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A Cup o Kindness Yet | 2018 | Three Interesting Topics


I loathe the expression "What makes him tick." It is the American mind, looking for simple and singular solution, that uses the foolish expression. A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm.  

-James Thurber

The Disappearing Act

When I Vanish

For twenty years, I have been able to see the tide rising a minute before it washes me away. I try to warn people, but it isn't their ocean. All they notice is pounding veins in foreheads, their hands gripped into tight fists, the copper in their throats, then I get a panicked and mournful expression and tell them I have dissociated.

As though a fuse had blown, I can no longer remember what the argument was about, nor can I keep my mind on what just happening. Melanie once doubted that I had this condition, thinking it was a cop-out, because she wanted to get heated. Daring to tell her I needed to keep the conversation calm to maintain a place in it was nonsensical, but it is my only defense against it, feeling my mind slipping and warning the other party I am close to my evaporation.

I justify that I want to keep things respectful, but it is also that I need to protect myself from temporary oblivion, the shame of it, the frustration of breaking down. I can be distraught and remember everything, but dissociation looms when the issue it involves someone I love and fear losing, which to my mind is evidently among the worst things that can happen.

Dissociation stops me from the pain of the moment, though I have little urge to avoid my problems (thus medication, meditation, therapy, and holding myself publicly accountable in my writing, as unattractive and unstable as I may make myself appear in detailing my mental state). The awareness that I might lose my head -- in more than one sense -- stops me from lashing out, insisting I deal with the issue instead of the emotion.

I am not someone else when I've dissociated. I have no other personalities that emerge. I am only ever myself, only temporarily unable to access the files of my short-term memory, unable to keep a hold on what is going on. My sharpest memory of an occurrence was a fight I had with a girlfriend in her dorm. I don't recall the nature of the argument, though I assume it was something trivial amplified by our hormones and the needs we were too inexperienced to articulate accurately. I knew only, very suddenly, that she was crying, I had caused it somehow, and I wanted badly to soothe her. I felt the slick static filling my head with white noise and confessed that I could no longer remember why we were upset and only wanted to be kissing her. She said she could not remember either, meaning this less literally than I did, and we fell into the other's arms. Was anything resolved? How could it be? It was delayed and surely reoccurred, but I would not know the precedent. It is obvious to point out how unhealthy that is, but it began my attempt to compensate for this quirk by searching for its origin.

I want to plumb to find its genesis, as though mental time travel will allow me to reverse it. Who knows how one develops a defense mechanism, except in those traumatizing landmarks I lack? I was never beaten, raped. (I was mugged once and much of that experience was blocked out, which is the closest thing in my history to this dissociation.) Instead, these mechanisms are gradual, one's brain deciding shutting off is a better way to deal with threats than processing them.

Depression doesn't shut off my brain, nor does anxiety. I remember sadness keenly. Physical pain provokes no block. All positive emotions, no matter how elevated, trigger nothing. But have someone I romantically love threaten our relationship, be angry with me, and my brain fills with haze I have to actively combat. When I think I am going to be abandoned, my systems cannot handle it, though I do not think I've ever actually been abandoned once in my life.

When Emily left me, my brain became Swiss-cheesed with gaps and an inability to focus for three days. I lost my sense of time. I was dissociated then, though I wasn't while she was in the process of leaving me for good. It was the longest I spent in the fog. I don't know what my brain was doing while I was numb, if it were rerouting synapses or erasing pain, because I wasn't really there full-time.

I felt this sort of vanishing when I went to job interviews, when I was hungry for employment because I was so fatigued, so beaten down with the poverty under which I persisted and I just wanted to be found worth a regular paycheck. People in suits, people who did not really care that I was there, would fire questions at me. I would do well under the import of the situation. Then, amid answering a trick question - they love trick questions - I would start fading without recourse. I would begin a sentence and lose the initial phrase by the time I reached the end, which did not engender in my interviewers the belief that I could be trusted in front of a classroom. The stress, the desperation of knowing that my fate was at the whims of the largely indifferent, the knowledge that my life could change if only they would give me the slightest chance, proved too much for my wiring.

Maybe that isn't so different.

When You Act as though I Were Invisible

My mother babysat, so the house was always full of unrelated children. I saw them either as playmates or hid in my room and read; I was not the one being ignored. While not a member of the popular clique in school by dint of being a weird little bug, I was largely liked even by them. I dated often and attended regular parties. People paid attention to me. I was the focal of social systems.

Yet, when I am ignored, when I am talking to someone and they walk away or immediately divert their attention, I feel so wounded that I spiral downward. It is among the reasons that I tend to be tight-lipped and embarrassed about stories because I know the physically pain of someone not caring. It isn't worth feeling terrible.

When Amber returned home from camp and it felt as though she cared more about the pets than connecting with me, I fumed and went on a long walk, because it struck something deep within me.

As a teenager, I had a friend who would fall out of contact for months at a time, but I understood that this was nothing to do with me, that he was depressed or anxious. I reveled in the times we spent together, but I did not feel ignored by him. (I did take it personally when the months stretched to years and I realized that he no longer wanted contact with me, the reason of which I've never discovered.)

In a smaller way, I am disappointed that I write better, more openly, and frequently for a smaller audience than I once did. I offer myself the best way I know how, lasting and longitudinal, but few really care. I'm not about to stop or I genuinely would lose what mental stability I have, but I nevertheless feel ignored by an audience for whom I neglect to picture a face. I cannot find the causal factor, even if I have no trouble with the triggering antecedents, but that doesn't inhibit dissection.

Fifteen years ago, I had friends who offered snobby slights, friend who disappeared in the night for distant states, but I didn't react like this. Their disappearance was a wound, but I did not dissociate.

Emily, with whom I was coupled for over seven years, started out relationship adoring me far more than I deserved. As we progressed, she was less and less available, busy with martial arts, then grad school. In truth, she left me in fractions before the final stroke. So that she did not have to worry about rent, I took a job that made me feel I was an indentured servant, but it was a final way to put distance between us. When I moved in with her in Walden, she quickly decided to join another gym, so she could train even more in lieu of spending time with me. I couldn't understand the point of us living together if we weren't going to actually be together. Why would I be further from my friends and family just to be alone? I felt ignored, though she did in the end opt to train at another gym. I did not know that she wanted to ignore me. In fact, that likely didn't occur to her. She was obsessive when it came to training, more so even that I am when it comes to writing.

Could this have affected me so? It seems instead to be symptomatic.

Every relationship shapes you subtly, as you shape the other party in kind.

Melanie did not really ignore me that I recall. She would try to disparage me at parties to which she accompanied me in hopes she could curry the favor of other guests out of a sense of social unsteadiness and anxiety, but her attention on me during our weekends bordered on the devout. When she was physically present, she was attentive. When she was not, we talked often, and I did not feel she was choosing someone or something else over me (except at the end, when she chose to hook up with girls over a relationship with me, but she is a lesbian. What could I expect?)

I don't know why I spiral. I have enough external validation and, when I don't, I continue to write long, contemplative entries. I wonder if a part of my therapy is having someone who will listen to me for an hour every two weeks, even when I am sometimes at a loss for what to tell her.

When I Wish I Were Invisible

I knew a woman with anabulimia. For stretches, she would try to eat as little as possible for fear of putting on weight. Sometimes, she simply didn't eat at all. Out of habit, maybe out of deference to the voices in her head that sounded like her mother or high school friends, she would try to vomit out the nothingness in her stomach, this bile and acid, burning the enamel of her teeth.

I am emotionally anabulimic. (I mean this only as an analogy. Aside from making sure I clock in five miles of walking a day and confess my eating into an app, I have no issues when it comes to food.) There are days when I want to take as little emotion in as I can manage. Sometimes, I cannot connect or care about tertiary people in my life, making social media actively detrimental. I know how to make the right sounds and gestures to navigate a social situation, but the disappearance of the tertiary wouldn't register as much more than an excuse to tromp through the woods and have a story worth writing. I cannot be around people who try to force me to be too involved with their emotions unless I understand that they are relevant to me. I am aware this comes off as cold in writing, but they would never know in person. As I said, I know the right sounds to make.

On the other hand, my anxiety makes me so hyper-attuned to people whose emotions do matter to me that I will feel awful if I do anything that causes them to be other that happy. If Amber upset because I woke her with my cleaning, I will carry that guilt around for hours after she has made her peace with it. If I think people are bored around me, I begin playing activity coordinator, though most of the time they are perfectly content doing little. I won't ask them about it because that might provoke them to tell me how I have done them wrong. When I do ask, I don't fully trust that what they are saying is what they truly think.

Then I will need to purge. There are a few videos I watch sparingly because I know they will make me cry and do not want to become desensitized to their effect. After I cry, my brain is clearer and more able to engage. Much as the bulimic does not feel nauseated before or after vomiting, I can be seemingly fine, bawl my eyes out for the duration of a nervous poem, and immediately be composed again. I don't even have time to wipe my eyes and nose before I am copacetic. Aside from a wet face, from the outside, it is as though it never happened, the storm having left only nourished grass and a blue sky.

How You Might Disappear

I don't think I am plagued by distorted thoughts as much as flat out wrong ones. I am aware, like someone with Charles Bonnet Syndrome, that I am seeing something vivid and absurd, but not present. Like the Charles Bonnet sufferers, I am made uneasy by the presence of hallucinations as I cannot always push them away with logic. Unlike the suffers, I am gaining and not losing my vision.

I worried for a while - I still worry sometimes - that my medications create the issues that plague me, but I have the clarity to remember times before the medication when I hid in the closet and cried over almost nothing. I didn't start therapy without reason. Instead, the medication let me drop my walls enough that I can begin to deal with what was on the other side, which is a long slog. My drug therapist says that the right cocktail is like magic, as though it would cure all that ails me. I don't think there is or can be a magic answer, though acknowledging the chemical alongside the psychological seems wisest.

My issues sometimes tell me I am worthless because I am a failed organism. Soviet schizophrenics reportedly heard voices telling them they were bad Communists. Intellectually, I know that this is idiotic, that I am doing the best I can and am a valuable member of society in the ways I wish, but it is its current refrain.

Before treatment, I didn't stand up for myself. I could see what I wanted to say and do, but I didn't have the confidence to carry it out. Had I, my life would have been vastly improved, or it would have at least been on my terms. I would have ended unhealthy relationships sooner. I can trace back all the times my anxiety kept me from doing what I wanted, though I've stopped imagining where I would be if I realized what I needed sooner. No good can come of that. I already have Fear of Missing Out pointed toward the future. I can't stand it retroactively. My struggles brought me to a job I like and can do well and the healthiest relationship of my life. I can let bygones be bygones.

I want to figure all this out because I worry that talking about my mental state will push people away. It is what I've done with friends whose illnesses I couldn't handle anymore. For years, I was in love with a woman (mostly platonically, because she would have destroyed me romantically). Substance abuse distorted her, but I assumed she was becoming morbidly mentally ill and I didn't have it in me to watch her erode. I yelled at her a few times for using me as a drunk dial, saying the sort of things that would have turned me into a puddle if she could admit them sober. Now, she is having a very cozy life and I am not a part of it because I wasn't supportive. When Melissa would lose her way in her illness and drugs, she would stop contacting me for months and I would let her have this distance because it was easier for me than confronting what she was doing. Even when we were in contact, our conversations were never the caliber that had once been because I dreaded anything deeper or needier. She died from her illness, one way or another, and my last comment to her was about staying inside because it was snowing.

If I am too unstable, I will lose the people I want near me.

My therapist tells me not to think so much about the origins of my issues, to not search for meaning where none may exist. This is foreign to me as a writer and a neurotic. I want the beginning so I can end it. With no start, there can be no satisfying resolution, only a gradual desensitizing. It isn't cured, merely neglected. It is too passive when I am accustomed to thinking my way out of trouble. Letting go and relaxing is so much harder.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Meaning. Stories.

last watched: Dead Set
reading: Fire and Fury
listening: She and Him

A Cup o Kindness Yet | 2018 | Three Interesting Topics

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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