Autobiography · Mental Health

Slow

"Lights" © Sjoerd van Oosten, 2012. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Lights” © Sjoerd van Oosten, 2012. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
When I leave the apartment I find the sidewalks covered in sheets of ice. My cowboy boots offer no traction as I slide from one side to another. I walk slow, but still careen out of control. Keep your weight on your heels. Isn’t that what he told me? Or was it toes? I can’t think straight and my throat is tight. Tears stinging up from behind my eyes, the complex desire to punch through a plate glass window and sob into my shirt sleeves all at once. It has nothing to do with ice.

I try to slow my breathing. Try to calm down my racing brain. You can tell it’s January. Tell by the mountains of white bread and chocolate I hide myself under. A cocoon of empty calories and refined carbohydrates pump energy into my exhausted frame. You can tell it’s January because I turn off the alarm clock, but stay in bed. I submerge myself in quilts and comforters with the blinds shut tight. I don’t shower. I don’t dress. I just wait for spring.

In therapy Mark asks me if I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. Asks me if I believe the things I think because I believe them or because I think them so often. Like I pounded my worthlessness into my head myself just by repeating it back. An echo chamber of negative self-talk seeping into my brain waves, cementing itself in my subconscious before I ever had time to remember none of it was true.

I made all this up, didn’t I? Made up the story about how I lack the strength, the grit, the determination to make it out of this. The story about how I don’t have what it takes to exist in the world. The belief that I am fundamentally broken in some way that no one is ever going to be able to name or repair. It’s all just made up. One story repeated over and over. Passed down through rewiring of the brain. Told so many times I forget that it isn’t real. Forget it is just a story.

Mark pulls his lips into his mouth, closes his eyes, and nods gently. Our mutual heartbreak hangs in the room between us like a deflating helium balloon. I want to spit and curse and throw the pillow through the window. Scream, “Who told me these stories about myself? Who told them to me?!” But I know it doesn’t matter where I picked them up from, just that I did. Walking across a riverbed with stones in my pockets will never prompt the question, “Where did these rocks originate from?” The fact that they’re still there, that’s what matters.

“Can I learn to tell myself different stories?” I ask him, feeling like a small child kneeling down in front of him.

“Yes. You just do it.” He laughs at his own dry sarcasm because he has to. Because he doesn’t have a different way to tell me that I just have to dig my hands in, pull out the lining, and float back to the surface.

15 thoughts on “Slow

  1. It is hard to rewind those tapes, to yank them out like pulling off a wound dressing, or to pull them out of your mouth like a magician pulling out multicolored scarves in an endless stream. I wish for you peace. Your writing is wonderful. And so are you.

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  2. I wish you luck. Changing your “story” can be hard especially when woven into your foundation. I understand the pain of it. My story has the word worthless incorporated into it and it is hard trying to remove or recycle it. Just remember you have a pretty big and strong support.

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  3. We are our stories and however much we practice telling ourselves new ones, do the old ones ever get entirely erased? No, probably, short of dementia, they don’t, but they can be given the lie, challenged, reinterpreted, drowned out, drained of their strength, the linkages among them weakened and broken. That can happen, can be done with repetition, with leaving the familiarity of the pain and venturing into the unknown land of new stories. And such telling about them as this is part of that, a step into the realm of imagining what having better stories might be, how that might feel. Thank you for sharing some of that journey.

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    1. Thank you for describing the process of re-writing our stories so eloquently! The fine etchings of the original may remain, but we can write over them, and keep retracing the new messages until the words are dark and deep.

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  4. Ergh, I so hate it when life is an uphill battle just to reach the same level of function as everyone else. And yeah – so much easier said than done to just re-tell your story and float to the surface! sigh

    Hang on in there.

    You’re still here, still moving forward (even slowly), still writing. That means you’ve got more grit and resilience than the people who don’t have the deck (and their own brain) stacked against them. HUGS Keep writing.

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      1. Fighting one today. A big one. A ridiculous one but a very real one. I’ve been borrowing your river rock analogy to explain it (thanks) and I just keep melting into tears and stupidity sigh Hate this for us and everyone akin. Hate it.

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  5. The way you’ve written this is so painfully beautiful. I hope you can tell yourself different stories. Until then, know that you can always share your stories. I read your blog regularly. Keep going 🙂

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  6. Much love for this new realization. I’m rooting for the new stories. What we think .. we become. Stupid simple. Stupid hard to do.

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  7. I’ve been trying to rewrite my story for awhile now. This piece really hit me dead center. Overwriting the obvious, conscious messages is the easier part. Every time I think, “I can’t do it,” or I start to feel my typical physical “symptoms”‘of shame or defeat, I can train myself to repeat, “I can do it. I’ve proven I can do so many things I once thought I couldn’t. I AM good. I AM loving. I DO have a beautiful soul.” Scrubbing out the subconscious tapes that loop in the background, now that is an entirely different matter. It really hurts to wonder how much of this is self-created.

    I honestly think we can get there if we keep trying and don’t give up. Keep trying, Ruby! I’m going to keep trying, too. I’m going to think about what you wrote and try to worry less about how and why and more about, “Ok, what next?” Thank you so much for sharing your struggles. You do more good than you know.

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