A Map We Can Never Lose, Or, The Dangerous Times Are The Ones When Everything Seems Fine
Content and language warnings on this one. Sorry, guys.
I’m in a weird place right now.
On one hand, I’m doing better than I have at this time of year in a while.
Fall and winter … okay, and spring … are hard for me. The whole range is loaded with difficult memories, and winter does all kinds of crazy stuff to brain chemistry. Crushing depressions studded with dizzying manias are more or less the norm.
While late summer is potentially the most dangerous season—that period when any Summer Mania shifts into agitated depression—but the winter is full of a trifecta of suck: crappy health, crappy brain chemistry, and really effing bad memories.
This year, I’m having less general trouble with the brain chemistry than usual. I’m not going to say that I’m not depressed; I am probably at least a bit depressed in the neurochemical sense. On the other hand, dancing and cirque-ing and having an actual supportive network of friends in meatspace helps, as does getting the house back in order and baking a bunch of delicious stuff all the time. Seriously, you guys, when something I cook makes D happy, the effect is weirdly magical.
Because of cirque, Winter Ballet Break doesn’t mean an abrupt halt to all the physical activity that helps keep the volume of the peaks and troughs in my brain chemistry a little lower.
I’m putting the rest of this behind a cut, y’all, partly so you have a choice about it, but also partly because it makes me feel less weird about writing about it.
On the other hand, there have been some things that have destabilized things a bit in the Difficult Memories division, and I’ve been wrestling with that stuff a lot.
Memories I haven’t thought about in years are suddenly kicking up dust whether or not I want them to. While in some ways this is as good a time as any—no school, no 9-to-5 to contend with—in other ways there is simply never a good time for this.
Basically, while I don’t have full-on flashbacks all that often any more, there are still what I would call emotional flashbacks, and there are still intrusive memories sometimes. I don’t actually re-experience things physically very often anymore, but the emotional part has been a problem of late.
On the other hand, it’s not constant, which makes it hard to communicate about.
It is always difficult to explain why you are okay one moment, really not okay at all the next; why an awesome day can suddenly turn into an awful one. I am struggling with this even with D right now (my fault, not his).
Last night, Monday night, was hard (I’m writing this on Tuesday evening, though maybe I won’t post it tonight; I don’t know). D was watching a series on Amazon or Netflix that touched a nerve. I found myself in the kind of literally-wanting-to-peel-off-my-skin kind of place that I occupied so often years ago.
When that used to happen, I would generally curl up and hope to G-d I could stop myself from scratching gouges into my skin. It mostly didn’t work, but honestly, it had been so long that I’d forgotten.
When I was younger, the feeling was literally an overpowering desire to sink my nails into my own skin and tear it off.
For a long time, that has been largely sublimated. I catch myself digging my nails into my shoulders or scratching them when I’m struggling, but that’s usually about it. It’s scratching, not gouging or tearing. Just scratching.
Last night, the old version came roaring back. That was hard.
The end result of last night’s episode is one long, deep scratch down my right forearm, as well as some smaller ones on my back and chest. Could’ve been worse. My fingernails have basically all broken off because the air is really dry and stuff, or maybe because I washed a bunch of dishes several times without dish gloves on, or maybe just because my diet was crap the whole time I was sick. Who knows?
The whole time, I was plagued by this weird thing in my head(1), this thing saying Your skin is already fucked up enough, do you really want to add even more scars(2)? You will never, ever work anywhere in dance if you don’t stop this.
- I try to counteract the Thing In My Head by reminding myself that it doesn’t matter. Dance is art. Sometimes art is about the scars. And much of the rest of the time you wear those fancy jacket-y things or peasant shirts or unitards or whatever.
- Oddly enough, this is the first time in my life that scars have ever bothered me. I see them as evidence that one has lived; as evidence that one has survived.
I normally sort of don’t write about this stuff publicly. I write about some of the mood stuff, but mostly not the specific things like this.
There’s a part of me that is afraid it will be perceived as so much attention-seeking or exhibitionism (not that either of those things are necessarily bad: to survive, you do what you have to do).
There’s another part of me, probably, that feels a little bit like a stereotype. Central Casting Troubled Ballet Boy, anyone?
Dammit, couldn’t I have been Central Casting Ballet Prince just this once?(3,4)
- Maybe. Maybe not. I’m too short for Richmond Ballet, for example (they audition guys between 5’10” and some height that doesn’t matter because I’m not 5’10” even on my best day), but then Nureyev was just as short as I am. I don’t remember. I’m taller than Baryshnikov, anyway. Maybe that should be my tagline. “DanseurIgnoble: Taller Than Baryshnikov, Anyway.” Nah.
- Also, still using humor to deflect difficult stuff. Go fig.
Likewise, there’s a part of me that’s extremely private by nature and another part that really, really doesn’t like to reveal my own vulnerability. Not even to D, though I’m getting better at that. There was a time in my life when to reveal vulnerability was dangerous.
Anyway, I don’t want attention or pity. I just need to think about this, and it’s hard to do that without either talking or writing, because I don’t really think in words. That makes processing abstractions difficult. So here I am, writing.
I’m writing this on an evening that I’m alone in the house, which is both good and bad.
It’s good because I’m an introvert. I need time alone to recharge, and little by little I’m recharging. The upcoming semester is going to be essentially devoid of recharge time, so I’m getting it while I can.
On the other hand, I’m trying to process this stuff by myself, because I’m not sure who to talk to. It’s not quite in the Emergency Therapist Call Zone, especially not the Holiday Emergency Therapist Call Zone. Don’t worry, though, if it gets there, I will make the call. Likewise, I know there are various online chat services I can avail myself of.
The part that is in any way actually dangerous is behind me for now. I just don’t know what to do with the feelings.
Obviously, I’m not managing things as well as I tend to make it sound. I always tell myself not to bowdlerize my life on the internet like everyone always does, and then I do it anyway, because I’m human, I guess.
No matter what, I keep trying to separate my dance blog from one of the things that drives my life as a dancer.
A while back I wrote myself a note (in Note, because I am at home in the Googleverse). It reads:
When there is pain, create from pain.
When there is not, create from joy.
I forget that pain is a valid source, and that cloaking the pain that I still manage, that I still live with, is unnecessary. Sometimes joy is the engine that drives an act of creation. Sometimes it’s pain.
There are days that I go to class and it’s pain that makes me get the retiré higher; pain that makes me fight to turn my disastrous tentacles into expressive arms; pain that makes me want to dance so beautifully that people will watch and understand.
Sometimes it’s joy, yes.
But sometimes it’s pain.
It is possible to talk about these things, to write about them, without resorting to exhibitionism. I hope I’ve succeeded at least in some regard, here.
Ironically, the same series that triggered all this stuff includes this really, really profound line:
…We figured the scars are a map we could never lose.
Even more ironically, I heard it just now (D is home now and watching another episode).
My scars are a map to my history. Even the ones I’ve inflicted upon myself.
No matter what I’ve lost, my scars are a map I can never lose. They map my history of hurt, but they also map my survival.
I need to try to remember that.