A Thing I’m Slowly Figuring Out

I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.

I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.

But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.

Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.

I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.

Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.

I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.

~

I think my expectations, perhaps, have been unreasonable. Every time I’ve walked a little further before falling, I’ve thought, “A-ha! I’ve figured it out! I have THE Strategy! No more falling off the bridge for me!”

And then, of course, I’ve been shocked and frustrated at the next fall.

Maybe it’s time that I accept falling off the bridge, now and then, as part of the picture. Maybe, for me, it’s the price for being granted exceptional creative faculties and a solid dose of physical talent. Maybe it’s just, like, what it is. Either way, maybe accepting it and just learning to live with it isn’t the end of the world.

Silently, secretly, I’ve long felt that accepting the precarious nature of my own mental health was tantamount to accepting defeat: no one, I have been telling myself, will ever hire a dancer who is likely to crack twice a year, minimum; who is going to spend a week more or less inert after every show. No one wants a writer whose process is riddled with fallow periods.

The only answer, I kept telling myself, was to figure out how to stop falling off the bridge for good.

But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Maybe that’s part of what keeps me fighting against myself, beating down the fragile parts instead of meeting them with compassion.

Maybe the first step is to accept that falling off the bridge from time to time is inevitable, and to understand that I can work around and even with that reality.

Western culture demands constant productivity, but constant productivity is impossible even for those with the stoutest mental health. Even the Bolshoi takes lay-offs. Even the greatest bike racers lie around with their feet up during the off-season.

Why do I expect more than that from my own fragile brain?

To be blunt: fuck constant productivity. Fields should lie fallow sometimes.

~

In retrospect, I see that I’ve been trying to bargain with the gods instead of living into my own dispensation.

The thing is, we mortals have nothing to bargain with. At the end of the day, sometimes the answer to a prayer is, “No.”

Moses at Sinai argued with G-d, saying, “Lean on some other guy; I’m a mumbler!”

G-d probably smiled and said, “Don’t you think I already know that, Moshe? No, no, I’m quite sure you’re the man for this job.”

Nowhere does the book say that G-d turned Moses into a silver-tongued orator. Presumably, the poor guy had to get by using whatever other gifts he had been granted.

Even then, he kept screwing up all the time. Like the rest of us, he didn’t know how to live his life because no one had done it before. He had to figure it out as he went.

So maybe I need to stop fighting so hard to try to lay hold of a gift I haven’t been given in order to better steward the ones I have.

~

This is not any easy thing.

I write all this with tears in the back of my throat. That is hard to admit.

I don’t, of course, want to accept this any more than Frodo Baggins wanted to march into Mordor carrying the one thing the great Enemy, Sauron, desired most.

It is difficult to give up the belief that absolutely everything can be fixed if you just try hard enough. It’s hard to accept that, possibly, you weren’t tasked with fixing this, but with living with it.

The Western approach to solving problems usually involves eliminating them. Pesky river screwing up your street plan? Re-route it. Danged natives preventing you from manifesting your destiny? Relocate, convert, or kill them. Irascible protestors making your policies look bad? Shut them up (but first, make sure to make them look bad in the press).

So choosing to live peacefully with this thing hasn’t been my first instinct.

I want, of course, to control the outcome. Didn’t we talk about that when I was at Pilobolus’ intensive? Jeez.

So it is with trepidation that I say (probably not for the first time), “Maybe the answer is to stop trying to control everything. To stop trying to make this go away. To accept that this narrow bridge is what I’ve got and stop praying to be air-lifted to a broad, green pasture (where I’d probably die of boredom).”

I’m not making any resolutions or predictions, other than this: I’m going to keep screwing up. I don’t know how to live my life because no one has done it before. I’ll have to figure it out as I go.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll forget, sometimes, about the lesson of accepting that I live on a narrow bridge and fall off sometimes. I’m pretty sure I’ll still get mad at myself and at the world and at the Divine with all its many faces. I’m pretty sure I’m going to screw up.

Maybe, though, in the midst of screwing up, having written this, these ideas will return like a “check engine” light.

Meanwhile, today I’m going to read and play games and rest, and then maybe go buy some respirator masks and a carpet knife so I can begin cleaning up the leavings of the not-so-great flood.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2017/11/06, in adulting, bipolar, compassion, healing, health, history, ID-10T errors, life, life management, mental health, mistakes, mitzvot, work and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think my expectations, perhaps, have been unreasonable. Every time I’ve walked a little further before falling, I’ve thought, “A-ha! I’ve figured it out! I have THE Strategy! No more falling off the bridge for me!”

    Yeah, I’m the same.

    I’m fairly confident now that I’m through with suicidality and existential despair, not just because it’s been five years now since it touched me but also because introspection tells me I’m just not psychologically set up for that kind of thing anymore. But I still get the physiological aspects of depression at about the same frequency and intensity as always and figure it will be with me for life (maybe getting worse as I age and my energy levels decline).

    But I’ve lost count of the number of times I thought I’d finally gained control over my psychotic breaks only to discover I was wrong. Generally I find them pleasant (or better) but sometimes they come upon me at very inconvenient times and I’m unable to find the ‘safe space’ in which to indulge them. I don’t really like it when they hit me in a shopping mall and I’m too disoriented to even be confident of finding my way home and the real possibility they’ll land me in a locked ward with a butt full of largactil (or on a slab with a gut full of police bullets) makes the anxiety/paranoia side of it hard to dismiss.

    I’m not sure how well I’d handle a real job though. I’ve never been able to reconcile myself to an indefinite 9-to-5 and these days even less rigid employment options have demands that I’d have trouble meeting long term. Could I deal with the fact I’m not always able to meet the expectations of those who may depend on me? Not sure. But I’m glad I don’t have to put it to the test.

    No one wants a writer whose process is riddled with fallow periods.

    I think that’s a given for writers regardless of MH status. It’s generally called writers’ block and as long as they’re prepared to accept poverty (a given for just about all artists) they’re generally cut some slack there. An exception is journalism. Journos have to cope by being prepared to put utter dross under their byline sometimes. But the MSM is so full of dross that’s kinda expected too.

    (BTW, did you get my email about the short story? If you don’t like it just say so. Ballardian stuff sure ain’t for everyone).

    But maybe that’s the wrong way to look at it. Maybe that’s part of what keeps me fighting against myself, beating down the fragile parts instead of meeting them with compassion.

    Yeah. Perfectionism is a hard master. From the nondual perspective I now know that everything is perfect (I don’t mean I just ‘know’ it intellectually either) but on a day to day basis I still have to live as an individual and I’m still attached to the notion that I have to meet my own unrealistic standards. At least I’ve now got a refuge from the self-contempt that used to generate. I hope you find it too, but hey, don’t beat yourself up for not finding it ;).

    The thing is, we mortals have nothing to bargain with.

    Yeah we do. Our own concept of ourselves. That’s the only thing that keeps the gods out of our hearts (or rather. stops us from feeling them there). When we learn to forgive ourselves from ourselves we automatically forgive the universe for being what it is. The gods like that.

    Grace is always on offer asher. Just let it happen.

    It is difficult to give up the belief that absolutely everything can be fixed if you just try hard enough. It’s hard to accept that, possibly, you weren’t tasked with fixing this, but with living with it.

    Not living with it. Just living it. It’s all fixed dude. It always has been. You haven’t been granted gifts or burdened with shortcomings. You have nothing at all. Except everything. Accept everything.

    I’m not making any resolutions or predictions, other than this: I’m going to keep screwing up.

    Screwing up what? If you think you’re screwing something up it’s because you think the universe is screwing you. There’s a perfect symmetry there. Find the matching problems – inside and out – and bring them together. They just dissolve. Or balance at least. That’s what karma is. Everything pushing you exactly as hard as you push it.

    I’m pretty sure I’m going to screw up.

    More than that. You’re going to die. You and everything you’ve ever done is going to be utterly forgotten, just like it was during the eons before you were born. Is that terrible? Or liberating?

    Who dares misery love,
    And hugs the form of Death,
    Dance in Destruction’s dance,
    To him the Mother comes.
    – From ‘Kali the Mother’ by Swami Vivekananda.

    • I’m not in the least concerned with whether anything I do, or anything about me, is remembered after I die. I’ve never cared about that at all. I find it hard to remember that it’s something people do care about, to be honest. The apparently deep and visceral way in which it matters to many people is something I can’t really grok—that is to say, I believe that it is so, but only in the same remote way that I believe that Kuala Lumpur exists because I’ve read about it and seen pictures of it. A friend of mine is going there in December, even. And yet Kuala Lumpur is not a visceral reality in my world, just a place I’ve heard of.

      I mention this specifically because I find it so puzzling. I don’t think it’s something wrong with other people or with me, though. I just don’t entirely understand it. Can’t say I’m not grateful, though, for being spared that particular concern—goodness knows I tie myself in enough knots without it.

      What I meant by “we have nothing to bargain with” was—hmm. Basically that, like your say, forgiveness is already always there. That bargaining is unnecessary in questions of grace. I wish I could better explain the logic there. I know that it sounds like a statement of despair, but it’s basically the opposite. We have nothing to bargain with because the Divine already has and is everything, including ourselves, including all the parts of ourselves we think are flaws because we don’t know what they’re for, or what they do.

      Still percolating the rest of your points.

      i got your email but haven’t read it yet. Last week I wasn’t able to concentrate well enough to feel like I could give it due consideration; this week, I’m slowly catching up. I’m still having some difficulty with tasks that involve sustained brain-work. Physical things I can do now; mental stuff is harder. But it’s coming.

      Working on the basement did help, by the way. It was startling how much water was in and under the carpet. I feel better now that the worst part has gone.

    • I’m taking an rest day today (tweaked my back whilst doing nothing between handstands and acro last night, so giving it the old rest cure), so I’m reading your email now. I’m probably commenting on the wrong thread, but I’m afraid that hunting the other thread down will lead to a rabbit hole and I’ll emerge six hours from now going, “What was I going to do today?”

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