Living with the Unimaginable

This is about “the suffering that is too terrible to name…” and learning to live

with The Unimaginable.”

PART 1

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.

P2

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.”

P4

Photographs from 2015-2019

 

Holding My Matter Together

Atoms in Nature

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.

Candle Light

On Ethical Loneliness: Moving Forwards in Times of Social Injustice

“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.

Ethical Loneliness

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.

Reference:

Stauffer, J.Ethical loneliness: The injustice of not being heard. Retrieved from https://cup.columbia.edu/book/ethical-loneliness/9780231171502