During the midst of a total meltdown the other night, a tiny shard of coherent thought sliced through the rapidly unraveling fears, anger, questions, and sobs:
I realized: There is no guidebook for people like me. There is no magic recipe that will make this all go away or get better, there is no feel-good explanation for the world that brings me comfort, and there is no system of faith I can take root in. I have tried, ardently, for years. I have explained away my tendencies, I’ve tried to expose myself to my fears in effort to desensitize myself, I have attempted faith, spirituality, and psychotherapy. And I’ve experienced long stretches of time where I’ve been so angry with myself for being this way, for having this brain that does what my brain does. I’ve always been waiting for the time when it would all just stop, when I’d be free of these patterns that are so very uncomfortable.
But waiting makes it worse. Waiting implies that right now, I’m not good enough, not yet. And it only makes it worse when the patterns persist, despite my efforts to disrupt or alter them. While at the docs, even, I found myself referring to a time when I would no longer think this way, and when I paused, my therapist interjected: “But you will always do this. You will always generate these kinds of thoughts. What will change is your ability to pay no attention to them, to know that this is just what your brain does.” I tried to hide my disappointment. What was the point of mindfulness meditation, then, if this was never going to go away? I wanted these thoughts and feelings to disappear completely.
And the next day, fiddling around in my bathroom after work, it occurred to me that maybe this wasn’t so bad, after all. That, while my brain plays brilliant tricks on me, it could certainly be worse, and, my brain is also capable of a lot of wonderful things. Maybe all the good stuff I can do is connected to the bad stuff, maybe I don’t get to have one without the other–and I could be wrong, but, I don’t think creativity comes from brains that don’t have their own set of particular quirks or delusions. Maybe those creative abilities would disappear along with my abilities to generate terrifying thoughts (and reasons to follow them almost endlessly) if I somehow wished them away.
Beyond that, it’s a nice pair of abilities, really– being able to write creatively and also having this scary way of looking at the world, and little to sink my teeth into (other than extraordinarily beautiful poetry) that brings me comfort. I know I am not the only person walking around the earth with this set of troubles, but I am someone who can express them, share them, potentially let others know they’re not alone in their personal quest for understanding and feeling at peace in this world.
So now–I think it’s time to stop, finally, all the charades. It’s time to accept that faith is never going to work for me (and that science alone doesn’t provide sufficient explanations either), that there is no safe or comfortable rationale out there waiting for me to find it, that it’s OK to have a brain that’s a little mad and sad (and a lot mad/sad, at times). It’s time to accept that I will have to create it–my own explanation and understanding of this world, our universe, our lives. Nothing that anyone else can say would ever be enough. And although I often depend heavily on the words and wisdom of others to comfort me when I’m afraid, it’s never long before I once again feel dissatisfied, like an essential piece is missing. I need to come to it, myself. It’s the only way.
Perhaps that’s why I take such comfort in beautiful poetry, or at least the poetry I love. It’s all written while searching, while attempting to understand, and also once that understanding has been reached. Beyond that, it lets me know that I am not the only one out there with this kind of code written into my psyche. If these other people found peace with it, then so can I.
By the way, this is not my declaring that I’m throwing in the towel with therapy or learning how to meditate. This is my attempting to accept things exactly as they are, to accept myself exactly as I am. I do believe meditating will help me better handle this wild brain I’ve been given, so I can use it well, rather than spend so much time being used by it. I also believe that without acceptance, of ourselves and our lives (even the really uncomfortable parts), we cannot be at peace, or content, or grow as a human being… we’re too busy worrying about not being good enough, about not having the right outcome, that little good can occur naturally.
Somehow, despite being trapped between self-acceptance and self-anger, I’ve made a lot of positive changes toward how I look at the world, and understand it, and my place in it. But I’ve been stuck for a while. I think, when we’re stuck, some kind of change is necessary, old patterns are not working anymore, not serving us. I think, for me, for right now, learning to meditate is the right adjustment, the right spin of the dial in a slightly different direction. I look forward to what it might teach me or reveal to me, and I also look forward to sharing it here.
*Photo taken about thirty minutes before torrential downpour at the Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY.