The Empty Journal

2014-01-04 20.26.06

A year ago, I bought this journal at a craft store. I laughed out loud when I saw it, because it was just so incredibly perfect. “The creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul” – that’s pretty much my everyday life, right? (And in case you can’t read the fine print at the bottom, it says “even though optimism may be unself-aware and ill-placed, I know I’ll be happier as a blind fool than as a clairvoyant apocalyptic.”)

Now if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I have an uncanny ability to fill a journal. I’m constantly buying new ones because I can never quite keep up with the pace of my own writing. So it is seriously weird that I’ve had this awesome journal for a whole year and only filled five pages.

Here’s my problem…it’s prompted.

The beginning of every page begins with “What I’m hanging hope on today:” and that seems unfair. Because hope is a nice idea and all, but when a page starts off with a heading like that, all of a sudden I feel guilty writing down anything negative. Because how can I finish that sentence? “What I’m hanging hope on today: my body image really sucks”? Or “What I’m hanging hope on today: my roommates and I just had explosive diarrhea simultaneously and we only have one bathroom”? And I can’t just ignore the prompt, because it’s sitting right there staring at me and making me feel worse about feeling bad.

Every time I write in that journal, I say I’m going to do it more often. That I’m going to suck it up and write what I want, prompt be damned. But I never do. Although I am a person who generally craves order and organization, when it comes to writing, I think the best thing I can have in front of me at any given moment is a blank page. No prompts. That way I can write in poetry or metaphor or prose or even draw, and there’s nobody looking down their nose and telling me I can’t. So many times I want to write about things other than hope. I want to write about fear and loneliness and vulnerability and how it feels to fall in love with someone from thousands of miles away. I want to write about my family and how beautiful they are and how much they truly love each other. I want to write about the way I feel when I have too much to drink and the emotions spill out of me like running water and I’m left face-to-face with something ugly and scary. It doesn’t give me hope. It gives me life. It means I’m living. And living is oh so very painful. To quote William Goldman, anyone who says differently is selling something.

I’ve moved on to other journals since I started this one. In fact, I’ve completely finished at least two since the last time I wrote in it. Still, I keep it. The cover makes me laugh, and the sometimes funny/sometimes inspirational quotes inside are fun to look at.

Perhaps my inner optimist is disappointed in me. I doubt it. I usually find some way to see the bright side of a situation, even when nobody asks me to. And maybe I’ll find use for such a book someday, when my thoughts bleed out loud rather than on paper. Until then, well, whatever happens, it’s gonna be okay.


The In-Betweens

I like to play the grey areas in life – that’s the most uncomfortable place to be. Nobody likes to be in that in-between state where they don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of tension in that, and a lot of stuff to play with – where it’s uncomfortable and awkward and sad and scary.

– Melanie Lynskey

In the past year, I’ve lived a lot of in-betweens. First I was stuck knowing I needed help, but not wanting it. Then all of a sudden I was balancing precariously on the tightrope between life and death. And now, going through the recovery process has caused a huge amount of back-and-forth pulling. Sometimes I feel like I’m skating forward no problem, ready to take on the world, and other times I look at my ugly past with rose-colored glasses and realize how easy it would be to slip back into starvation and isolation.

I’m even physically in between. I’m home now, after spending my summer in classes, and will return to start again very soon. I’m at a point where I’ve been cleared for exercise but don’t have the strength or stamina to actually do much of anything yet. Most of my clothes from last summer and fall are too small, but my clothes from my sophomore year are all too big. And I’m in between the age where it’s okay to have no idea what I want to do with my life and the age where I’m supposed to be sure.

I’m not good at handling grey areas. And that may be the understatement of the century. I’m infamous among the members of my treatment team for my extremely black-and-white thinking – either I’m perfect, or I’ve failed. I truly went about my entire school-age life believing that if I didn’t get 100% on every test I was a stupid, moronic failure. I struggled to place everything into a category. Things were either good or bad. Answers were either right or wrong. People were either best friends or nemeses. I was either sure or I had no idea. There was no “maybe” or “okay” or “sort of” in my book. It was one or the other, end of story.

Naturally, recovery requires you to start thinking of everything on a spectrum. Because there’s not really a box for being “recovered.” There’s just recovery, as a journey, in which things unfold and you accept them the way they are and you make choices that bring you a little bit closer to happiness every day. If I were still thinking in such all-or-nothing terms, every time I skipped a snack or left out an exchange at breakfast would mean I’d relapsed, and I am perfectly able to recognize how silly that would be. The problem comes when I try to apply that same reasoning to the other areas of my life.

I hate the in-betweens. I hate not knowing where I am or what’s going to happen next. It is every bit as uncomfortable and awkward and sad and scary as Lynskey says it is. I never learned how to figure things out as I went, because I always made sure I had an idea of where I was going. And I did that because I absolutely hated feeling uncomfortable and awkward and sad and scared. They’re not pleasant emotions. They drive me crazy and cause me to fall into a near-psychotic pattern of over-analysis. The in-betweens bring out the worst aspects of my anxiety and perfectionism until I can’t stand to be inside my own head anymore.

I think, though, that if you don’t let yourself experience things in shades of gray, you can never be sure of what makes you happy. You can never be happy. Living the in-betweens teaches you more about yourself than you ever thought you could know. It is only in the in-betweens that you can truly figure out who you are and what you want.

They only last so long. The in-betweens. The grey areas. Eventually something will happen, whether you’re expecting it or not. And more often than not, the discomfort and the awkwardness and the terror push you one way or the other. When I was deciding whether to continue on my path to self-destruction or seek help, it took hitting a terrifying rock bottom to finally propel me toward recovery. Today, as we speak, I’m dealing with the maddening semi-relationship area where I don’t have any idea what is possibly going to happen next, but I will say that the more I accept the scariness and the sadness and the uncertainty, the more I am able to realize what I want.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to say that I like the grey areas in life. After all, nobody likes the in-betweens. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. You can’t fit everything nicely into a perfect little box. Sometimes you really do just have to accept every moment without judgment, and decide how you want to go forward. You can’t always make the right choice, but if you’re allowing yourself to let go of control for even a split second and stop trying to change the way things are, you can’t be wrong, either.

There’s something special about not knowing. There’s a realm of infinite possibility. The in-betweens are a blessing.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon the table

When I first read T.S. Eliot’s careful words my junior year of high school, I fell in love.

Why was I drawn so strongly to this poem? Maybe it was the fact that I actually felt like it was written by a real person in language that at least tried to be understandable (unlike “The Waste Land”). Or maybe it was the fact that when I read it out loud, I could feel the emotions behind the words even when I couldn’t quite put them together logically. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about in class that day, so clearly the deeper meaning wasn’t too important to me. So…what?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I hate most poetry. I suffered through many a unit in school, reading Plath and Dickinson and Browning and Yeats and Bryant and Shelley until I wanted to gouge my eyes out. I usually complain about how poets just talk in circles and never say what they really mean. I’m even soulless enough to dare to dislike Shakespeare. I know, I should be embarrassed to call myself a writer. But I’m just trying to illustrate my extreme level of aversion to most rhyming, metered, and free-form verse.

Something about “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is different than any other poem I’ve ever read. I don’t care that I can’t make sense of it. I just love it. I have an online copy of the poem bookmarked in my web browser so I can read it whenever I want. I also keep a Word document of it in Dropbox so I can read it offline on my computer and phone. And, to complete the accessibility suite, I have a handwritten copy in the back of my journal.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor —
And this, and so much more? —
It is impossible to say just what I mean!

For some reason, the speaker of this poem is just universally relatable. I feel his desperation so deeply that it’s physically painful. I can tell he is trying so hard to tell me how he feels – and although my brain doesn’t process his language as comprehensible sentences, the imagery he creates is powerful enough that it doesn’t matter. I think that’s what all poetry is supposed to be like, but nobody was ever able to convince me that it worked until I was introduced to Mr. Eliot here. And nobody’s been able to convince me of it since.

I want my tombstone to read, “She dared disturb the universe.”

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

A Return to the Self

She knew that this transition was not about becoming someone better, but about finally allowing herself to become what she’d always been.

I came across this quote on Pinterest the other day (oh my word, Pinterest has become an addiction once more) and it reminded me of why I started a blog in the first place – to get back to writing, because that’s such a huge part of who I am. And then I remembered that I hadn’t written in this blog since before I went into treatment, which was October.

This transitional period in my life, when I’m not in school anymore and not working and trying to focus on myself and my health, is really difficult. And I keep putting a lot of pressure on myself to get better. After all, I certainly don’t want to live my life in the in-between forever. But I guess I’m beginning to see that it’s not really about getting “better” than I was. It’s about returning to the person I was before all this happened, even though that person seems really far away.

I feel like I’m slowly getting in touch with that person again. She’s pretty elusive right now, hiding behind this massive bully that’s been living in my head for far too long. But I have hope that someday I’ll be able to find her and trust her and let her trust me again. For too long I’ve been forcing my old self into hiding for fear that she wouldn’t be accepted or loved. For too long I’ve been perpetuating the idea that my real self is the enemy and that only by punishing her can I make sense of my world. For too long I have been living a life guided solely by my fears and insecurities.

So I’m going to try this whole blogging thing once more, see if anything comes of it. I can’t promise that I’ll update it terribly regularly or that everything I write will be literary genius. It will only be me, living out my growing pains and trying to make sense of everything that’s happening in my life.