Staying in the Struggle

So, the thing is...I've been struggling.

No, really, I've been GRIEVING.  I've been grieving over a little girl I never even met.

I'm sure by now you've heard the story of Amanda Todd, the Canadian school girl who was bullied until she killed herself.  She was 15. Some weeks before she died, she made a heartbreaking and raw video of her story. There has been some effort made to find and bring to justice the man who began the whole tragedy. (You can click on the links to tell you more about Amanda or to see her video.)

This post is not really about the tragedy of Amanda Todd, though. This post is about living in a world where things like this can happen, and trying to remain intact.

At various times in my life, specific news stories have captured my heart and imagination and embedded themselves into my psyche in such a way that it, well, scared me.  After my older daughter Katherine was born, I felt and vulnerable.  Like I had all new skin and no shelter from the cruelty and unkindness of the world. The feeling was intensely uncomfortable and it went against every instinct I had for self preservation. Then the Bosnian war happened, along with genocide and mass rape, and at one point, Newsweek ran a cover photo showing a casualty of the fighting: a dead toddler, her little pink pacifier still clipped to her little pink coat.

I couldn't get that image out of my mind. It made the whole story so REAL somehow, so tangible. I couldn't sleep, picturing that little girl in my head and wondering at the fear and anguish her family had gone though. I'd fought depression on and off for my whole life and I felt myself slipping behind that black curtain. I was, frankly, concerned about my mental health.

So I went on anti-depressants and I drank a lot of wine and I ate a lot and I stopped watching the news. I numbed myself until I could deal with the reality of the world again.  When I talked about it, I told people that I just "had too much grief for this world." I felt that way.  I really felt that in order to remain a functioning person, --especially in my role as new mother --that I had to find a way to filter out the enormous sadness I was feeling over how inhumane humans can be to each other.  If I had it to do over again, I would probably do exactly the same thing, given the resources and knowledge I had at hand.

But the thing about numbing oneself is that it numbs ALL of you.  You can't selectively numb your emotions.  There is no way to just address the painful ones that make you feel naked and exposed or uncomfortable. When you numb THOSE emotions, you numb everything else, too, including the positive emotions. And the result of all that numbing is disconnection, from the world, from your fellow humans, from your authentic self.

So, fast forward fifteen years or so and here I sit.  I have systematically removed all of the ways that I numbed myself in the past.  I don't drink alcohol.  I'm not on anti-depressants.  I'm vegan. I don't even drink caffeine. I am living as unfiltered as I know how, because  I'm trying to be in this world in a different way --a way that feels authentic to me. The other way I was living--the numb way--didn't make me happy.  It allowed me to FUNCTION, but it didn't allow me to connect with this deep sense of peace I've found by living this new way.  That other way gave me moments of manic happiness, but not so much of this quiet, sustained happiness I feel now.

And then I read about Amanda Todd.  I watched her video.

Her story went straight to my heart and cracked it wide open.  Here was this little girl who was basically shamed to death over a mistake she made at the age of 13.  She could have been one of my daughters.  She could have been me, if I'd grown up in a different time. I found that I couldn't sleep for a few nights, picturing her hands, shaking, with their pink polish, holding cards that told a story of unimaginable cruelty and despair.  That told the story of a fragile psyche with too much grief to stay in this world.

And I felt intensely, horribly uncomfortable and vulnerable.  Excruciatingly vulnerable.  Amanda's story, coupled with some other sad things that are in my life right now, became a fixation point for all the grief I feel for this world and just flattened me right out.  I couldn't talk about her without crying. I dreamed of her.

But you know what else? I sat with that grief and I didn't try to outrun it.  (Well, to be honest, I do keep a bag of emergency jelly beans. But after I ate a few handfuls and made myself sick, I realized what I was doing.) I just sat with it and took a good hard look at it.  I let myself cry and cry hard. I did my yoga.  I tried to stay present.

I don't know what the answer is to all of the sadness in the world. But I do know that numbing myself to it doesn't do the world or myself any good. I didn't want to numb myself to it because finally, at the age of 47, I understand that numbing myself to the pain of the world also takes the edge off of the joy.  It blunts the sharp gratitude I feel for my life right now. So I just sat with it.

After a few days of feeling very fragile and sad and powerless, the feelings began to ebb a bit.  I guess that's just the normal grieving process. I still feel so sorry for that poor little girl, so saddened by the sexualization of little girls in this world, and heartsick at the cruelty shown by everyone around her when just one person doing something kind might have given her enough strength to go on. But I don't feel incapacitated anymore.

What I do feel, and I didn't expect this, is brave.  I feel like it took a lot of courage to let myself go into that pain and sit right down there, instead of running the other way into as many distractions as I could find. I feel kind of like a badass, frankly.  Because the worst things I feared--that I would start to cry and not be able to stop, that I would slip into a bad depressive state, that I would not be able to function --those things didn't happen.  The worst thing that happened was that I felt incredibly vulnerable and exposed.

Living in this world--truly IN it, in a connected way--is messy and risky and sometimes painful. I guess we find our way one small step at a time, with bravery and sometimes with grief and by feeling the bad along with the good.  It's hard.


Lane Aldridge said…
Fantastic entry, Barb, start to finish. I know precisely what you mean about the grief, feelings of vulnerability--AND learning to allow feelings to be what they are.

I wondered (with this: "...feel like it took a lot of courage to let myself go into that pain and sit right down there....") whether the grief (I'm sure you felt that) and eventual 'allowing' during your foot agony was a similar experience and revelation.
Margie Bardwell said…
This coincides with a huge thing I was reminded of on Wednesday by a mental health professional who is giving me counsel. My "off" switch shuts down everything. This is not news to me. Yet it always surprises me. And around I go.

I wonder what other coincidences are missed while we're too numb to notice stuff?

Thanks, Barb. You're a spark. You truly are.
Oooof. A person really does want to disconnect. But you can't. You try to face it and do the best you can :)
Unknown said…
Oh that fear of slipping down into the sadness, it's gripping! I just realized the over night it's been over a year since I had a black time as I call them, and just thinking about having one made mel panicky. I'm glad you have found a way to be present and feel it without it taking over. I hope I can do that too.
So well said! Congrats on being able to just sit with the sadness.
tanita✿davis said…
There's a phrase, "make friends with silence," that I like. I don't yet like "sit down with pain," because, ow. But. It apparently needs to be done.

And well done to you walking through the valley of the shadow, and waving from the other side to tell us that it can be done.
Miri said…
Well. I am just sitting with the idea that maybe it would be okay to look at the painful stuff. I have been living in a bubble for a while, you know? Thank you for posting and peeling a little bit of the protective wrapping back, because the World is worth seeing, experiencing, living in.
Kel said…
Beautiful babe. I can't get Amanda out of my head myself. I've decided that's ok though. I think in some way it honors her.
Lynn said…
Giving you my own "amen". I spent eight years cycling into and out of depression when I was married to the children's father. Like you, I found a path to peace that worked sublimely for me. Thank you for sharing the hard stuff, Barb, as well as the wonderful, more obvious blessings. One of my church leaders once said, "There is no progression from ease to ease." You have come through this with your heart and soul enlarged.
Sarah S said…
Barb, I always read and always appreciate your posts. This one, however, I may have learned from. It is giving me courage. You see, I have been realizing that ever since I got divorced (the end of my marriage was essentially a surprise to me), I have been afraid. I've been avoiding things I was afraid of until the very last moment. They gnaw at me but I'd still rather not open that email or that letter right away because I'm afraid of what it might say. Calling my new landlord and going over the terms of the lease is scaring me right now.
What you have said here that, if I have the imagination to believe it, gives me courage is that there can be a sublime joy on the far side of facing your issues. I don't think I've felt that sublime joy for a long time. I've felt gratitude, yes; I've felt safe; I've felt happy, but I can't remember feeling sublimely joyful.
When I've actually gone ahead and looked at the letter from the medical insurer, I've felt relief and have been glad that that reason for anxiety is gone, but the next thing will come and here it is back.
Here's to faith that there may be joy there.
Shaatzie said…
One of your best "sharings" ever. We are all trying to insulate ourselves from the wickedness of the world, and we are probably also trying to be strong enough to absorb the pain, restructure it, and send it back out into the world as a bit of love, courage, light, all the emotions that get us through the dark spots.

It took great courage to share this, and your growth in the time I have been following your blog is astounding.
It makes you even a better mother, and our world better for your caring. Carry on!
sycam said…
Thank you Barb, for the link from Derfwad Manor. I feel so grateful you pointed me to this post. I wasn't quite forthcoming about my reaction, which is to say the least, just as emotional as yours. Her story has shredded my heart also and I can finally look at her and only shed a few tears. At first I thought my tears would never end. Something about this girl just grabbed hold of my soul and wouldn't let go. Not for no reason, this. I'm already learning lots from this little girl.
Beautifully written, heartfelt understanding and so relatable.... and a great "take note" moment for myself ( just sat down with a packet of biscuits because i have painters block...thought I would eat and surf a few blogs to numb the fear that my paintings are a fluke, then read this, put biscuits down).

Thank you for sharing your are an echo of the universe that want to hear.
now going to go pant or at least be brave and think about it.