When I reflect on the last few years, particularly their most remarkable events (Bobby’s death, Bruster’s murder, my gender identity crisis, my struggle with self-acceptance, the unrequited love I don’t know what to do with, and my lingering depression), I find that the predominant feelings I feel are relief and gratitude, and because I’ve been thinking about this all morning, I’ll try to explain why.
Relief is easy: I’m still here. I haven’t given up the ghost yet. I’ve wanted to do so many times, but people and things have kept me around; my love for my Shepherds, best friend, mother, and family; an upcoming trip or adventure that I’m excited about; the promise of another quiet morning at a coffee shop where I can either mull over or forget about everything with a cup of coffee in my hand and a bowl of grits on my lap. I’m relieved that I’ve made it this far, and in this healthy state of mind. I’ve FELT crazy, but I haven’t actually gone crazy. I get major points for that.
My gratitude is more difficult to explain, but I’ll try to do so, and in doing so, I’m going to break it down by category.
When my brother Bobby died, I was mad at whoever the hell “god” was (like, okay, so you can allegedly, according to a book, part seas, rain bread from the sky, and – in modern times – help Brenda get into a brand new Lexus, but when shit like the Holocaust, rape, and my brother having a seizure and vomiting at the same damn time happen, you just step back and let things play out NATURALLY?).
When my German Shepherd Bruster was murdered, I was mad at his killer… the “neighbor” across the street. More aptly-speaking, I was furious. The guy has two kids, so he should be able to understand, then — be able to imagine — what the fuck it would be like to be at work and get a phone call saying that one of them had been shot dead in a stranger’s driveway. I am still working through the devastation of what happened, and I’m still processing that anger, but at this point, seven months later, I’ve found peace on the matter; I’m not angry with him anymore. Instead, I genuinely feel bad for him. I got to love Bruster; he ended his life. I can live with what I did… but good luck to bitchass.
Wasn’t I supposed to be talking about gratitude? Yes. Here’s where the whole gratitude part comes in: losing Bobby taught me — and losing Bruster reminded me (because of course, I forgot) — that we don’t get to have the people and animals and things we love forever.
My favorite scarf (which I’m wearing today) will probably get left on a train or plane someday and I’ll never be able to find it again. Or Tycho (pictured below) might simply destroy it on an afternoon when she’s bored. My dogs will die of old age… I will lose so many of them over the course of this life that it makes me want to die right now. My best friend may die before or after me (which is worse? I’d rather go first, but that’s selfish), and over the years, I will have to helplessly stand by and watch as a whole procession of family members and friends take their bow.
Where will they go? Where am I going? I don’t believe in heaven or hell, and while reincarnation intuitively sounds right, I don’t know how that would happen or what it would look like. Will my soul find theirs again? Doubt it. What are the chances? How lonely it is — being alive! There is so much grief waiting on the shelf.
But because I’ve already experienced death, I know that the best way to live is to love fiercely and unapologetically. My favorite people, favorite animals, and favorite things know that they are my favorite because I show them and tell them. I’ve learned that holding back is stupid, fuck reserves, and that playing your life out on a telephone or computer screen is nothing compared to living it in 3D. If you want to hear me blabber on about this some more, check out my semi-recent post on impermanence.
Identity and Self-acceptance
I will NOT start from the beginning, but in short, I feel like I’ve already lived so many lives in this lifetime.
I’ve been a devout christian, a stout atheist, and a lazy agnostic; I’ve self-identified as being straight, bisexual, transgendered, gay, and then straight again… and looking at what I’ve just typed is absolutely mind-blowing. What the FUCK?! THIS chick is clinically INSANE! You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Trust me… I’m aware.
But the truth is, during my quarter life crisis, I participated in a live broadcast of sorts… openly manifesting what I was processing in ways that I think most people would want to hide. For me, asking deep and scary questions, learning how to manage depression, and facing feelings of shame weren’t things to hide — they were dark and curious things that needed illumination.
Present day, I like to imagine that these unpleasant feelings and discoveries were like blinking red lights — indicators that some fucked up internal shit needed maintenance. I’m glad I didn’t ignore them or keep them to myself, because my gender identity crisis was the heaviest burden I’ve ever carried, and I really don’t think that I could have managed it alone. It felt like I had to physically disconnect from my physical body so that I could figure my soul out, and when I was ready and able to come back home, it was a powerful experience.
The places that used to seem so foreign and unwelcome — this body, and this world — suddenly felt like home. But “suddenly” didn’t actually happen suddenly. It took me two solid years to strip off all of the hand-me-down layers from society and to purge away the resulting toxic build-up. But it was well worth the effort, as I emerged from the chaos feeling stronger, braver, more centered and more authentic than I’ve ever been. I also feel resilient now, and in addition to feeling all of these things, I actually know that I am.
Today, I’m wearing a sweet pair of Vans and showcasing my wonderful, hairy legs in a patterned, pink dress. Rose couldn’t have done this. She wouldn’t have felt worthy, or comfortable, or authentic. I’m so grateful to have outlived her and to have liberated myself from the bulk of her insecurities. Poor girl.
Remember to be gentle with yourself, friends; practice compassion with yourself first and then you’ll have the ability to be truly compassionate with others.
This has, perhaps, been the most difficult thing to manage. Most of the people who read this blog know that I was married to my best friend, Christopher, for five years. When my gender identity crisis began, I told him that I wanted to separate, and our divorce was heart-wrenching. It felt like staying awake while dying. My depression peaked that October, and it has steadily held its height since then… until very recently.
Christopher wasn’t doing well after the divorce, emotionally or physically, and I was extremely worried about him. To distract and comfort him, I set him up with a friend/co-worker of mine; they hit it off and have been dating ever since. I was, and am, happy for him, but I’ve also uncovered a deep-seated jealousy and sense of loss within me; now that I’m whole again — whole on my own, like I never was before — I miss him. If I’m being honest with myself, I sincerely wish that we were still together, but at the same time, I really don’t regret separating, because if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had the time that I needed to focus my attention and energy inward. I wouldn’t have healed.
But present day, I miss him dearly. I catch myself wishing he were riding in the car with me, sitting across from me during a meal, or playing one of his video games beside me while I study, or write, or play the guitar. I still think of him when I’m grocery shopping; Whole Foods started featuring little loaves of ginger bread at the checkout register last week, and I almost grabbed one for him the other day, because I forgot that we don’t talk, or see, or think about each other anymore.
For a long while now, I’ve been asking myself, how can I be truly happy without having my soulmate around?
But as the months have rolled by, I’ve sourced, grown, and nurtured an inner sense of peace. I am now grateful for the searing pain of unrequited love, because through it, I’ve discovered the integrity of my love; I always believed that I loved unconditionally, and now, I know that I do. In the face of knowing that I’ll never again be with the person that I love most, I still love him. I love without expectations, or hopes, or dreams, and still, the love doesn’t die.
I think that sometimes, love is selfish; I will love this person so they’ll love me back — so I won’t be alone — so they’ll do things for me — so they’ll entertain me — so they’ll make my life easier — so I’ll feel better about myself.
I love him, and he doesn’t speak to me. I love him, and he doesn’t hold my hand. I love him, and he doesn’t dance with me. And I love him.
I think that realizing this… that my love is unselfishly genuine… has made the heartache worth it. And I believe that, as the clock continues to tick and the restless seasons proceed to turn, it will become easier for me to imagine a happy life with someone else… with another soulmate. But for now, I’m actually happy on my own. I feel weightless, untethered, and free. I’m grateful.
Clearly, all of this shit has underscored my already existing biological depression.
And you’re GRATEFUL for it? you ask. Yes, I am… for TWO reasons:
1. Happiness and sadness are always at war with each other, aren’t they? They seem to operate like a see-saw; when one end flies up, the other sinks down or – in our minds – completely disappears. But I’ve found a steady and reliable middle ground: peace. On happy days, it’s easy to find peace… that blissful sense of contentment. On sad days, it’s a little harder, but the important thing to remember is that while you can’t control everything that happens to you, you CAN control how you interpret it and how you react to it.
How good are you at rerouting and changing plans? Do you know how to salvage what you can, leave the rest, and then recreate it? I’m grateful that, inside of my depression, I’ve identified a place of comfort — and that comfort is knowing that peace is attainable under all circumstances. It’s about accepting what it is, mustering the courage and energy to change what you can, and challenging yourself to be the best and bravest version of yourself possible without comparing yourself to others.
2. Because of my depression, the little things are so much lovelier than they were before.
I was sharing this story with a friend on Friday, and I’ll repeat it here: When I was a kid, my mom took me shopping with her one afternoon (presumably, we went to Walmart or somewhere similar). I found a headband that I liked a lot, and when I showed it to her, my mom said that I could have it. According to her, I then thanked her a billion times and nearly cried, I was so overjoyed!
A headband. I feel like I need to point out that this wasn’t a bicycle, or a hundred bucks, or a trip to Disneyland. It was a $2 (and, likely, unremarkable) headband. But I loved and treasured it so, so much!
And I think that I’ve reclaimed that sense of joy and wonder as an adult.
I was driving and chatting with a close friend on the phone last week — he lives in Florida, and we’re always talking about how we both want him to move up here so that we can play Dungeons and Dragons together (I’ve yet to play the game). Towards the end of our conversation, he asked: “So how are you? How have you really been doing recently?”
“Well,” I sighed into the phone, “I am depressed, but I know how to manage it. For instance, I’m getting such a thrill out of this cool weather… I love watching these leaves fall! When I’m having a bad day, the smallest, loveliest thing can cheer me up… like a strong gust of wind, or a silly piles of leaves rustling around on the concrete. I derive a huge amount of joy from just wearing my scarf and ordering a coffee and grits on the weekend…” I paused. “So I’m actually doing really well,” I concluded, smiling at the steering wheel.
Let me put it this way: I’m grateful for my depression because it’s made me happier. The world appears far more magical to me now that I’ve seen and experienced some of the very worst parts of it.
And now, I’d like to hear from you… what are you grateful for? How do you manage your pain, sadness, or loneliness? Please share your comment below, or you can shoot me a private message.