On A Misfit’s Emotions And Experience of the Divine

I think I’ve touched on some of these ideas elsewhere but I think it’s always worth revisiting these things from a fresh perspective.  In a way it’s therapeutic; it’s like a film that you’ve seen before but you can always watch it again and notice something you didn’t.

I was thinking of the emotional numbing I’ve experienced as an adult, and how I’ve struggled with understanding what I really want now that I’m free to pursue it.  Now that I don’t have people in my ear all the time telling me what I should want, it’s something I have to learn if I’m going to get anything out of the rest of my life.  But I keep relapsing and falling back into old habits whenever I allow myself to think that I’m somehow over it.  It’s frustrating, and it holds me back. I have to keep confronting it because ignoring it always leaves me vulnerable.

I was always a very sensitive child, but I think because I was assigned male my sensitivity was pathologized.  I dare say I was less sensitive than my sister, but she got away with it because she was a girl and girls were expected to be fussy.

Instead, when I showed too much emotion, it was always a sign of something wrong.

My mother was one of the first points of reference I had for the idea that it was wrong for me to show emotions.  I think I’ve recounted here how the song “Lavender’s Blue” would put me in tears (lots of songs with a lot of sappy violin would, but that song was an instant weeper for me; I suspect it was a song Jane had sung to Jack when he was a baby back in the late 1870s).  My mother assumed that this was because of sensory processing issues, the sound of the violins somehow hurting my ears, but that’s not what it was.

In this case, I even told her (with the sparse vocabulary of a 2-3 year old) that it made me sad but she couldn’t fathom how something that didn’t make her sad could make someone else sad.  Mom always had trouble understanding people when they didn’t feel the same way she did.  And when her erstwhile son, deigned to be the male heir of our modest share of the yeomanry, proved more sensitive than she was, I think it confused and scared her.

There was another moment that I think made me desperate to keep my emotions to myself.  I believe I’ve also discussed this moment before.  I had an obsession with centenarians and supercentenarians when I was young, and at the time, living in Charleston, SC, there was a venerable old man purported to be 121 years old by the name of Willie Dueberry.  He was the very last person in our community- in fact our country- left from the 1870s.  I was very sad when I heard he had died, so much that my mother worried and insisted on making me talk to my psychologist about it rather than having some time to think it over myself.

My psychologist drew it out of me uncomfortably, and I tried my very best to explain what was really bothering me with my seven-year-old vocabulary, but I couldn’t.  I came off sounding very immature because I couldn’t formulate the questions or concerns I really wanted, so the psychologist ended up reading me a book called “Why Did Grandpa Die?” Which only left me feeling awkward and like nobody understood what I was really thinking.

The thing is, I understood concepts like death and impermanence from a young age.  I would have brief moments of utter existential terror as a child knowing that my days were already numbered.  I also understood how ephemeral things like balloons were and it really curtailed my enjoyment of them.  I understood on a visceral level how fleeting childhood itself was too, and any talk of how much I was growing became extremely stressful because it felt like a countdown toward being tipped out of a home where things were safe and certain into a world that didn’t care whether I lived or died.  I understood all of this, at the tender age of six or seven when it would be fifteen years before I actually had the vocabulary to describe what I was thinking, and it was absolute hell for me.  I often wonder how much of this may have been carried over from past lives because I haven’t met many other people who had that innate and terrifying sense of impermanence as children.

When my third and fourth grade teacher decided he was going to try to break me down and rebuild me, he described me as “depressed” and “weepy,” which eventually got me put on Lithium, a medication which did nothing for my emotional condition and caused me to gain weight (I still struggle with my weight to this day).

By high school I had learned to hide my emotions a little better.  I was proud of that, proud that I could hold back the tears when I was being hazed on a daily basis, because whenever I cried my sexuality was relentlessly questioned at a time when I was already questioning my sexuality and feeling weirdly disconnected from maleness.  I got called “gay,” “faggot,” “pansy,” and “queer” pretty often.  Mom still thinks the name calling is what made me queer but the fact is it actually made it harder to accept myself because I had something to prove by playing the role of a straight man.

But sometimes it wasn’t anything this serious.  Sometimes it was just my parents- my mother in particular- making an effort to show concern and try to console me.  But that infernal question always came up.  “What’s wrong?” would usually be the conversation starter.  I can’t help but think that I must have internalized those words, because it seems like that was pretty much how any sign of sensitivity I showed in my childhood and teen years was treated: as something wrong.

I suppose in that light, the innocent question “what’s wrong?” takes on an inquisitorial tone, the sort of tone that made me practice hiding my emotions at home too.  Sometimes, something would bother me a great deal and I’d get very irritable and snappy while fighting the urge to cry.  I couldn’t help it; I wore my heart on my sleeve.  And of course they would see something was bothering me, and they’d ask about it, and I didn’t want to talk about it because of the probing or even hostile tone they took when they asked.

Or, quite often, they didn’t ask.  They would just assume I had a bad attitude for no reason and I’d get spanked, or sent to time-out, or just generally be treated to a display of parents yelling, slamming doors, stomping on floors, driving erratically, and carrying themselves so aggressively that I was afraid to talk to them.

The damage has definitely been done.  Not only have I not been able to live up to my full creative potential because of emotional blunting, but I’ve had some substance dependency issues as an adult; part of the reason I became a hard drinker a few years ago was because for a while, alcohol let me cut loose and not hold so tight onto these emotions, but it became less and less effective with time.  Cannabis has actually had good results but I’m having to wean myself off because it’s limiting my job prospects severely.  I’m hoping to give bupropion another shot but the mental health system in this country (and in Oregon in particular) is so broken that it’ll be April before I can see a nurse practitioner who can write the prescription (I’d have to pay out of pocket to see a real psychiatrist).

Still, I wonder what more I could do to help myself?  I have an extremely hard time meditating because my mind tends to race too much and the more I try to concentrate, the more distractable I become to the point where one seam on my jeans being too tight is enough to throw me completely.  Cognitive engagement with the problem helps a little, but I have a hard time confronting/expressing what’s wrong when I’m in an especially strong state of emotional dissociation.  I’m a weird collision of some unspecified neurodevelopmental pathology and emotional damage, and untangling it all might take the rest of my life.  The trouble is, I feel like I don’t have that long.  I feel an urgency to get my life back together because I’ve got bills to pay, errands to run, and so many responsibilities.  There’s no safety net for someone like me; I can’t take time out to recover.  I have to stay in the game while I’m barely holding myself together.  I’ve come pretty close to ending it a few times because I’m under immense pressure to perform and I keep choking.

Also, this is related more to the whole idea of understanding things when I was a child that other children didn’t, but there was another realization that I think somehow feeds into all this because it made it very difficult for me to adjust to the expectations of childhood.

I understood from a very young age that adults could be wrong.  When my peers believed what parents and teachers told them unquestioningly, I openly questioned things.  In part, I did this because I knew more about things like animals, cars, and geography than most of my family.  And I was often praised for being smart.  I had a snazzy little desk they bought for me, kid-sized with drawers for pencils and paper, a space for my globe, and even my own set of Children’s Britannica (incidentally, the very last paper encyclopedia my family ever bought).  And being designated as the smart kid was pretty much my only outlet to feel good about myself so I defended it fiercely.  I took slights to my intellect very personally and, of course, I thought nothing of correcting adults when they were wrong about something because I never really understood why I should trust and obey someone when I knew they were wrong.  You can probably guess how much trouble that caused for me (I think I’ve waxed on that elsewhere too, come to think of it).

I also understood from a young age that adults could lie.  In a weird twist, my mother- a person of deeply legalistic and literalistic faith- didn’t raise my sister and I to believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny because she didn’t want us to doubt that God exsisted the way she did when she discovered her mother putting presents under the tree one night.  Instead two things came of this.  First, I was introduced to the idea that an adult could tell a lie and second, I lost all affection for religion as a set of received principles accepted with total submission without some direct experience of the divine to allow me to internalize that truth.  That, I think, is what drew me to the Gnostic path.  I held Gnostic ideas before I ever knew what they were, or had the experience to act on them.

I often wonder if the emotional blunting I’ve struggled with didn’t keep me from getting to the point where something like the start of gnosis clicked in me sooner.  At least, I feel like the emotional crash from my gender dysphoria may have been somehow related to all this inasmuch as it stripped away 20 years of learned defenses and left me completely raw and vulnerable.

I think the emotional blunting related to gender dysphoria was only one of the factors; I’ve alleviated that quite a bit and I’m much happier as a woman, but it’s clear that correcting that aspect of myself was only the beginning of a much longer struggle.  I still have so much I need to sort out.

I can only hope I can continue to eke out an existence with the meager stipend my father sends me as long as I’m making an honest effort to sort myself out, the paltry sums I make from my writing, occasionally buying and selling antiques, and a pittance I make from selling Cascadia-themed stickers in my Redbubble store.  At least, I hope I can continue until I’m stable enough emotionally to be able to balance earning a decent living and pursuing the path toward either a Master’s degree in history or toward priesthood in my church.  Or both.  I want to be able to juggle things like all the other great over-achievers who live these amazing lives.  I want to- but it’s so hard for me.

Close Call

I’m tired and don’t want to go into the nitty gritty details, but I had a very bad reaction to my new anxiety meds last night that sent me to the hospital with a racing pulse.

I’m stable now but I haven’t felt right ever since.  If anything the experience has made my anxiety worse, which is par for the course with my experience with the so-called treatments offered up by psychiatry: they either make it worse or they don’t do anything at all.

So far, I have yet to see an effective cure for anxiety except accommodation for the condition, which unfortunately in our present cultural milieu is slandered as “promoting laziness” and passively discouraged by creating far too many hoops to jump through.

This condition has kept me out of work for four years (though not for lack of actually looking for jobs) and has cost me more and more money in my vain efforts to treat it.  I don’t know what to do any more.

An Update

Saturday night, my fiance spent the evening watching YouTube videos on my new couch (a graduation gift from my mother) when my Internet went out.  When we finally got in touch with my roommate just this afternoon, we discovered that he had done a security update and out MAC addresses were accidentally wiped (our router has MAC address filtering so our neighbors don’t max out our bandwidth).

Also, since my trip I’ve fallen into a particularly uncomfortable state.  I feel agitated, uneasy, and entirely uncertain about the future.

Things seem good on the surface; the US, a country I had tried to flee for political reasons in two successive lifetimes, has finally embraced same-sex marriage, upheld its first real attempt at health care reform in decades in the courts, is taking a long hard look at race relations for the first time in decades, and is gradually beginning to draw down on the destructive and costly unwinnable war on drugs (marijuana will be legal in my current home state in less than 24 hours and it’s already legal across the river in Washington, where cozy neighborhood shops on main street now sell the stuff).  Also, transgender visibility from figures like Caitlyn Jenner gives me hope that one day it won’t matter what I was assigned at birth and I won’t have to worry how many people have connected the dots and know that I was born male.

In my personal life, I’ve graduated, I’m well on my way to graduate school, and my home is getting cleaner and more livable as I finally have time to focus on the domestic space and to stop living out of boxes like I have for the last 4 years.  By the end of July, I should have yet another novel ready for publication (my goal is for a debut at that annual convention in Seattle this year).

But I don’t feel happy, satisfied, or at ease.  There is a pervasive sense of impermanence, of something being “off.”  I’m still dealing with severe employment-related anxiety that brings me panic attacks every time I start looking for jobs.  I’m still unsure of how I’m going to go about learning Latin ahead of grad school (not necessary but it helps immensely).  I’m still not sure I’m where I need or want to be in life.

Then there are the external factors.  Driving through some of the more rural parts of my own state was an eye-opener.  Confederate flags are springing up next to billboards condemning homosexuality, non-Christian religions, and the federal government, and if it’s getting like that in Oregon, I can only imagine that large parts of South Carolina- where I grew up and got firsthand exposure to the culture from age 4 to age 23- are starting to look a bit like a Klan rally 24/7.  Churches are going up in flames all over the South (several this week, including a number of confirmed arsons), and the Confederate Flag is quickly becoming a go-to symbol not simply of Southern identity politics, but of militant far-right culture warriors riled up by recent events.

The sort of people who legitimately feel this is worth fighting, killing, and dying for (and aren’t just posing in militant gear on Facebook to look tough) are fortunately a small minority, and they become isolated more and more every day as the tenor of their extreme rhetoric pushes away more and more reasonable people.  But do not underestimate the damage that a mentally-unhinged and well-funded group of even a few thousand militants can do; if the difficulty of controlling ISIS is any indication, a similarly-structured “Crusade” by rabid fundamentalists toting AR-15s in the backs of their pickup trucks could quickly take over large parts of the country and make life difficult for people in other parts of the country.

I do not anticipate that any of the groups who seek the overthrow of the federal government and establish strict Calvinist religious law a la Cromwell will succeed, but what I do anticipate is a bloody struggle as a small but well-armed minority that feels threatened and disenfranchised begins to lash out with increasing ferocity.  I also anticipate losing friends to violence, especially a number of openly gay friends I have in places like Texas and Oklahoma where moods are souring by the minute.

I just hope that I can live to enjoy the progress we’ve made without seeing the coming madness at my doorstep.  .

Two Paths

Two paths now lay before me: one of spending my life following my passions and one of sad “almosts.”

If nothing stops me from graduating this summer, I’ll be well on my way to a rewarding career as a historienne or archivist or something of that nature.  I’ll be using the research skills I carved out while trying to track down past lives scattered across hundreds or even thousands of years to actually do practical, paying work.

But I know perfectly well that I have liabilities that could count against me, not least of which is just being who I am.

This is the first life I’ve ever come close to completing any sort of university degree that I am readily aware of.  Not having it in hand leaves me uneasy, anxious, and fearful that my worst qualities will come through and sabotage me once again just like they have so many times across so many lives.  I guess knowing my weaknesses is a mixed blessing if there ever was one because if I was blithely ignorant of them (as I have been in the past) I wasn’t always caught by them, but knowing what they are brings them to the forefront and now I have to actively control them or they will destroy me.

I deserve a break after so long.  I deserve a chance at a good life and I really hope I can stick this out just a little while longer.

Doubt: The Sequel

I had an appointment with my therapist today, talking about the numerous doubts I have in general (I only briefly touched on the past life thing since that’s only a small part of yesterday’s post, honestly).

She pointed out something very fascinating: I seem the most doubtful about everything when my anxiety and depression are at their worst, but when I’m happy it’s simply not in my nature to doubt so relentlessly.

Now I’m left chewing on that idea and what it means for me, and for my lives past and present.

Fingers Crossed

My publisher (specifically one half of the couple who owns the small press I publish my books through) is currently doing some last-minute looking over the novel I had originally wanted to bring with me to San Jose, the one where I made an effort to merge my current style with my previous life’s themes.

My publisher said he was withholding judgment, but was only 30 pages in when I talked to him.

If he finishes reading the book and likes it, then I have succeeded on both counts.

If he doesn’t finish reading in time, it doesn’t mean I haven’t written a good book.

But if this one turns out to be unpublishable, then I’m going to start wondering if this isn’t the start of psychosis because it looks brilliant to me and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be fit to go out next week.  As far as I can tell, it’ll be fine with only a few minor edits that I’ve already spotted and made this evening to smooth things along when my publisher gets back to me.  But I thought the other book was at least acceptable.  Could I be dead wrong twice?

This is a nail biter.  After putting the last touches on the manuscript that I could think to make, I lit some incense.  I’ve taken to doing this with every fervent request I have, almost like a prayer, and it seems to do something (if nothing else, nag champa has a very soothing aroma).

This time, my only request is to know that I haven’t lost my touch and that I can still write something that they will bend over backwards to print at the last moment like I have in the past.  They screw up on schedules, but when I write something worth publishing they at least try to make it up to me.  I just hope I still have what they want now that they can afford to be picky and the field is getting more competitive.

Recent Developments As A Writer

When I made the claim that I had at least a circumstantial case for having been Philip K. Dick in a previous life, I realized something very crucial: If I was him, I had nothing to show for it in the pace I was able to write stories. Between 2003 and 2012 I had only finished three novels, and only published two of them because one was an attempt to break into mainstream fiction that never went anywhere. The only novels I had actually sold had taken years to complete (Seven years for the first and two for the second). By comparison to Phil, I moved at a glacial pace.

Three things happened in 2013, though. First, I had memories that were tentatively confirmed of personal details of Phil’s life and began noticing striking similarities in personality, taste, tendencies, and even appearance between us; this was when the idea that I might be him first entered my mind. Second, I had a backlog of unfinished or back-burnered projects that had potential to apply new ideas and styles to (I’m still working through that backlog). Third, I hit upon the realization that I already had a publisher who would work with me, and I didn’t need to make it in the mainstream necessarily if I could be a big fish in a little pond, because I had gotten attention from a broader base of fiction readers than the tiny LGBT subgenre I write in.

I had the motive, means, and opportunity to really push myself to become a great writer and live up to a claim that fantastic, without using that claim in connection to furthering my career (I decided early on that using past life claims to promote my work would kill my chances of being anything but a curiosity, like Barbro Karlen).

As I got to know Phil’s life and work and began to remember things that weren’t in the books I read or the documentaries I watched, I eventually found I really had no need to try to become him in some liminal act because I came to see myself as a continuation of the same mind, prone to my own individual differences and free to do whatever I wanted with these ideas. I developed my own idiom, focusing more on questions of competing narratives of identity rather than competing narratives of reality, inspired in no small part by the traumatic effects of gender dysphoria and its social and familial fallout that I learned firsthand.

But one thing I have not managed to do is to tap into some of the other things I have, like the severe physical anxiety symptoms I’ve experienced, or traits like misophonia and hyperacusis that make life difficult for me. I don’t really fit on the autistic spectrum because I don’t have any of the core traits (e.g. I’m not obsessed with fixed interests, patterns, and numbers and I don’t have the expected communication deficiencies), but I have some sensory integration issues that remain undiagnosed because the DSM has no category for sensory integration disorder and neurologists refuse to diagnose adults with it even though they acknowledge that some of us aren’t diagnosed properly as children. It is debilitating and it makes my life much more difficult than it has to be.

I tend to make my characters rather normal for the most part; I didn’t make them as neurotic as I am because I don’t know how to do it without making them hard to relate to, or seeming like an object of pity. The truth is, like Phil, I have a difficult time being entirely stable because dealing with the demands of a noisy, fast-moving world full of hostile people is more than I can deal with most of the time. I guess part of the reason I never write characters like me because I can’t think of any way to give them reason to hope for anything in a future setting, except maybe death by indifference or possibly becoming the most functional mental defective on an offworld colony full of mental defectives (however, Phil already wrote such a story based on his own fears of this happening to him). I could really give my writing some pathos if I could figure out how to do it without burdening the reader with a story too depressing to finish, but I get cold feet or feel like I’m going nowhere every time I try.

I have all the tools to write like the legend whose memories I claim while still being authentic, individual, and genuine; I just need to learn to use all of them. I feel like I’m learning but I still need to figure out how to confront some of the most uncomfortable parts of my experience in my writing before I can really say I feel like I’ve done my very best.