As told by Eckhart Tolle, a Buddhist master named Ram Dass once stated, “If you think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.” I’ll be honest, I wasn’t super enthused with Eckhart Tolle’s books in general, but I did like that quote.
It appears to be a common enough occurrence that we can never fully escape who we were in childhood when we return to the place we lived while growing up. That…sort of sucks massively when who you were growing up was a traumatized kid with no safe space to create her own identity without it being used as a weapon to bludgeon her with, a system that tore her family apart and claimed lives literally and figurately, and a pesky habit of using dissociation and time loss to hide from it all.
For many, the smartest thing to do would just be to never return to the Gods-forsaken places of their youth at all. Enlightenment is overrated in the face of basic safety. It sucks more if, as a thirty-something adult, you are repeatedly stuck returning to that place because the damn system only got worse even after you left, the black hole of bureaucracy won’t let you yet get an innocent family member out to another state (gods-damned waiting lists), and your version of “regression to childhood” not only seems to be too often to feel like that same helpless kid again in the face of the system that made you that way but also to regress to the same coping skills: dissociation, time loss, and misplaced sense of any adult competence, oh boy!
My last therapy homework before returning to the 9th Circle of Hell (because that is so how I want to spend my not-FMLA. Very conducive to my mental health recovery, that one! Not!) is to make a list of things that keep me “balanced.” Balanced, it seems, means not only not collapsed in a dissociated puddle on the floor, but also interacting with the world even when I’m in the 9th Circle of Hell as the Lavender you’ve tended to meet on this blog: improv actor, data nerd, foodie, traveler with the D4 dopamine gene for adventure (seriously, I’ve been in a study to prove it), pun enthusiast, and part of a stable duo that looks nothing like the broken family ties of her youth. I mostly like the Lavender I am now, even if the bully-in-my-brain repeatedly tells me she’s not good enough at any of the things that define her to claim them. I don’t really want to be someone else. Even the bully-in-my-brain just wants me to be better at being who I am (a “less stupid” data nerd, not a “not-a-data-nerd,” for example) rather than start over.
My homework is to figure out some things that keep that part of me – the coastal Lavender – active even while 9th Circle of Hell Lavender tries to default to running the show to protect me while I’m there. (Or, worse, while no one shows up to run the show, and thus the “dissociated puddle on the floor” bit.) After I got over my inherent distrust of the assignment simply because the term “balanced” reminded me too much of my arsehole boss’s enthusiasm for balanced scorecards, I added “mocking corporate speak mercilessly” to my list of “balanced traits” and gave the assignment a good faith effort.
Virtually everything on the list is something I developed after I moved away from the 9th Circle of Hell. I really did only start figuring out who I am – or even who I want to be – starting in college when the safety of thousands of miles from the 9th Circle of Hell gave me breathing space. It’s also a list that, as it includes things like “foodie” and “travel,” includes a lot of things that are a bit hard to pull off in the middle of chain-restaurant flyover country. Blogging is on the list, but blogging can be more or less “balanced” for me depending upon what I’m blogging about. The most “balanced” blogs – if we define “balanced” as “liable to keep me feeling like myself in the midst of Hell” are actually my more social-commentary blogs. On the coasts, it helps to write the “I’m falling apart and I just need to write to process things” blogs. There’s enough safe space from the Hell to actually process trauma in addition to just living it. In the 9th Circle of Hell, it’s harder to keep that line straight, so if I have to visit Hell it’s probably safer for me to say, write a guide to protesting with chronic illness, than to actually write about the unpleasant experiences of the moment. I should write about coastal Lavender in Hell so that she retains enough of herself to write about Lavender-in-Hell when she’s back on the coasts.
Coincidentally, WordPress recently developed a way to save posts on the phone app. Any version of Lavender you meet tends to be highly oblivious. ADHD is for life. I knew I had been nominated for blog awards in the past, but by the time I remembered them again, I couldn’t find them in my feed. With all the stress in my life, I have tended to only write on weekends. After a week of dealing with work stress and the 9th Circle of Hell, anything I ever cared to find again in my feed is gone forever. With the opportunity to save blog posts, I now have a reason to go back and look for those posts I vaguely remember intending to fill out “at some point.” If/when I find them, I can save them so I can find them again easily. Either the search function has correspondingly also improved, or I’ve just gotten better, but in the process of searching for the couple of awards I remember, I found no less than seven blog awards I’d been nominated for! Several I’d never seen the first time around! (Apparently, if you link to my blog’s main page, I don’t get a notification. If I don’t get a notification, I’m entirely too oblivious to notice my name. I’d even ‘liked’ one or two of those posts without processing that my name was on the list.)
One of the stranger realizations about my not-FMLA is that for the next few weeks, I can blog whenever I feel like it. I’m not necessarily restricted to weekends because my weekdays are not spent only trying to marshal enough spoons to keep up at work or crashing out as soon as I get home. I still have to deal with the 9th Circle of Hell, but I could write on a lunch break if I felt like it. I’ve pushed myself too hard at work my entire life. A very deep-seated part of me thinks that having a job at all times – even if that job has gotten so horrible that saner people than I have quit without having their next job lined up – is crucial to never again ending up back in the 9th Circle of Hell for good. I tend to get very anxious when I’m even just off work on sick days, lest the office decide they can function without me. I know that anxiety will rear its head when I contemplate the idea that my office might decide that living without me for the next few weeks means they can live without me for good.
I also know my therapist has pointed out that, a trip to the 9th Circle of Hell or not, if I don’t unplug from my office and attempt to take care of my mental health as best as possible during this period, I’ll break immediately when I go back. My boss will still be a bully when I get back, and he will still drive me to panic attacks. I need to work on some coping strategies – and maybe finding the self-confidence to start applying elsewhere – on this leave so I can stick it out when I return. I have never had a mental health sabbatical, and, while I can’t call this one a pure sabbatical, my therapist has repeatedly told me that I need to treat it as much like one as possible if I want to eventually face the entirety of my life again.
I think, as part of my attempt to remember that there is a world outside of the 9th Circle of Hell, I’m going to go back and fill out all of those blog awards that date back to July 2017. (Apologies to the person who nominated me for that one!) I think I’m going to steal a page from Ashley of Mental Health @ Home’s playbook and answer them 20-questions style. Thinking of seventy nominees would be kind of exhausting, after all! That will also allow me to skip any questions that are a bit too “past-oriented” and focus on the ones that are more “balanced.” Answering silly theoretical questions and personality tests are actually something I like to do. In deference to my usual style – and the fact that seven weeks of blog awards would get old – I’ll be filling out the blog award questions during the week. I’ll still keep to my “once-a-weekish” schedule for regular blog posts. If you like knowing what meats I enjoy on my sandwich, check in during the week for the next week or so. If you are interested in more “meaty” (har har) content, check back next weekend for a regular-style blog post.