Yesterday, Thanksgiving day in the United States, I woke up feeling terribly depressed. When I say “I woke up” I mean that I felt terribly depressed the second I went from unconsciousness to consciousness. When I say “terribly depressed” I mean overwhelmed by a despair so deep, it seemed intolerable.
Later on, after breakfast, I sat down and poured out this despair into written words. The whole writing experience, which I vaguely meant as a cris the coeur addressed to no one in particular and therefore, most likely, for no eyes other than mine, turned out to be an amazing exercise in self-analysis and, ultimately, liberation and recovery. I felt light and happy all day.
This is the first time in my life (I think) that I see with my own eyes, concretely, black on white, how depression (may) = self-hatred (may) = rage. It was incredibly powerful for me to find, at the root of my despair and self-loathing, a childhood memory of sexual trauma I didn’t even remember had occurred. This memory, in turn, gave rise to the realization that a profound discomfort with myself that has dogged me all my life is rooted (at least partly) in a discomfort with me others have communicated to me very early on for being a queer kid, and that has caused me to feel immensely and devastatingly threatened in my very existence.
This whole process was ignited by a conversation I had with my best friend, who is now so in the dog house, I hesitate to call her my best friend (I’m furious at her). For reasons having to do with a tremendous amount of pain in her own life, past and present, she is doing wrong by her teenage daughter. She is ignoring what is clearly an eating disorder and following a clueless doctor’s advice that this young girl be examined by a gynecologist for no longer getting her period. The kid, in the meantime, is not eating. Since mother and child live a long way from me, I know this only because my friend told me. When I however suggested that instead of taking her to a gynecologist she take her to a nutritionist or an eating disorder specialist, my friend’s defenses went all the way up and she strenuously denied that the child wasn’t eating.
This is someone with whom I have had a long and lovely friendship. I have known her since I was 15. We have shared our lives for decades. Yet, now, she is a stranger to me. She has been for about two years, since, faced by a horrible personal crisis that rendered her entirely incapacitated, she sort of rejected me and the bond that had sustained both of us for years and shifted her allegiances to men and their cures. Men as in psychiatrists. Guys in coats. Guys who don’t want to know anything about what’s going on with you because they have the latest, most wonderful pills which, taken in wondrous combination, will make everything all right.
I have been thinking about this for two years and I still don’t see the bottom of it. I strongly believe that people have a right to their own choices. Yet her choice, the choice made by this person who was the heart of my heart, wounds me and enrages me beyond any rational explanation.
Yet I have stuck by her. Uneasily. Till the other day. Because, when she told me about taking her daughter to a gynecologist, I saw myself again as the child of a helpless, beholden-to-others mother who would not and could not listen to me and consequently caused me some heavy-duty trauma. I could not stand by the sidelines while this story reproduced itself in my friend’s and her child’s lives. As an aside, I wonder how many parents are equipped to deal with traumatized, pained, desperate children who act out because they have no other ways to get through to them. Our culture does next to nothing to train parents on how to deal with these moments. Our culture, as a matter of fact, gives us all the wrong cues.
On Wednesday, as I was relating this story to my therapist, the connection between my friend, her child, and the time my mom took me to the doctor emerged all by itself through free association. I had said this story to my therapist before, but it had been in terms of my being too skinny. On Wednesday, I couched it in terms of having my sexuality checked. I was so taken by this new interpretation that I couldn’t remember what the previous version had been. In the previous version I could not make sense of the doctor’s touching my genitals. I remember asking my therapist why he did that. She didn’t know either.
Now I know.
I have read (in this truly excellent and striking book) about women’s putting their stories into writing and finding in this act of writing and publication (someone, at least an imaginary someone, has to read what you wrote otherwise it doesn’t count) a powerful survival tool. I wish all women, all people in pain, the love of another who is willing to do with them the journey to understanding and recovery.