it takes to be part of the Totes Legit Suicidal Club because I never swallowed any pills or jumped off any bridges. Though, at about the age of 12, I became very fascinated by the warning message on my aerosol deodorants “Intentional misuse by deliberate concentration and inhalation can be harmful or fatal.” I only tried to misuse my Vanilla Kisses body spray a handful of times and don’t remember much more than dizziness and once, a slightly uncomfortable headache. I remember the emotions though, I remember the shame.

The shame wasn’t about my flirtation with mortality, the shame was about my inability to commit to my demise. At that point, I had been chronically ill for some time and felt myself to be a burden on my family and to have no purpose or future. I felt that I was nothing but a shadow of a person, heavy and stagnant and the gesture of self-destruction felt like it would at least be… something.

And of course it would be an escape. Perhaps the worst thing about chronic illness, worse than the humiliation, the pain, the isolation… the worst thing I remember is the boredom. The days that melted into each other, stretching endless and tedious behind and in front. Sometimes I fish about in my head for memories of those years and only get feelings that make me uncomfortable and vague memories of bedsheets and shitty TV shows. I know that this wasn’t the entire truth of those times because as an adult, I see the privileges from my childhood but I believe that being ill for so long made me perceive everything through a very deep depression.

Bored and caged animals will pluck their feathers out or chew at their flesh. I have an intimate familiarity with that impulse and for some years I was the cliché of teenage angst, late at night when the frustration, self-loathing or tedium became unbearable, I would take to my arms and legs with a kitchen knife, slowly slicing shallow red lines into my flesh. It is not in accord with popular opinion for me to say this, but it truly felt as if that behaviour curbed my violent impulses and I recall the ringing in my ears and the nauseous calm I felt as I watched bloody lines appear. It was like white noise, it blocked things out and focused my attention. Cutting is seen as an unhealthy behaviour and certainly mine was a symptom of a great unhappiness, however I think that channelling the violent emotions I was feeling into something that had no long term negative effects on my physicality was actually… helpful. I am not necessarily defending the behaviour, though I do believe it kept me from something more drastic.

I haven’t cut myself in years, having learnt more “constructive” and “adult” ways of dealing with my emotions. However, in 2014, when I turned 30, I was thinking a lot about how I wanted to be dead. My (then undiagnosed) Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was at its worst, I was in constant pain, unable to sleep, dependent on my partner financially and unable to do any of the things that made me feel valuable, excited, alive. It had been over four years since I first had problems with my arms and it seemed to only be getting worse. My future and prospects felt bleak, once again I felt like a burden, once again I was the thing I had been working so hard not to be, once again I was nothing.

It felt like a Chinese finger trap, the harder I struggled, the tighter the grip it had around me. I was bored, frustrated and just so sick of trying. And now I had access to the Internet, I thought about how easy it might be to just research the most painless, simple methods of self-annihilation. I was an adult now, maybe this time I had the willpower to follow through and…

And I thought of Wes. And I knew how I might ruin his life if I did this. And so, though it was incredibly hard to do so, I told him how I was feeling and he implored me to keep trying, he promised he would help. In honesty, I half hated him for it at the time, half hated him for the way his love meant I had to keep trying when it felt so hard and I was so tired. So completely spent.

But I kept trying. In honesty it was for Wes at first and not for me, but slowly things started to improve during 2015. I found mindfulness meditation which has helped me be gentler with myself and better tolerate the things I hadn’t control over, I found my cat, I did some volunteer work, I started working on a web series, I started learning to sing. I got a diagnosis. I fell even more deeply in love with Wes and back in love with someone else who I never thought I’d see again.

So this year, 2016, has been kind of incredible so far. The diagnosis of TOS has transformed my self-perceptions and given me a sense that my future is no longer hopeless. I have an abundance of love. And for the first two weeks of this month, we were filming the web series that I first conceived of in 2014 when I was thinking about how I would like to be dead. Filming was the most scary, exhausting, stressful thing I have possibly ever done and I was so ecstatically happy. I rediscovered a self that in 2014, I thought I had permanently lost and I felt like the poster child for an “It Gets Better” type project. I am struggling to express what those two weeks meant to me but there were so many times when I was thinking to myself “Remember this. Remember that if you had given up, you would not have gotten to do this.” While feeling, truly feeling, that it was all going to be better from here.

Two days after we finished filming, my body seized up with pain from computer work and I was blindsided by the sudden onset of old, morbid thoughts. I was devastated, my body felt like a trap again and the joy I’d been feeling felt like a sick lie. For just a little while, I resented how amazing I had been feeling for how hard I was now crashing. But the people I love helped pull my head out of that ugly place and though I am now feeling a little shook up, vulnerable and prone to moments of sorrow, I do believe things are improving.

It’s just… it’s not a straight line pointing upwards for the rest of my life. My body will always cause issues, horrible things will inevitably happen and there will probably always be many things I am unable to do. I may always be taunted, in my vulnerable moments, by the self I could have been if only my body hasn’t failed me so many times and I’ve now had to face the unpleasant reality that suicidal thoughts may not be something a person can permanently escape. This might be something I have to battle again because that is what life has to do, life has to fight.

But if/when these morbid thoughts reawaken in my head, here is what I will tell myself: Despite how seductive it can be, suicide is not the opposite of stagnation. Fight and be proud of yourself for doing so because life fights. And remember, when you wanted to die, you could never have known how amazing you’d feel when you moved to Melbourne, produced and starred in a stupid musical theatre comedy that would receive rave reviews, married your best friend in a pantomime unicorn outfit, roamed the streets of Berlin with a wonderful lover, lay on the side of the planet and stared into the stars with a man who makes you feel alive, spent two weeks in a studio filming the most ambitious project you’ve worked on up to this point, danced all night, played with your cat, painted for an hour without pain, baked a cake, learned to rap, laughed with your idiot friends… the list of good things far outweighs the negative. These things, these moments of joy and triumph are always worth it.

Always.

On an almost daily basis, I struggle with the feeling that I am nothing and it’s true. I am. We all are. Ultimately, we will all be helpless in the face of our own mortality, it’s just that people who have their body fail when they are young have to face that reality earlier than some. In the smallest fraction of time, everything we know will cease to exist. In the interim, I am taking the resources I have and making some fucking spectacular moments with them, like fireworks exploding in the cold and dark night sky.

Discovery

“Slow the fuck down you raging dickhead!” a red-faced, bald man screeches angrily at his bull terrier as it drags him towards the water. The water in question is Edwardes Lake, a brown, soupy, polluted puddle in a pretty little park in Reservoir. I’m here by accident.

Today has been one of the days that are so common in my life right now, when my arms are too sore to do much of anything and I find myself at a loose end. I drift through these days feeling listless and without direction. I’m bored and feel boring. There was a time, pre-injury, when I felt inspiration to be endless and I channelled all that through my arms but the last five years, this has led to physical pain. So I’ve learnt to suppress inspiration when I feel it and mostly I’ve avoided going to galleries because the first wave of excitement I feel is always quickly followed by anguish and a desire to just… not exist.

It used to be that I channelled all my existential angst, dread and joy into making. It used to be that my arms served as a conduit for the intensity of how I seemed to feel pretty much everything. Now this quiet depression, this gentle fog, this numbing of emotion has been a survival strategy.

But it’s so tedious. So I try to find something to pass my time and often end up exploring the surrounding suburbia on foot. I think it takes a slight edge off my desire to travel and I get a thrill from making discoveries such as the house that has a cat tree in every window, old crumbling chimneys, or the time I found an abandoned Bunnings Warehouse full of incredible street art that was demolished by the time I came back to photograph it a few weeks later.

Today, as I walk around the lake, my first discovery is the inflamed man with the enthusiastic dog. My second discovery is a turtle. It is sunbathing on a log with its long neck stretched out as if it is attempting to get a tan and there is something about this image that causes the fog to vanish in burst of happiness. Mood dramatically altered, I continue my walk, often stopping to watch the varied bird life and to think.

I think about how I have spent the last five years mostly just passing my time, waiting for my arms to get better so I can go back to being the self I once was. I realise that I have let a lot of time slip past as I’ve waited to get better. I think about my hopes that I will someday be able to paint prolifically again but how I can’t let the present go to waste while I wait for a utopian future. I think about how in this protective fog the colours are less spectacular and I feel like a dusty old book that nobody wants to read. I think about the people around me who laugh and cry and glow with their passions and I want to glow again. I am becoming increasingly determined to find a way glow again, not sporadically as I currently do but with a more sustainable regularity.

I reach a point of the park where very tall trees stand and sway in the hot, dry wind that is suddenly central in my awareness because of the enormous roaring sound the trees are making. I stop to listen and watch the water ripple while dramatic, dark grey clouds swirl slowly in the sky above. After a while, I sit down and start to collect tiny little pinecone things which I have decided I will form into a word. It’s hardly an original idea but I decide it will be a fun creative exercise and that I am going to start challenging myself to find more constructive ways to channel inspiration without hurting my arms. Little things, humble things, things that might help me to find myself again.

While I am collecting the little pinecones, Wes calls me on the phone and we have a discussion about what word I’ll write. Wes suggests “graffiti”, I ponder over “mistake” but eventually I decide I will write a small sentence documenting a moment that meant something to me today.

I try to assemble the pinecones into letters but the wind is so fierce that they keep blowing away. An old man wanders over, eyeing me suspiciously and asking if I need help, I thank him, no, and decide I need to find a more sheltered spot. Eventually, I find a place that is safe from the wind and I write my message, albeit awkwardly, due to the curved and slippery surface I am working on. I wonder who might see my message and what it might mean to them. I think about the ephemeral nature of site-specific works and how it relates to art and the search for meaning in defiance of mortality. I think about how important context is and how the necessary choice of installation space will surely effect a viewer’s reading of my message.

Then I take a photo with my phone and go home to share it.

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