Survival, day 7

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I skipped a day last week. I did not want to survive. I did not know how to survive.

I find it hard to describe the particular pain that is intense suicidality — the kind of suicidality that is so powerful, if somebody weren’t watching you you would definitely take your life. For me, it’s a heavy sack of tears inside my chest. It starts just below my throat and fills my entire chest and my upper stomach. I have called it a boulder of tears. The tears are so heavy. Letting them out doesn’t help.

I have moments that are very painful. I am not talking of the heavy sack of tears but of moments in which I feel acute emotional pain. It may happen when I am waking up, maybe as a result of a memory, often as a body memory. I feel as if a charge of a particular kind of electricity were running through my body, head to toe. This particular kind of electricity is a combination of terrible sorrow and terrible discomfort. I used to bolt awake; now I try to relax my body while the electricity traverses my body and stay quiet and still in the aftermath, till all the residue is gone. Sometimes it works. It mostly works if I am going to sleep rather than waking up because there is sleep on the other side and I can count on it — typically.

There are also moments of intense sadness. They don’t reach the level of “I want to die now” but they are still sad. I want to try something. I want to experience them like punches in the stomach. No one has ever punched me in the stomach so I’ll think of the pain of menstrual cramps. When you get punched in the stomach, or have bad menstrual cramps, there is an acute phase that can last even hours (hopefully less, with modern medicine). Then the pain ebbs and at some point it’s gone. When it’s gone it’s gone. With menstrual cramps the pain is blameless, no one has caused it, so you have no residual resentment, though you may feel under the weather for a few days. Regardless, it’s pain located in time.

This is how I want to think of the emotional pain I am experiencing these days. As pain located in time. In the thick of it, you are in agony. Maybe modern medicine can help. Maybe blander things like a cup of tea, or broth, or milk may help too. Maybe, if the pain is not too bad, distraction can help. Music, social media, tv. Sometimes, if things are bad, nothing helps. Except time. However agonizing, the pain will pass. You may be under the weather for a few days but the acute pain will pass. It may return, of course, but its return will pass, too.

This is something I want to try. To locate my pain in time.

psychoanalysis suicide

Survival, day 4

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I am here.

B. wholeheartedly reassured me. This is not going to happen. You will be okay. I will make personally sure this doesn’t happen. You have me.

Something as heavy as a boulder of tears dissolved and disappeared. She has reassured me before. This time I believed it.

I am here. I can barely believe it. In the morning I woke up feeling like death barely warmed over, now I’m here.

We survive together.

psychoanalysis suicide

Survival, day 3

alt text: fuzzy image with blobs of color, superimposed sentence "Today is a crawlspace of possibility."
Words freely adapted from Jennifer Egan’s Candy House. Nonsensicality mine. Alt text available.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I slept a few hours between 8 am and 12 noon, but that’s not enough for me. Yet, I am not tired. I am wired. Fear? Pain? Anguish?

One needs to live with all this stuff. Live. Live. This afraid, pained, anguished person is me, a much beloved creature of God, treasured by many, maybe a little precious to herself, too.

Childhood can hurt so much and for so long. When could things have been turned around? I think by age 5 there was no simple enough solution that could have improved things for me. Nothing short of serious help for me and my family would have turned things around. Unimaginable really.

I think a lot about my having died young, the relief of not having to live so long with this pain. My little body threw a lot of death at me. My little body tried hard to take me out. My little body also fought hard to stay living. Clearly the living bit won. I honor this. I won’t forget you, little body. You had everything against you and still, you fought for air. You believed in the sky. You swam up and up til, boom, your lungs could take in oxygen. Air, blue sky, the scintillating surface of the water. What a relief. Enough for a day.

psychoanalysis suicide

Survival, day 2

You do this thing one day at a time. Each day is a universe. Each day is its own lifetime.

I see my analyst everyday. I am not alone.

A lifetime of longing. So much longing. I think “longing” and see myself walking down a busy street, late 80s, everything so beautiful though I didn’t know it then (the US’s love for urban ugliness throws a powerful light on memories of other places), a street paved with marble, and me, thinking, I must die.

I see myself in a number of streets thinking this. Also, please help me.

I see myself at some community home to which I do not belong in San Diego, a stranger sitting on a porch, don’t know how I got here, feet on the railing, the sun lasering down, my motorcycle parked in the street, thinking, please help me. I get up and bike away.

You survive because you have survived so damn fucking much already. Because you have sat in your therapist’s office and felt a smidgen of love that addressed the specific longing that wants you dead. A love shaped the particular configuration of that hole. An impossible love, offered impossibly. The only love that can save you. You come back for more. You stay for more.


we, who are very badly hurt

I am grappling with things. I am grappling with getting better almost in spite of myself. I have been defined all of my life by pain. I am confused about a me who’s not defined by pain, loss, impossibility.

I am still clinging to pain of course. But my mind, this tough tough little thing, is edging away, thumbing its nose at me. My mind wakes up early in the morning eager to do things. My mind thinks thoughts that are foreign to me. My mind is boiling over with a strange enthusiasm for disclosure. My mind wants to proclaim itself to the world.

I am letting it. My mind and I have an excellent relationship. We leave each other be. My mind lets me continue to be sick in all sorts of ways, I let it open itself up to the world. Neither rushes the other. Occasionally we have a conversation, but those are hardly needed because my mind and I are in constant dialogue. We know how to talk to each other. We consult all the time. We are constantly checking in on each other. As I said, we have an excellent relationship.

My mind is bouncing off the wall, for instance, with desire to proclaim to the world that people like me can be healed. My mind is a fierce apologist and proselytizer on behalf of psychoanalysis. Left to itself, my mind would talk all day long about deep therapy.

We needed to strike a bargain on this one. For one, people have a justifiedly bad opinion of psychoanalysis. People in my circle, educated people who use psychoanalysis all the time as a tool for interpretation of texts and events, find it dated. Its sexism seems to them intolerable. They don’t believe anyone nowadays could possibly take psychoanalysis seriously.

Yet they use it, constantly, as an interpretive tool. They think it’s a fine interpretive tool; it just doesn’t cure anyone.

Other people, people in pain with a history of treatment, simply do not believe psychoanalysts still exist. Lately I had a conversation with someone who had read in a memoir that the author had gone to therapy multiple times a week for three years. He, my interlocutor, was flabbergasted. Multiple times a week?!? For three years?! I learned that when he was in therapy he would see his therapist once every two, sometimes even three weeks, depending on how scheduling worked. He was getting his therapy in an office organized in such a way that he couldn’t be sure which therapist he would see from one session to the next. Therapists didn’t last long in the outfit anyway and would move on quickly. This guy said jokingly, “If I had seen a therapist several times a week for three years when I was in my 30s I would have had a chance not to be permanently fucked up.”

How devastatingly sad. I said he didn’t need to be in his 30s to stop being fucked up. He was alive, right? Capable of forming thoughts, right? Then I said that there are people who see their therapists multiple times a week. They are not millionaires. I am one of them.

Finally, there are those who had a terrible experience with a psychoanalyst and decided that this experience speaks for the whole discipline and every single practitioner of it. Since seriously hurt people, people who are so traumatized their lives are living hells, have a propensity to think in black and white, I go easy on these people. They have had the crap beaten out of them by mental health professionals of all stripes. They have been medicated to their eyeballs, abused in psychiatric wards, and treated by incompetent therapists. They have earned the sacrosanct right to think in black and white. If they are still alive, they have found ways to keep themselves going and whatever I think of those ways, I owe it to my fellow sufferers on the path of trauma and recovery to respect them.

I have encountered a whole lot of really hurt people in my life. We tend to find each other. We recognize each other really fast. We cling to each other. We have been desperate for recognition all of our lives. My assessment of how really hurt people, people like me, are doing has changed parameters a few times in the last three years. Before starting analysis with my therapist, I, too, believed that therapy was perfectly useless and judged people’s success at dealing with the horrible pain that tore at them very liberally. Basically, if you were alive, making it through the day without knocking yourself out on a regular basis, able to keep a roof over your head, and doing at least some things that gave you joy, you were doing okay. This is how low my expectations of healing were. After all, this was the life I myself was leading.

After some time spent working with my therapist, like all neophytes, I became haughty and looked down upon lives lived in resignation.

Now, three years and counting in analysis, I realize that you do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. Excellent therapists don’t hang out at street corners. Deep therapy when you are so hurt you can barely breathe requires something not everyone has. In the rubble of your life, there must be a solid rod that, for some reason, managed to stand tall. Maybe many among the badly hurt have such a rod (they are after all hanging in there), but for some the rod has taken a few beatings too many. There isn’t enough gentleness in the world to walk them through the agony deep therapy asks of them.

So I’ve come to respect the bandages and the patches, the flimsical tents by the side of the road, the makeshift cooking stoves, all the accoutrements of survival. some people are desperate to tell you that their tent — its make, its color, its structure — is the best possible tent. If you are fragile (I am fragile) this will get under your skin in all sorts of ways. When that happens, when other people’s despair and insistence that there is only one way to live gets under my skin, I think of that proud, brave rod. Most of all though, I think I’m not alone, and that tomorrow I’ll see my therapist, and she’ll tell me that I’m perfect and fabulous and the greatest thing that ever happened, and everything will be okay.

Picture by Puneet Arora