Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tomorrow, Maybe Thursday

Sometimes, as some of you have told me, I am the person through whom you vicariously live. Today, though, I am the person who was in bed, sobbing at 2PM on a work day.

This is working from home.

Today, I finished an article about Prague (which, incidentally, is helping encourage me to plan for my trip to Prague next month) and sent exactly one glacier model run to the supercomputer. 

I haven't really made it any farther than that; I probably won't.

Today is one of those days during which I take every moment as molasses. Everything is intentional. I am coming out of an enhanced-hormone week and into a body-memorized trauma season. I know that this is the problem. I know this. I know.

I eat when I realize I need protein, or when I awaken to the fact that I'm really quite hungry. I do the dishes only because it would bother me if I didn't. I need to go to the store; I won't go to the store. We're on our last roll of toilet paper, but I won't go to the store. The store closes in an hour. I won't make it to the store. Somehow, having no toilet paper bothers me less than having piles of dirty dishes. One is an inconvenience, but the other is a metaphor.

I have a brain that is terrified of itself and feels this intensely, every so often, when it forgets that it's medicated. And this is torture. I know that this feeling will go away, but until then, it's thrice distilled torture. 

And it's irrational. It's not unfounded, but it is irrational. Specifically, I catch myself in my own contradictions, thanks to whatever amount of grace made it possible for me to have a decent memory. For example:

Actual Person From My Life: You are stewarding your life so well.
Me Right Now: I am a terrible steward of my resources.

APFML: You're so brave.
MRN: I am afraid of everything right now.

APFML: You are glowing.
MRN: I am melting.

In fact, the only thing upon which APFML and MRN would probably agree is the fact that my life is unstable and unsustainable. I'm pretty sure that all of us are aware of that; luckily for me, the life I'm currently living is very temporary. Maybe this instability is why people tell me that I'm brave, which is just another way of saying that they wouldn't be so ridiculous as to choose the life I've chosen. You can call it brave if you want to, but I am keenly aware that my so-called "bravery" requires familiarity with poverty and a strong tendency towards masochism. I get it.


Problem is that, maybe, I've healed down to the core. What remains is what has always remained. What's making me cry is what has always made me cry. What hurts is what has always hurt, and with every passing year during which no discernible improvement is made, it hurts again, and again, and again. 

And I don't know what to do. I have tried everything, within the boundaries that hold my safety in any regard. And I don't know what to pray. I have prayed...everything? Perhaps not, but I don't know what else to pray. 

It's an infinite loop without and endgame. 

But tomorrow, maybe Thursday, something will have changed in my neurochemistry and all of this will seem silly. I will be tougher on myself; I'll wonder why I've been acting so angry and irritated or have felt so devastated. I'll forget that it was torture in the moment and roll my eyes at the memory. And tomorrow, maybe Thursday, I'll be a bit more clear-headed and perhaps, hopefully, more productive. We'll see.

Tomorrow, maybe Thursday.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Most Powerful Neurotoxin

Thinking back on conversations I've had in the recent past, during which the generation above me spoke with shaken voices about the troubles to come, I remember being just about as dismissive as you might expect. I remember feeling strongly that we would be warriors, we would be survivors, we would be fearless. After all, haven't we survived worse things? Haven't we faced our fears before? Surely if we press forward in the spirit of defeat, we can't expect a victory.

I've since changed my tune, ever so slightly, to include a few cautious atonal harmonics.

To not be afraid, or to live in spite of it, requires some threshold of masochism. And I am no stranger to masochism; it's basically a requirement for being a student. To continually waltz into situations that are unstable at best, where funding can be as elusive as catching a dandelion seed in the wind, during which I retrospectively find myself counting the minutes between my beginning and my finding out that I have been listening to bold-faced lies the entire time...this is only remotely pleasurable underneath the umbrella of masochism.

Otherwise, it's miserable nonsense.

Maybe I'm extra jaded for my age, but I doubt it; I'm no more cynical than the next twenty-something who is realizing just exactly what we've inherited, and navigating the way through. More likely, I'm overstimulated. I tend to shy away from using the word "paranoid" to describe my biases because my doubts are well founded; however, my insisting that I'm operating between the folds of a completely fraudulent system is probably just about as true as it isn't. Neither, and nor. Truth is what exists, but it's also a limbo; a free suspension of perspective in a medium that isn't quite physical to me.

People who claim to hold concrete, absolute, universal truths make me intolerably suspicious. 

As a scientist, it is my job to observe and report. Observe what is, report what it means. We can pretend that science is a reckless pursuit of absolute truth, but it isn't; science is instead a constant clawing at understanding. And because of who I am as a person, I could quite literally not be anything else.

Certainly, not all of my colleagues are like me, nor would they agree with me on this point. But within my own pursuit of understanding myself and my life, I spill my frantic searching into my work. This is a good thing, I think; a driving force that is necessary to hold my attention since I am, otherwise, pretty flighty. But mistakes occur when I try to make connections that do not exist, or follow lines that branch off in ways such that I later find that I've spun my own web of directionless disaster, having forgotten to look up just for a second.

Perspective is the most powerful neurotoxin.

And when I'm feeling vulnerable or uncertain, much less threatened, my place of retreat is a place in the land of blanket distrust and overarching skepticism. It's a place where I've fastened a shelter of protective canvas around me, and no, I will not come out until I'm good and ready. 

My Instagram Fearlessness has already convinced most of you that I am aware of the beautiful things that exist just outside, and that I live to explore them. This is true, or rather, it is a truth. Another truth is the fact that sometimes my meds mix with my hormones mix with my disease mix with my observations mix up my reality, and I get scared and I need a minute inside.

I think that this is okay, as long as it isn't permanent.

In fact, I've been challenged, with blunt force, to come out of my shelter so that I can breathe the mountain air. And I can, I do, I will.

Just...not until I know that the wolves are far away. Or, more accurately, until I convince myself that I am well equipped to fight them, face them, survive them.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Disregarding Purity to Chase Intimacy, or My Weird (lack of a) Sex Life

My most intimate moment with a man happened to me on top of an active volcano.

That sounds amazing, but trust me, this is actually a pretty embarrassing story. On a scale of zero to cringe, this was about...a million. And I know that many of you out there are rooting for me, but don't get too excited; there was no sex.

Because 1AM summertime twilight over a slimy steam room in a hut attached to a pit toilet on top of a glacier that covers a volcano is neither the time nor the place for sex. For me, anyway, and no judgment if this sounds like your perfect romantic evening. It just...wasn't doing it for me. Not then, anyway. 

Over the past several months, I have had many Icelandic culture lessons. And now, I just kind of feel like those several months were essentially preparing me for this moment, a moment of close-quarters showering and steam bathing and standing, not once but twice, bare-ass naked in the snow with some guy. Naked as the days we were born, which were approximately twenty years apart, so. Perhaps another reason this wasn't working for me, but not necessarily so. Sorry, mom. 

But anyway, there we were, because I had agreed to accompany him to the sauna thinking, apparently stupidly, that we were, like, just going to go to the sauna and not have some weird forced existential experience. I don't blame the guy. He wanted me to feel it, really feel the cold and the sunlight and the tranquility on the mountain. The sunset layers were dreamy, and this was one of our first clear nights up there so we could see all the way up to the north. He wanted to show me that this was the place from whence my data came, and this is what was necessary for me to understand. 

If you have known me for five seconds, then you probably know that I am intensely spiritual. Standing naked on a glacier, with icy air washing over my bare skin, basking in the golds and pinks of the remaining light and the deep lavenders of the shadows, is exactly the sort of thing I am super into. I can praise the good Lord for that. I can hold space for myself there. I can reflect and rejoice in such a circumstance. 

But, like...not then. Not when I had absolutely no idea what was going on, or what he was talking about half the time, or what drunken sagely wisdom he was attempting to pass down to me in a surprisingly fatherly way. I wasn't open to actively participating in the conversation because I wasn't particularly comfortable. Not uncomfortable, mostly curious as to where this was going, but not comfortable either. Not familiar with this uncharted territory. I don't love being dragged outside, naked, without explanation. I don't like showering with somebody in a cramped cubicle when it seems rather extremely unnecessary. I don't have deep conversations with tipsy people if I am not equally as tipsy. And as public nudity is still an incredibly new thing for me, I wasn't sure what the game was. Were we, or were we not..? 

Nudity is not sexual here. It isn't. I would score zero points with an Icelander for trying to sexualize a trip to the sauna. So I just pretty much figured that any weird sexual tension was probably coming from me, since I hail from the Land of the Shamed and Home of the Constantly Sexualized, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure. So, I later consulted another Nordic person, and when she was just about as unclear as I was, I figured that my insecurities were probably well-founded. I mean, of course they are, but I do find it interesting to live in a culture that actively frowns upon sexualizing non-sexual experiences. I was curious, and not unsafe; I was fine. Very confused, but fine. Although, I guess Icelanders usually do respect your space while you're showering after the sauna, but all's well that ends.

I am as God made me, but I am also a product of my environment. I come from a culture where assumed virginity is packaged neatly with singleness, and presented as some sort of virtue wrapped up within the glimmer of purity culture; a gift to be shared under a legally binding contract between a man and a woman. But as myself and my peers grow irritated with gender roles dividing everything from toys to acceptable behavior to children's clothing, I've begun to dig deeper. I've started to notice holes in purity culture, and have pretty much decided that purity culture, at its root, is exactly the same thing as rape culture.

Allow me to explain.

Nope, it's too much. Allow me to summarize.

Purity culture assigns your self worth to your ability to control your body. Rape culture makes it okay for somebody else to control your body.

Purity culture reminds you that you are inherently dirty. Rape culture delights in telling you that you are inherently dirty. 

Purity culture reminds you that you are damaged and worthless without this virtue. Rape culture reminds you that you deserve to be damaged because you are worthless. 

Purity culture pretends to hold men and women equally responsible for their behavior, but demands submission from women at the end of the day. Rape culture unabashedly blames survivors; most of whom are women. 

Purity culture ignores any power of decision. Rape culture takes the decision away.

Purity culture holds sex as the highest achievement. Rape culture uses sex as the ultimate power.

Purity culture raises victims and protects perpetrators. Rape culture shames victims and praises perpetrators.

Purity culture values silence over justice. Rape culture depends on valuing silence over justice.

Purity culture leads to rape culture. 

I cannot say this enough. Purity culture leads, directly leads, to rape culture. The way we have raised our children (we being a collective) makes them submissive, vulnerable; the ways by which we refuse to take responsibility for this baffles me. Every time we make an excuse for somebody's inexcusable behavior, we show our kids that their safety is not a priority. Every time we say that "boys will be boys," we hold our boys to sickeningly low expectations. Every time we cover abuse with the blood of Christ, we wash our hands with the blood of our kids. Every. Time. 

I can't be a part of this. This ship has pretty much sailed, but I guess I'll just say for the record that I am officially done with purity culture. I have not lost my moral compass; this is my moral compass. Purity culture is a twisted and perverse version of rape culture, and it is a dangerous thing to teach. Now, I am certainly not saying that choosing to wait until marriage is a bad choice; arguably it likely saves a lot of heartbreak and loss, it demonstrates a command of priorities, and it is ultimately selfless. It's a beautiful thing to share with one person. But the way we frame sex absolutely makes those who have made a different decision, or those who have had that decision taken from them, feel subhuman. I'm done with it, completely done.

The undercurrents of shame and trauma in my life have essentially set the stage for a lack of sexual intimacy in my life, but I am not here in the spirit of pointing fingers. It's just how I turned out; more or less sexually independent. I'm not satisfied with it, but I'm not...well. I guess I'm a little heartbroken about it, but I am looking forward to growing and becoming better at being two rather than just being one all the time. 

But, being here is the healthiest thing I've ever done. My Icelandic therapist gets upset with me when I tell her that I'm afraid of being behind, that I haven't grown enough...because there is no behind, there is no enough. I feel these insecurities because I have the preposterous idea that everybody else has figured it out, and I haven't. In reality, everybody is fumbling through this. And in Iceland where it is okay to make mistakes and figure things out your own way, it is okay to be sexual, it is okay to not be sexual, and it is okay to find yourself completely nude, standing on a glacier with your mentor, without any boundaries being crossed.

Things get less shameful when we stop making them so shameful. 

Huh. Who would've thought?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

That Kind of Growth

I missed an appointment with my therapist because I found out that I was able to go up on a field excursion to Vatnajökull last week, so I let the ice and the Icelanders be my substitute therapist for the time being. It was rad, because we all noticed how everything from down the glacier melted away (literally and figuratively) and the only things that mattered just then were situated on top of Grímsfjall with us. But now, we're back in the land of signals and deadlines, and I have some things to think about.

Specifically, how to balance the dichotomous void between living the healthiest life I've ever lived, and keeping my empathy for the people in my life who remain in the trenches through no fault of their own, of course. I don't know how to do this; rather, I'm anxious about vicarious anxiety. Because of all the things that contribute to my traumatic stress, a considerable amount of it is vicarious and that is kryptonite for a self-sacrificial empath.

One of the things that has kept me unhealthy in the past, or rather has prevented me from taking advantage of all of my potential, is the fact that I absolutely refuse to deny myself my roots. Because denying my roots is denying my story, which is fundamentally a betrayal of self and an ignorant sway away from acknowledging the things that had to be accomplished, destroyed, upwelled, replaced in order to grow. 

But then, there's some sagely bit about not being able to move onto the next chapter of my life if I insist upon re-reading the previous ones, and I re-read my chapters like clockwork every night before bed. 

I always will, because I don't want to forget. If I forget, I forget myself and I'm tempted to smooth my rough edges and sweeten the bitter words I've spoken, the sour tantrums I've thrown, the dry throated threats I've made. Sweet things are nice to remember, but they really require a balance of salt. They aren't the whole truth.

The whole truth is the healing truth, and once we stop romanticizing everybody's healing processes and understand that the process is instead a difficult thing to which we need to square up, I've found grace for that.

Grace and growth, I guess. Growth in the sense that not everything is such a huge deal all the time. Not every day. Growth as a calm, collected, calculated widening of my horizons. Growth that will yield its own seeds someday. Growth that changes and evolves and adapts. Growth that moves me upward and upheaves the structures I have fastened around myself that aren't necessary anymore. Growth that points my eyes forward instead of rolling them backward. Growth that does more than sustain me, but strengthens me.

That kind of growth.