I got up this moring around 8:00, which is a drastic change from my usual sleep cycle, and I am so grateful. Tomorrow I have an appointment at 8:30 AM, and now I know that I’ll make it. I have done everything I can to make myself tired enough to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and I think it’s working. I had a dentist appointment today, where the dentist said that I needed to heal a little bit more before she continued working, so the visit was over in approximately 15 minutes. I walked to Starbucks and got myself “the usual” (iced black tea, no extra water, cream and five Splenda), and then proceeded on to Dunkin’ Donuts, because I heard in the news that all the stores were closing, so I’d better eat there one last time. I got a regular donut with an indiscriminate purple icing on top, which they called “marionberry,” but actually just tasted like sugar. Now I know why they’re closing… or perhaps I should have gotten a Boston Cream pie. It doesn’t matter. If they’re still open the next time I pass, maybe I’ll give them another try.
From there, I proceeded to the Silver Spring Metro, where I read Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by my spirit animal, Nadia Bolz-Weber. I was headed to Tenleytown, which is not a short ride, but I will go miles for a cute haircut. I’m trying to get it back to the haircut that Auna said looked like “sex,” because it’s the best compliment I’ve ever gotten in my whole life bar none. And if there’s ever a time when I want to look unattainably hot, it’s now. I don’t want a relationship with anyone, or at least, not anytime soon. But nothing would please me more than to get attention like that. It strokes my ego and makes me feel good, something that in this time in my life, I could desperately use. I’m sad most of the time, because I have a lot of stuff to work out with my therapist. People thinking I look good is at least a piece of candy back toward Happiness (I saw Inside Out today).
As I was riding toward my cute haircut, there were quotes that stood out to me and I’m still thinking about them. Three of them, I posted on Facebook.
- Those most qualified to speak the gospel are those who truly know how unqualified they are to speak the gospel.
- I got teary-eyed, thinking about what the Book of Common Prayer calls the things we have done, and the things we have left undone. If you’ve even read a few of my entries, you are probably familiar with why I was crying on a train… but not hard. Just that slow drip of tears that you’re trying to stop and two get away from you.
- I remembered that, at one point in my life, my own depression had felt so present, so much like a character in my life, that it had actually felt right to go ahead and give her a name. I named my depression “Frances.”
- When I read that, my whole body responded. Nothing had ever felt more true in my life. I am a different person when my meds aren’t right, when I am truly suffering. I suffered so much that I voluntarily hospitalized myself, and even then couldn’t let go of everything that was bothering me, because I couldn’t reach down into that level of pain. I named my depression “Rebecca Radnowski” between Dupont and Woodley Park because she’s my alter ego in fiction. I call her “R-rad” for short. And that’s pronounced Rad-Nov-ski, just in case you’re wondering. In 2002, my friend Anne told me that when she got really depressed, it was like the pod people were coming to take her away, meaning that she felt like a different person. Same software, different case.
- I can go from zero to batshit crazy in no time at all. It’s like a speed ball of adrenaline, cortisol, and sin- an anger accelerant- racing through my bloodstream, causing my chest and neck to tighten and my brain to shut down into single-thought mode. It makes me understand why exorcisms in the Bible were always so physical in nature.
- I had the exact same feeling when I would get a shitty e-mail from Argo. My blood would boil, my face would flush, my entire body would just panic and I would not take the time to respond. I would just react. That cortisol and sin made it where I didn’t have the tools to de-escalate the situation, so I would just try to be shittier to her than she’d been to me. Obviously, it worked extraordinarily well. The demon within me would not wait to be cast out, so that I could see her words for what they actually were, instead of what I thought they were in my anxiety-induced state. My mind played tricks on me between what she said and what I thought she said. I understand the Geresene demoniac in a whole new way, because now I know there are my own moments where I know I need Jesus to cast out the demons inside me so that I can move out of the tombs and walk in front of other people, clothed and in my right mind. My house is a far cry from living in the tombs, but it is no less isolation than to which Legion sentenced himself. I believe that he chose to take his demons into the tombs to avoid what my friend Sash calls “crazy spatter.” It is a term for which I’ve been looking since I was a teenager. I must protect you from me.
I often wonder what it was that gave Legion the permission he needed to release his demons, because obviously that is the journey I am on as well. What might Jesus have said that resulted in so much “wasted bacon” (I didn’t write it, but I nearly fell on the floor when I read it.)? I only have one story that’s even close. When Kathleen and I were dating, there was one morning where I decided to try prenatal vitamins. We weren’t trying to get pregnant, I’d just heard they were good for you- strong nails, hair, etc. It’s like, 8:15 AM and we’re trying to leave for work (at the time, she worked for me at University of Houston, but that is another story altogether). I took all my medications without food, and vitamins are notorious for making you nauseous if you don’t eat first. So here I am, not wanting to make either of us late for work, literally trying to hold down what I know is going to be a downpour of epic proportions. Kathleen looked at me and said, “it’s ok, Leslie. Go ahead and throw up.” I opened the door to the car and the driveway was never the same afterward.
What was it about me that would not submit to the nausea? Would not let the demon be cast out when it clearly needed to happen. Why did I need PERMISSION to help myself? Why did Legion?
My best guess is that mental illness pushes you so far down that you don’t know how to give yourself permission anymore. When I was in my 20s, I was in a large age-gap relationship. She was two years younger than my stepmother, and I was an adult, but not an an adultier adult- the one you’d look for in any situation that required direction. We were really, really close friends, and when our brains connected, so did our bodies. The age difference didn’t bother me at all, and it didn’t bother my friends, either. But it really bothered hers. Really.
I remember Diane saying after we’d been together three months that it was long enough to create a pattern, and I really needed to think about my future and what I wanted to do with it. It was incredibly condescending, because her partner is 15 years older than she is. In retrospect, I wonder if she was trying to save me from her own experiences, and I do not say that lightly. In my own opinion, deep down I wonder if Diane missed her 30s, because she met her partner when she was 28 and went right into trying to be the same age as her partner so the age difference didn’t show as much. She achieved so much during that time, but she wouldn’t come to Bitchin’ 80’s Night at the Fez with me, either. Because we had such a platonic relationship by then, I wanted to be the person that brought out the side of her that I knew when she was young and giggly, but by then, that person was gone. And as I said, it’s just my opinion, but it resonated with me after that talk, and I will never forget it.
My reality was that the age difference didn’t bother me, and everyone needed to shut the fuck up and get over it. We were lost in our own little world, and that world was one of the experiences that defined me later on. When we came to the fork in the road, where she agreed with her friends that it should just stay a fling before it got even more serious, I was devastated. She was so brilliant, so funny, so amazing that if she’d chosen me as a partner, I would have spent every moment of it in slow motion, just to make sure I captured it all… took it all in because it was glorious. We were at the same place in our lives- she was getting divorced and I had just gotten divorced, and that point of pain brought us together because we could open up to each other. My friend Donna, a grief expert, calls it coming together over “compatible wounds.” Even though she was older, she didn’t hold it over my head. She would let me comfort her. She would let me, for lack of a better term, minister to her needs without pulling the age card, not ever… and we could enjoy our differences.
The funniest one was when we passed Baskin Robbins and she said that for a long time, she didn’t know there was chocolate ice cream. That she liked vanilla with chocolate on it. I quipped, “had it been invented yet?” I can’t remember whether she said, “watch it, Lanagan” or just flipped me the bird. But our relationship was like that. Able to flip each other shit in just the right way.
Losing that relationship changed me, and I could not give myself permission to take care of myself. I lived in my tomb and even though I didn’t walk around naked, the isolation was so intense that I got desperate. I had to get vulnerable enough to ask Dana for help. It was literally like asking her permission to cast out my demon. I called her and said, “my apartment looks like dumped girl. Please help me.”
And she did.
I let her into my wreck of an apartment and we spent hours culling things, doing laundry, picking up Coke cans (in the South, everything is a Coke), scrubbing every inch of the pain I’d let build until all of these easy tasks had become insurmountable to someone so broken.
As a thank you, I became “anal Annie” about my apartment. I kept it so clean you could eat off the floors because I never wanted to have to ask Dana for that kind of help again. Dana’s permission clothed me and put me in my right mind.
Today I had another moment where I needed grace, because I was almost hit by a car.
In Accidental Saints, Nadia tells a story where she pulls a pregnant woman aside between the first service and the second because they’d had a congregational meeting where someone ripped her a new one and she had to just stand there and take it. Had to be the pastor in charge, and not a flawed human being like we all are. She tells the pregnant woman, “can you pray over me? I am too angry to do the liturgy.” As they prayed, the pregnant woman put Nadia’s hands on her belly, and she could feel the new life inside her as the woman asked God to take away her anger.
I was on the way home after reading this and even though I pulled the stop cord at the right time, the bus driver kept right on going. It was at least a half mile back to my house, maybe more, and I had to cross then entrances and the exits to the Beltway. One woman did not understand the concept of a crosswalk and nearly plowed into me as I was carrying my heavy bags- one from CVS filled with beauty products for my so-complicated-it-makes-me-angry skin and a new Bluetooth keyboard with a slot for my phone, my iPad, and my Android tablet that I bought with the last of my birthday money. Both bags were heavy, and I was in a foul mood because of the bus driver because I don’t normally carry bags of stuff on the bus and the ONE day I do, he missed my stop. By the time the driver screeched on her brakes, I’d just had it. I screamed at her, “IT’S A CROSSWALK!” She, of course, blamed me, and my anger and panic went to eleven. So I’m walking back toward my house just cursing a blue streak and then it happens.
The landmark for my street is Christ Congregational Church.
The last church my father pastored in Sugar Land, Texas is called Christ United Methodist Church. I don’t remember when he preached this sermon, and it might have even been his first one in that congregation, but the message was what does it mean to be a member of a church that has Christ right in the title (I’m paraphrasing)? As I saw the sign for my own church, with the big rainbow flag lit up to make sure that we were known as open and affirming, that phrase hit me from my hair to my feet. I stopped and prayed, and because of Nadia’s story, I metaphysically reached out and touched Mary’s belly, just to feel Jesus kicking. I let new life and new hope flood me.
I prayed that God would take away my anger, and evict Rebecca so I could just be me. My heart stopped racing. The panic attack that was building melted and I was enveloped in grace.
I suppose all I needed was a cross walk.