Ancient Feeling

Why does everything have to have meaning?

Why do I look for trees that are old?

I look for trees to outlive me, to be bigger than trauma, so I can feel comforted by majesty and legacy.

These trees are small in the desert but who am I to judge?

The rocks are older than pain. They chip apart in more fragments. Surely, that should provide some solace.

Why is “should” being mentioned?

The fly’s eyes match the red rock. Lizards crawl over logs like thoughts. Drops of water fall on my elbow, my forearm. Wind pulls past my left ear.

I wonder what time sunset is. My phone has no service and the suspense is exciting.

I see a future of fainting on the trail, sleeping it off on the red earth. Losing track of time and place.

Is that why I came here? To weep? To watch the yellow pages flutter while my heart beats in my temples?

My breath is not mine, but the land’s. My body is not mine, but the land’s. My heart is not mine, but biology’s.

I pass one family and then see no one. Everyone has gone home, and I have, too.

Home is here with particles of dirt dancing and wet cheeks over dry earth. Grass twists into curls. Moss grows faded green; a green so dry it’s blackened and flaked. The moss has pores like my face. Breathing sacredness. The ground glitters with silver in some places.

The half moon is there. I don’t have anything else to say about it. It hangs. It is being a moon. Can I be a moon? I’d love to be hidden and then suddenly be seen. But I already know that feeling. It’s called love. It’s called an awakening from sleep.

I find a piece of silver and it breaks apart in my fingers like fish scales. Maybe all the silver belonged to a giant fish that swam here when there was water, before it was colonized. It’s a relief to feel something ancient because if something can live that long, I believe I can, too.

On the way back, I clutch a smooth, rounded, wooden stick that fits perfectly in my palm; a walking stick for the soul. Halfway down, a large boulder beckons me. I hug it and feel the mass of a thousand tonnes leaning into me. It holds time itself in its gravity. My cheek to the rock, smooth meets rough, skin meets ant. They climb onto me like I am an extension of the rock. Filled with the weight of the moment, I put the wooden stick into my bag and make my way down the rest of the mountain. I have made an offering and now I have one with these words.

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A Daughter’s Prayer

The Past

As a young child, I carried many ants
on my arms
but he blew them off
in the hurricane of his voice.

He hacked away at the woods with his questions,
one tree at a time,
one dream at a time,
severing my heart from his
until the forest of my soul laid bare.

I grew up in the shadow of his cloud
never asking for more sunshine
than needed to stay put within the four walls
of family and expectations.

The Present

Can roots grow where there are none left?
Can they grow like philodendrons
from nothing but water
and promises to change?

The Future

Here, in the garden
I rest,
with the running water
of the fountain.
The sun burns my eyes with hope and
I feel a tingling.
My nails grow long and spindly.
My body shrinks with wrinkles.
My voice cracks like the heron’s calls.

I see an old woman now,
moss-covered,
with long, greying hair,
roots twisting and
touching the earth
that holds her father’s ashes.

Now

Bid the clouds that muffle
our cries farewell,
for it is not too late yet.

Let it not be death that frees us.

Open Window

I filled the ‘O’ in LOVE with black
after you broke my heart.
You slipped into the dark hole
of memory, my source of nightmares.

She spoke French.
I spoke heartbreak.
You said swear words
I didn’t know existed.

I opened the window and
thought about jumping, but
I worried you wouldn’t hear
the thud, and the trees’
branches would catch me.

I threw out all your stuff
and her flimsy dresses.
I saw a pink one, fitted,
slinky, and imagined it
clinging to a body
like betrayal.

The clothes hung on
to the trees, flares of love
signaling my rescue from above.

Finding the Right Fit: How Some Doctors Make Your Mental Health Feel Worse, Or Better

Depression: let’s talk.

Today is World Health Day, celebrated to mark the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. The theme for 2017 is depression, and it’s no surprise that this is the focus since suicide is now the second leading cause of death for 15-29-year-olds. This is a staggering statistic and one that needs to change.

This change will only come about if we have open talks about depression and other mental illnesses, which would remove the stigma associated with them, and if we continue to invest in organizations that help people who are struggling.

People with mental health issues are often judged by others who make huge assumptions about these people based on fear and ignorance. And sadly, sometimes the people who we go to for help are the ones who can make us feel worse.

The Bad News: The Doctors Who Make You Feel Like Shit

A few weeks ago, I visited a new psychiatrist since I’ve recently moved to a new state and needed to change doctors. In the span of forty-five minutes, during my first session, I was analyzed in a brutal and basic way. I was told that my father was an alcoholic and my mother was an “uneducated pussycat” for putting up with him. I was told that men had let me down and that I “pick the wrong ones all the time”. I was told that “women just want to get married, have children, and settle down”, which implied that I was depressed because I didn’t have a man that was going to provide that for me. I was told that I didn’t have anxiety or general depression, but that I had bipolar disorder since my brother had it. And I was told that my father probably suffered from bipolar disorder as well since it was a “genetic disease”.

I wanted to say she could fuck off and see how she liked that for some spontaneity.

I walked away feeling bruised, confused, and very upset. When my dad asked me how it had gone, I told him, and of course, it made him feel sad too. We didn’t talk to each other for a day because we were dealing with it. Now, I look back and see it for what it was: a load of rubbish.

Another psychiatrist told me that I had lived a privileged life and was lucky to have traveled around the world during my childhood. She made it sound like the rootlessness, dislocation, and uprooting were not valid reasons to feel broken inside. That I should be grateful for the experience, which of course I was, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel trauma about it. This is a whole other issue to discuss that would require another post: the joys and traumas of the third culture kid experience and how most people don’t get it. After knowing that I’d traveled the world and was both American and British, the psychiatrist had the guts to correct my English when I pronounced something in the British way instead of the American way. And when I told her I had visited Edinburgh over the holidays, she asked, “Where’s that?” Go figure.

She also asked me if I had always been “that calm”. She asked me if I ever expressed “spontaneous joy”. I was almost too shocked to reply to her. I wanted to say she could fuck off and see how she liked that for some spontaneity. Instead, I said, “when I’m with people I enjoy being around, I express joy. Sometimes I dance around my room naked.” I also added that I felt more British in the expression of my emotions: more reserved, not as loud as some Americans are, having a drier and more sarcastic sense of humor, more observant. She told me that I could work on being more animated around her and others. She told me that being British didn’t mean I had to be miserable. I mentally noted that sentence and promised I would make a caricature of her one day in one of my future books. No darling, it doesn’t.

If I got outside and walked a block, it was a triumph.

About four months ago, I visited a GP after I was told I should probably see if there was anything “wrong with my body” that would explain the anxiety and depression. People are a lot more comfortable knowing you have a bodily injury or illness rather than a mind-based affliction. I sat down in the doctor’s office and explained why I was there in a nutshell. When I mentioned I had been having suicidal thoughts, I saw the doctor visibly flinch and the medical intern in the corner of the room shuffle her feet and stare at the floor. I understand that depression is difficult to talk about, but why don’t people squirm in the same way when you tell them you have a kidney stone or a broken arm? (Who knows, maybe they do.)

After measuring my height and weight, and taking my blood pressure, it seemed like she didn’t know what to do with me. She asked me questions like “are you sleeping okay?” and “are you exercising?”. To which I replied, yes and no. She then recommended that I find the time to exercise. I replied that I would find the time to exercise if I wasn’t thinking about cutting myself half of the time or if I managed to find the energy inside left over from the continual grieving and suffering to lift my limbs. She didn’t know what to say in response. The last time I had tried exercising, I rolled out my yoga mat in the living room and attempted a few sun salutations. I managed to do a few downward dogs, and then I flopped onto the mat and cried with my face squashed into the ground. If I got outside and walked a block, it was a triumph.

The Good News: Finding an Ear to Listen

Am I saying that you shouldn’t go to seek professional help when you feel like hurting yourself or if you’re struggling? Hell no! Of course you should. You must. You can’t do this journey alone and your loved ones can’t bear the brunt of it for you. I’m not saying you’re a burden—you’re not—but having more people help to lift the weight is easier for everyone. And yes, sadness has weight. It is so heavy, isn’t it?

What I’m saying is that finding the right mental health professional for you is a process. If you find the right psychiatrist or therapist straight away then that’s great! But if it takes a while to find the right fit, do not be discouraged. Do not let the system get you down. And do not let anyone, with an MD at the end of their name or otherwise, tell you who you are. You know who you are. Even if the depression is making every day a struggle, you know who you are. You know. You know what you like and don’t like. Listen to the way your body trembles. It’s speaking to you.

If you’re booking an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’re a badass.

If you don’t like your psychiatrist or therapist, find a new one. There are others out there. You’re not a failure for wanting to change. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or picky. If your parents or friends tell you you’re running from the truth by changing doctors, tell yourself you’re doing anything but that. You’re confronting it. A lot of people don’t even admit they have a problem, and funnily enough, it’s the people who have issues that like to judge you for yours. If you’re booking an appointment with a psychiatrist, you’re a badass.

Moving Forward: It Takes Time

Now, after some false starts, I’m happily in therapy with a wonderful therapist who listens to me, asks me important questions, and doesn’t judge me at all. I’ve spoken with her about my bad experiences with other mental health professionals and she’s been very empathetic and admitted that the profession can attract weird types of people.

I’m still trying to find a psychiatrist, but I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ll find one eventually. The good thing about psychiatrists is you don’t have to see them very often; only about once a month on average since any medication takes some time to kick in. I think it’s far more important to find a therapist to work with because they’re the ones who will work with you on things, get deep into the hurting, and not just prescribe pills to fix everything. The best combination is having a psychiatrist and a therapist. At least, that’s what has worked for me.

I believe that when people want to hurt themselves it’s a cry to reconnect to their body.

I’ve also started exercising and meditating regularly. Waking up every morning at a set time and hitting the pavement to go for a walk or to the gym is helping me so much.  You’re probably wondering what changed and how I managed to motivate myself to do this. Well, I had a really difficult conversation with myself. I asked myself how I wanted to feel during my day. I replied: expansive, powerful, strong. I knew that I needed to reconnect with my body in order to do this, the same body that I had been hating, the body that I had wanted to hurt.

I believe that when people want to hurt themselves it’s a cry to reconnect to their body. The negative thoughts banish us to a dark place where we can’t even feel our body anymore. It’s a weird feeling to have, to feel so much pain and to not be able to feel your body at the same time. It doesn’t really make much sense. The self-hatred shakes the bond with our body. It is a deep yearning that only we can answer for ourselves. Thankfully, I no longer feel like hurting myself. I need this body to walk. I need it to see the animals. I need it to breathe the air. I need it to do so many things I want to do. Hell, I need it because I need me. I am.

If you can live the three minutes for a quick meditation, I bet you can live another three minutes, another ten, another twenty.

I looked to the past and recognized the fact that I had been happiest when I was rooted in my body. I realized after a lot of tears that this reconnection had to involve nature. So I made a pact with myself that I would get outside and go for walks to hear the birds and see the squirrels in the neighborhood. Soon I was going to sleep thinking about the next morning and how I was so lucky to wake up and go outside to see the living creatures walking around. This is hope. This is how hope is born.

Another way to live in the body is by training the mind through meditating. Meditating is a life saver because it quietens my mind’s obsession with thought.  I used to roll my eyes at people who spouted the benefits of living in the moment and letting go of the ego. It sounded like exclusive living to me. Something only those who are graced with the light of spirituality can experience (by the way, we all are). But once I shifted my mindset and viewed meditation as an exercise like walking or going to the gym, I started viewing it in a different, less overwhelming way. I just do ten minutes a day, twenty minutes max. I started with three minutes. I downloaded a few meditation apps (Stop, Breathe, and Think and Calm) to help me along and willed myself to sit still. If you can live the three minutes for a quick meditation, I bet you can live another three minutes, another ten, another twenty. I sure hope you do.

You can do this. Stay strong, warrior.


If you or someone you know needs help, visit this suicide prevention resources page on The Mighty.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

(Anxiety is) Just a Block Away

Whenever I feel my feet walking in the direction of despair,

I stare at the ground, desperately looking for a dropped coin

in hiding. Some days, it takes longer to find something shiny.

Other days, I look up to see if there is anything

resembling God, like a heron flying,

a servant to the tides and the king of the lakeshore.

It flies with a grace I’ll never have.

My flying is poetry. The words

put together this way and that way, mirroring

the soaring wings moving with the whims of the wind.

 

That’s me on a good day.

 

Sometimes there is nothing but broken glass and empty wrappers

that used to hold something sweet; just grey cement.

But, finally, between the cracks, there’s moving brown:

a small lizard with a throat bigger than mine.

Poetry is my red-throated neck. It saves me

from the tumble, the voice that says “you’re not enough”.

The words sag and stick on the walls of my head;

a big,

choking piece

of food that won’t go down.

 

But somehow, by looking around, gravity is relearned.

I fall but—

the ground of the page catches me again.

Give me a few days and my faith will waver.

Give me a few lie-ins and I’ll never wake up.

But, for now, my feet find a way that’s not a block away.