A part of me is always frozen in September. Time slows down and it hurts. My heart feels numb but it also aches; it beats strong and yet it is so fragile. It is both and neither, and so am I. For many years that is also often how I have felt about this life- and I stay and I sit with that sense of duality. And I think about the reasons and I make meaning in every way I know how because I stay.
Many renowned academics have spent their lives agonizing over the solution to a profound problem: Living hurts. A lot. It is hard to contest that. Almost without exception, if you are a living being on this earth then you will come to know physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and suffering. This suffering is often a part of what connects all of us in our time together on earth- along with our moments of reprieve from it, however short or long. The meaning we make throughout all of it, the joy we find, the community we share, the novelty we seek- all of it held together can make experiencing life so tremendous. It is a tremendous thing to be a part of existence as we know it.
I see the good and the bad; I hear the joy and the despair; I feel the sting and sorrow. It’s constant and I’m still here. The “and” is important. Yet so are the buts, the dissonance of it all. Can you hear it? Can you see it? Do you feel the warmth and the cold when they come together? It’s all and nothing at once. If there are miracles, surely this must be one.
The past may grow hazy, like the sunset turning to twilight. We can usually still remember all of its colors, though some might become harder to make over others as the sun sets into the night. Sometimes we never see the same colors strike the fading sky in the same way again. We miss them, even griever them. Some of us hold tighter to our memories so we might never lose them- but is this even truly possible? How do we know what we know? And how much does that matter?
I know I am here now. “Time” keeps me here. My memories hold me tight. Love endures here in spite of all the hurt or so I must allow myself to believe. And I will not apologize. I do not apologize I do not apologize I do not apologize; and I am here I am here I am here- and I am staying. And if I am to keep staying- to be so audacious in taking such space- I want to help make this world a safer, kinder place for everyone else to stay, too.
Because it has been so many years, now. And the pain still isn’t gone. So often it barely feels bearable- or even any better. I hate admitting that- I wish so badly I could say pain always gets better over time, but that is not my truth. I often wonder if perhaps a more accurate reality for others like me is that we might simply learn how to better carry the weight of it all- as our muscles and minds grow accustomed to it always being there. And we grow stronger the longer we carry it. Or rather, we simply grow. And that growing process is indeed ever-mysterious.
I believe that for many of us, if we are so lucky, sometimes special souls come along and help carry the weight- they lighten the load for a bit and they travel lonely, winding paths with us as we make our way through time and space. They listen; they receive. They are present; they understand the healing power of simply being and bearing witness. Because yes, emotional states may very well be temporary- but for some of us, certain perceptual states and bodily sensations- deep embodied memories and somatizations- are infinitely more complex than mere feelings that fade into the background over time. We need one another’s support as we travel lonely paths drained of color and shrouded in shadow. Support helps us find our guiding lights.
There are things that may make pain and suffering easier to hold, to examine up close. Sometimes those fractals of faded colors are illuminated by guideposts in an inky sky, and all the light obscured from view shines again even as shadows seem to creep in at every corner. Once, I looked deep into the shadows; inside them I I saw stars- I came back here for the light they promised. This is still a reality I know; I understand it’s not always an easy one to contemplate for long. But please don’t look away; please just stay- and help to make this world a little brighter and a little kinder instead.
There is joy and warmth that will demand to be felt if we allow ourselves to find it, that will demand for us put down our shields and be vulnerable in sparingly precious moments if we just listen. But truly listening requires a gentle strength- a true willingness to let go, authentically. Being soft after trauma is a tremendous and lonely undertaking- but with all my heart, if I am to stay too, I cannot believe that any of us are truly alone or incapable of taking steps towards trust and reparation. The sunlight and the shadows and the blinking stars- the nothings and the somethings and everything in between- they can all hold meaning if we let them.
You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone. I don’t always know who I’m writing to or for-often I just write for all the fragments inside of me and that’s enough. But to anyone who may take meaning from the words I write, please- if nothing else- know that you are not alone, and even still, it’s okay to feel lonely. I hope you stay and fight longer, too. It is okay to be here.
I know there are so many other people who are caught in their own frozen September. Or perhaps instead it might be a January or a July, or maybe there are years stuck together in time filled with painful memories that might become warped, hazy and confusing. We might feel trapped in these constructed timelines that seem stuck at a stand-still while everyone else is passing us by at a different speeds; sometimes maybe it’s more like time is always running out and there is no way to hold on. We fight and fight to keep track of it, because where does it all go? And we can’t lose more, but it’s so hard to stay- and what would happen if we just floated away? Staying hurts. Leaving is all but impossible. The past hurts; the present seems impossible. Staying hurts but we keep fighting and finding reason. We search and find, search and find- that life is not but an empty dream.
I am here, and I will no longer let apologies slip from my lips even in the times when I want to cry them out and curl into a ball on the floor and fade from this existence. I am a dissonance defined and I am here, and as I write this I promise to keep trying. It hurts all the time; I’m still staying. And I want everyone else to stay- and to grow and to heal. I want us all to heal because the pain in this world is too much- it’s an injustice and I believe there must be better. So I’m done being quiet; I will be loud and I will be fierce and I will learn to forgive and let go as I’m ready. I am searching and I am finding.
Sometimes it’s okay to hold on to whatever makes up the past. And sometimes we will let go of it. We can cherish the dissonance. I’m learning every day- and I can do so imperfectly, while holding space and leaving a footprint and a memory behind in time and for the world surrounding me.
To everyone who has been lost, I miss you every day. To everyone who finds me over and over again, you are my eternal reasons. Thank you.
Lots of Love,
This is about “the suffering that is too terrible to name…” and learning to live
with The Unimaginable.”
For all of the elaborate treatments which western medicines have tried to co-opt and create to treat mental illness and suffering, I question whether there are any that truly address bereavement in all its spiritual, social, and emotional complexities.
How do you mediate the effects of bereavement? If you ruminate, then you are wrong; if you avoid your grief, you are wrong; if you turn to coping mechanisms unproven by empirical evidence, you are again likely wrong. So how many things might be deemed “right”? What can possibly fill the hollow void left behind in the wake of a lost body and soul? The pain and emptiness that- for some- simply never seem to go away?
Who can possibly decide the right way to live with those emotions, those sensations, those perceptual states? What is most ethical, purposeful, or correct, truly? Could there ever be a right answer beyond the individual level?
I’ve gotten into trouble for asking questions such as these since I was a twelve year-old child, following the death of my father. It was as though adults around me thought that by asking such things I would become a weapon, dangerous to myself and to others. I was told not to think too hard; that was surely the problem (Rumination). Focus on other things; get a hobby or two. The pain of losing loved ones- in whatever capacity- will go away with time. Emotions are temporary.
I froze my brain as best I could; I numbed myself quietly through the false persona of a shiny happy blonde teen who tried to please everyone. I picked up as many hobbies as I was able, while I grew increasingly ill. Finding purpose and meaning as an adolescent is hard for many young people, but still I was guided towards dreams and aspirations- which my reality crushed hard. Because doing anything while living with debilitating chronic pain and fatigue- no matter the origin- is not often all that dreamy.
Today, I feel that my questions remains valid. What is the danger inherent in asking who decides what is right for my mind and my body after they were shattered in childhood? Who decides my narrative- or for that matter anyone else’s? Why do so many societies seek to hide and control those of us who grieve profoundly, those of us who feel this world with our whole being?
Does we hurt to look at? Is grief painful to look at? Is it so incomprehensible for those who don’t feel such indignation in their bones every day that there are some people living in this world who just might?
Or perhaps- does bereavement bring up a painful reminder of the human condition itself? Of life’s fragility, and of how we as humans simply cannot control everything? We are mortal- we are stories with beginnings and endings, some much longer and more acclaimed than others. How do we hold that knowledge?
While this world cries out in suffering and I am alive to witness, as I watch my friends suffer- some more loudly, some silently- as I watch more lives vanish from this world, I will not apologize for my grieving. I will not apologize for getting angry. I will not apologize for not always immediately ascribing some sort of reason to all the chaos. For not ACT-DBT-CBT-ing my way through life. That is not the therapy which I believe to be my solution to pain and suffering. And I know it’s not the answer for many others, either.
I believe in listening, first. I believe in witnessing, first. I believe in radical compassion. I believe in contextualizing the entirety of an individual’s experience and asking someone what they make of their time here on this earth. I believe, I believe, I believe.
And as for joy and awe- sometimes even magic- and the possibility of the great beyond, yes, I believe in them, too. With all I have in me. But it’s my choice, and I believe in my way. And as others find their paths through ethical egoism and modified behavioral therapies, I respect their ways- so long as they don’t diminish the pain and lived experiences of others. Everyone deserves to find their way.
Perhaps the connectivity I imagine and yearn for won’t ever be truly captured in textbooks, journals, or research papers, even as I fervently search to better analyze it in my own research and studies surrounding the human psyche. I’ll use the DSM as I am required; I’ll work earnestly for my diplomas; but I won’t ever stop trying to plant seeds of change, of thought, wherever I go and grow.
I will continue to ask: What do we do when there are no words, when there is suffering too terrible to name?
“They are working through The Unimaginable.”
Photographs from 2015-2019
Last year, at the end of July, I made the choice to rejoin social media after spending nearly four years away from sharing myself with others online. I created a public Instagram profile and I created this blog- both with slightly altered titles. I had hidden from the commotion of online groupthink and validation for so long; I was anxious to rejoin it. Yet I reintegrated with more ease than I would like to admit.
Most of us know this cyberspace well; we often use it to seek out some sort of solace between the gaps in time during our waking hours. To sift through photographs of faraway places, delight in pictures of petals sprinkled across prosy poetry, or muse over a fleeting thought captured on a post-it note displayed for the masses. And that’s just a fragment of what floats atop these mainstream platforms’ shiny surfaces.
Down in their depths are the battle cries of warriors; a growing collective of whispers from voices told to hush, hush. The prayers of beautiful emboldened bodies who have found spaces to shine; the prayers of souls who just want to be found.
And then sometimes, there is just noise. Chaos and noise.
I never quite know how to hold that– and I wonder where my voice fits into such an overwhelming array of textured sound. I worry whether I will get lost in the fray.
I question: How do I gracefully carve out a space for myself to use my voice and make meaningful impact in a way that makes sense of my identity and of my own intersectionality? How do I consciously and carefully reclaim, create, and foster new ideas… and what about doing these things in the scarier world outside of this space in between?
Somewhere along the way, I chose to follow a path that stretches deep into the darkness of unknowns in my search for deeper introspection, and a complex understanding of the world which we inhabit. I want to look at my imperfect pieces and face them unabashedly. I strive to reduce the cognitive dissonance within me that at times makes me doubt whether it truly is okay for me to be here- because I do believe it is.
But then- what is here? I hold “here” as my present. I don’t have to have all the answers; yet I have to keep searching for answers. I take up too much space; I’m still allowed to inhabit my own space on this earth. It feels too hard to show up; it’s important for myself and for others that I keep showing up each day, in whatever capacity I can.I do my best to accept each of my conflicting, contradicting thoughts as they come, and I like to believe that I’m still blooming into tomorrow.
And I’m not alone.
Sometimes when bearing witness to great suffering, whether up close or from a great distance, I feel an intense desire to atomize myself. If only I could send pieces of myself to people who are all alone or experiencing great pain. I could support others with whatever capacity lives inside me.
But to address the great amount of suffering in this world equally, I would need to disintegrate into mere atomic particles that could float across the atmosphere- there are simply so many people hurting. Even then, I don’t know how my energy, pieces of me, could ever be enough. I would eventually just have to split apart those tiniest of pieces. I would have to split, and split, and split.
And what happens when you split tiny atoms?
I keep myself whole, all my matter together, so long as I am able to believe that I too matter. That my pain, my joy, my experience matters. And I hold a place on this planet and can flicker a light, however small, for others who come across my path.
I’m so grateful for all the guideposts who keep me from becoming a nuclear fission of fragmentations. I am whole.
Every April, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month incites an all-too-necessary conversation about many topics surrounding sex, notably including the nature of sexual assault, abuse, and rape- and what obtaining and communicating consent might look like in a modern and more ethical society. This movement is not even yet two decades old.
Many of us who have survived sexual trauma are still pushing to create a more inclusive, expansive definition of consent that is enforced in both law and society- one which upholds the value and dignity of all human individuals and recognizes complex systems of oppression still at work today. I believe we have a long way to go before that definition is recognized in general society.
The conversation SAAPM naturally instigates quickly becomes broader than that surrounding sexual assault alone; it’s a social justice issue through and through. Conversations about consent are about fair treatment and human rights: at its core, oppression and failure to obtain consent are forms of abuse by nature. Failing to obtain freely given, informed, enthusiastic, and sober consent before engaging in sexual intercourse is not only sexual assault, it is also sexual abuse- it is impossible to untangle the two. Intent does not affect impact.
I believe only when we begin to consider how “sexual assault” and consent exist in relation to oppression and, most specifically, abuse dynamics, can we start to facilitate truly meaningful conversations surrounding sexual assault and rape- among other forms of sexual abuse that are inexcusable in an ethical, just society. In such a society, everyone is treated with dignity, compassion, and fairness.
When we talk about equality or equity (terms not to be used interchangeably!) this is, I believe, what lies at the heart of the matter. The oppressor and the oppressed; the underlying abuse dynamics beneath action and inaction; the humanity or lack thereof. And so we must keep asking how such great abuse and oppression continue to pervade our “woke” modern society- because they do, if we are to believe survivors. We do not live in a world where everyone is given equal opportunity, equal say, equal safety. And not only is that unfair, it’s an inhuman injustice.
Our society today is very scared of the words “oppression” and “abuse”. When we talk about them conceptually, each of us must almost inevitably hold a mirror up to our own individual behaviors- and we are likely to find some of them unappealing. No one is perfect, no one is an exemplary human all of the time. We are likely to wonder, at some point: “What I am the monster the “other” is screaming about?” That can’t be, can it? How could we live with ourselves? But I believe it’s so much more complicated than that. What if we just began these scary conversations starting with the most simple ways in which we hurt one another- and considered looking at “hurt” on a spectrum, first and foremost? What if we contextualized it all and put it into a sort of palatable human systems theory?
Every year, I find myself ever more frustrated with the state of the world and wanting more from it. But in a world where we continue to grapple with basic concepts of boundaries, of consent before sex, of the humanity within every individual even as we all wrestle with “good” and “bad”, it’s awfully hard to have more productive conversations. I always find April and SAAM painful; I’m glad they are over. Incremental change is so important, but it’s hard to sit through. Here’s hoping that there are many sitting with me, hoping for a more compassionate process as time passes.
Recently, I have found myself drawn back to the literary works of Victor Hugo. One passage from Les Miserables stood out to me particular, as 2018 came to an end:
“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces.”
I cling to this passage, for I must keep believing that even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
Do you hear what I hear? Do you hear the people sing?
In 2018, I was overwhelmed by chorusing cries of injustice, of pain and suffering. My voice added to the choir. As another year begins, I find myself overwhelmed by it all, and I find myself trying to find a new resolve to carry on in a world that often feels lost to darkness. I often find myself in tears, losing hope.
But Hugo says: “Those who do not weep, do not see.” And I believe there is a great deal of truth in this sentiment. I have learned that it is okay to be sad- to hold grief and sorrow close as we act witness to human suffering and suffer our own trials and tribulations in turn.
Yet still, Hugo also reminds: “Laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face.” During the dark nights, I believe we must find some laughter, some joy, to sustain ourselves, whenever possible! And I find my laughter and joy in love: “To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” Oh, how love fills me up! In my friendships, and most of all in my marriage. I’m slowly learning that it’s okay to love imperfectly.
This time of year is often a time during which I personally have to work my hardest to exercise holding space for dissonant and confusing thoughts- About life, about faith, about people, and about myself.
And so I’m trying. To make space, to remember “and”s over “but”s, to be patient with myself and with those I love, and to remember joy even as I’m sad. To be many things at once and accept what comes; to remember people can only learn when they are ready, myself included.
Happy New Year. May peace and goodwill find you, whoever may encounter these words.
“Ethical loneliness is the experience of being abandoned by humanity, compounded by the cruelty of wrongs not being acknowledged. It is the result of multiple lapses on the part of human beings and political institutions that, in failing to listen well to survivors, deny them redress by negating their testimony and thwarting their claims for justice.”
So defines Jill Stauffer, associate professor of philosophy and director of the concentration in peace, justice, and human rights at Haverford College. (Stauffer, 2015)
September and October of 2018 have marked a tremendously tumultuous time for the country in which I hold citizenship. We are a nation divided; a nation fraying at its seams.
Like far too many people who live in my country, I do not feel safe here. Every day, I am afraid— for myself, and for so many of those around me. Because right now the people in power have forgotten how to listen; they abuse their positions of authority and privilege and they perpetuate the suffering of those who are marginalized and neglected- of those who need their voices amplified the most.
This week, I have once again experienced what it is to feel abandoned. My old wounds have been torn open, and blood is running; my heart is exposed, beating wildly as my body and mind ready me to run. But freezing is no longer an option. I feel an obligation, a moral duty, to be near other survivors, other sisters at this time.
This past pivotal week in American politics, I do not believe it is unfair to say that American women- American survivors- have been all but forsaken by the mighty powers that be who govern our nation; we have been dehumanized, degraded, and treated as less than by our oppressors and their complicit sympathizers.
And yet we now find ourselves moving forwards. But how? Abandonment and its ensuing loneliness, the overwhelming sensations of isolation and sorrow that follow in its trail, are emotions that most every survivor will know all too well; and they are nothing short of traumatizing.
I believe it is at times such as these when we must consider what is truly right and what is unconditionally wrong. We must ask ourselves what it is we value most, and if our values are in alignment with our actions.
Do you trust yourself? Do you believe yourself? Survivors, advocates, friends and allies, please: believe in yourselves. Believe in your causes, your voices, and in what you are fighting for. Ensure that you are living in a way that honors what you stand for. In my experience, sometimes life becomes a little less lonely when our values are in alignment with our voices.
Survivors: Now is the time to surround yourselves with allies, with people who love and know you. They don’t have to know your pain, they just have to be able to hear it.
And truly, that’s something we all need to learn to do. How I wish we could all learn to better hear one another’s pain, and truly listen and respond to it as compassionate human beings! This is something I am challenging myself to do each and every day- simply listen to the people around me and hear what they are communicating.
And then finally, perhaps we can consider what it is we need the most right now, in a world where we don’t get everything we need and want. Do we need retribution? Do we need justice? Do we need accountability? How do these concepts differ? (And I believe they do) Can we start healing by simply listening to one another and being heard?
And most importantly: How can we start making the world around us a better, safer place even while violence actively ensues? What can we do today to help one another recover from trauma and the scars it leaves behind so that we may each continue the journey to tomorrow?
Let’s stand together- let us start healing, together.
Thank you for listening.
Stauffer, J.Ethical loneliness: The injustice of not being heard. Retrieved from https://cup.columbia.edu/book/ethical-loneliness/9780231171502
“Who will scent the fragrance of a flower?
Who will laugh at snowflakes on the tongue?
Who will dance barefoot in the grass? Spinning and twirling and spinning and twirling
to welcome to warmth of May…”
I would like to say that I am a light-hearted and joyful spirit who laughs at snowflakes when they fall on my tongue; that I frolic barefooted through grassy fields of flowers; that I remember to welcome the warmth of each May.
But the real truth is that there are days when I forget to open the blinds on my windows, when I cringe at the bright sunshine; there are days when I fail to comprehend the immense beauty inside snowflakes’ crystalline swirls, and I only feel the bitter cold that accompanies their frosts. There are days when I just can’t see the vast forest through the dense trees, and I just want to collapse in my own eternal winter-land, devoid of beauty, hope, and any sparkling snowflurries- a place where I believe I am all alone in my suffering and no one will find me- or even reach out to try. I find myself wanting to give up, to leave it all.
I talk a lot of talk about being “here”, about how we all have the right, and the worth, and the purpose. I cheer out sentiments: “You’re brave, you’re a warrior!” and perhaps most of all, “Keep going- don’t give up.” But what does it even mean to “give up?” and to “be here”? To be on this earth, to be alive and to be so audacious in search of fulfillment, of these evasive and fleeting treasures such as love and joy- or even of reprieve from pain?
The connotations of “giving up” and “being here” are vastly complex- but I would like to humbly assert that in the context of this conversation, they all come back to life and what it means to take part in it. And what that means will be different for every person who tries to define it- we all experience this world uniquely from one another. But the shared pieces of our human experience make for such an immensely less lonely existence- because we are never alone, not really. Our minds deceive us with that feeling of isolation; our egos can’t conceive of how big our world and the human capacity for empathy really is.
As such, I’d like to share with you how I have grown to personally define meaning and purpose in my own life, and why doing so sustains me and brings me peace with my existence (or some semblance of it!). It is my hope that doing so may bring someone else some peace, or hope, or a feeling connection. You are not alone. If you are reading this, you are here. And I’m glad. Stay awhile longer.
For me, being here- being alive- has become a thoughtful and ongoing journey about being in the present as we all strive to forge ahead into what may hopefully become a brighter tomorrow. It’s about treasuring the good memories and making peace with the painful ones; it’s about learning from both our past and our present as we create our future. It’s about telling our stories, singing our songs, and counting the colors of the sunrise so that we may later say goodnight to the fading sun, knowing what it looked like in all its splendor. It’s about engaging our senses in the whirlwind of the world around us while we’re here… because it’s all a miracle. Life is a miracle, and we are life.
My journey will always include reflection, compassion, and prayer. I will pray that all of us can continue to find compassion for one another and compassion for ourselves when we at times will inevitably neglect to see the beauty all around us- even within our own hearts. I am making a vow here and now to do my best to welcome the warmth of each May, and the dawn of every new day- in all their sunny rays.
Peace and Prosperity to You All,
Photography Credit goes to my Loving Husband
This reflection was inspired by Joan Varner’s choral piece, “When I am Silent”. I performed it with my school choir when I was twelve years old, and its poetry has stayed with me to this day. I have included the lyrics below a link to purchase sheet music:
“Who will sing my song when I am silent?
Who will count the colors of the dawn?
Who will follow the lark’s flight?
Who will hear its song?
When I am silent
Who will sing for me?
Who will scent the fragrance of a flower?
Who will laugh at snowflakes on the tongue?
Who will dance barefoot in the grass?
Spinning and twirling and spinning and twirling
to welcome the warmth of may?
Who will dance when I dance no more?
When I sing no more?
When I am silent
Who will cry for me?
Who will cry?”
My husband found this lonely little plastic school chair all by itself underneath a tree while he was on a walk, recently. He had observed a certain strength about it, in its solitary state. It felt like it had a story, somehow. Most things that have been inside institutions do, after all; isn’t it funny how we can extend that logic even to the objects within them?
But I am not an object. I am a human being.
Far too often it has felt like I have had to clarify that fact for people around me. How I have great capacity to experience joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure- that I have an authority and a right to take up space in this world, too, as an equal to those who try and push me down- the people who have tried to make me feel less than. And who, at times, tricked me into believing that I was.
But I’m still here. I’m a survivor of this strange and miraculous world. And chances are, if you are reading this, so are you.
So perhaps that is why it felt so appropriate to sit upon that little chair, to be both distinct from it and in harmony with it; one object and one person, both still here, still existing- even if we’re both a little beaten up. This is me; I take up space and I refuse to apologize for it anymore. And it can be you, too.
I invite you, whomever you may be, to join me on the journey towards speaking freely and unapologetically in this world- recognizing our power and capacity as people to use our voices to help and not harm, to make a difference. What a miracle it is to be alive, one day at a time.
It is okay to be here.
Peace and Prosperity to All,