It's subtle, the feeling as the pain descends. It creeps up, unannounced and unbidden, flaring from somewhere unknowable. With it comes the confusion, the fatigue, the fog. Your own house becomes a unsolved labyrinth, bodily needs become an excercise in code-breaking.
In short, the world you know disentegrates and in it's place is the same world, except now you don't know it. There's a rash somewhere you don't want to think about, and you decide to alleviate some of the pain with the last of a tiny tube of cortisone cream. You're on the toilet when this occurs to you, and all you have to do is stand up and reach across the room. But first, you have to stand...
What were you going to do? You've lost the train of thought. Doesn't matter, the wave of bone-deep exhaustion is growing worse, and you need to make it to bed as soon as possible. But first, you need to stand.
You brace yourself for the effort. You can do this. You can. You lift your arm and hook your hand on the washing machine directly above you, and with an effort that leaves you light-headed and short on breath, you stand. Dazed for a moment, you try to plan your next move. Pants.
After a breather, you reach down and pull up your sweats, which brush against the rash, and remind you of what you'd forgotten. But the effort of pulling up your pants causes another wave of fatigue and you don't know how long you'll be able to remain standing.
But the cream will give you some measure of relief, of control. So you fumble it out, hands shaking, and move your right arm to begin unscrewing the cap.
The pain is almost blinding as it flares all at once from your right elbow. If the idea wasn't so absurd, you'd swear it was broken. Suddenly, you can't use your right arm at all. Moving it or your fingers causes excruciating pain, so you let it hang at your side. It hurts anyway, making the rest of you feel somewhat normal. You finish the job with your left hand, somehow, and stagger towards your room, somehow managing to do this without using the wall as a balance point. The shaking is increasing, and your toes have been red and painfully swollen for days now. Every step is a war. But you make it and collapse into bed.
...Directly on your right arm. You let out a whimper, or a scream, and then another for the pain and effort of moving the arm from underneath you.
What were you doing again? Doesn't matter, though, because all you can process is that the tremors have begun, warbling out from your chest and out through you extremities. It's more a feeling than something you can see, but then right now all you can see is your left arm.
You knew this had been a mistake. Last time you ever listen to someone else when your body tells you not to do something.
One day ago:
"I think I'm going to stop taking Wellbutrin." You tell her. "I know it's only been four days, but I just have a bad feeling about it. And I don't really like the way it's affecting me."
This was true- it had somehow turned you into a robot. While you normally feel most comfortable in a world of emotion and feeling, this stuff had made you simultaneously mathematical and yet stupid. Feelings seem repulsive and gooey, like they'd stick to you. It is incredibly simple to rearrange behavioral patterns, but that just isn't balancing the rest of it.
"Me either," your partner replies, "I've already got one robot boyfriend. I don't need two." She sighs into the receiver, then continues. "Look, I think you should keep going. You just started- what is it, your fourth day? And, like, two days ago you thought it cured you, right?"
You had definitely thought that. Day one had been good, day two better. You’d felt amazing, in fact. Day three you'd felt supremely intelligent and disconnected, and she'd taken you food shopping. As you prepared, you marvelled at the clarity of thought totally untouched by emotions. You feel like an efficient genius as you decided not to bring your wallet- because you won't be driving, no need for a license or that extra weight. Genius!
You're halfway through the shopping list before you realize that leaving your wallet meant leaving your money and you feel like a moron. And as she pays for the food anyway, you feel like a thief. Maybe, you are beginning to think, this isn't working quite as well as it feels. Then, that evening, the rash develops. But you decide to give it one more day. That was yesterday.
"Babe, I've just got a really bad feeling about it. I'm not feeling so great today and it's getting worse. I think. I don't know."
"But isn't it usually like that with new medications? You keep quitting them before you really let them have a chance to start working. Maybe you should try to stick it out." You don't know if you like how rational that sounds.
"I don't know, hun. I don't think so. I'll think about it. We'll see."
It's a bad night. Not as bad as some nights, you even get a good four hours of sleep or so, and the next morning you decide to push through just in case you're wrong. She'd had a good point, and you feel crappy enough that you are are starting to feel desperate for something, anything, to work.
You take the fifth pill.
The symptoms escalate. The painful, mildly swollen rash on your toes has spread to your feet. There is no such thing as a position in which your right arm does not feel broken, swollen, throbbing, screaming. The tremors are easily visible now. You're freezing cold and can't warm up, too fatigued and in too much pain to turn up the heat to max or grab more blankets. But you can't remain still either, because the pain forces you to toss and turn for any measure of relief.
Right now, you'd kill for a damn strong painkiller. You don't even care. None are forthcoming, however. Doctors are too worried about politics and long terms consequences to care about your quality of life, which normally is okay, even good, and which right now seems profoundly evil.
Light wanes, you begin to grow hungry, and thirsty, but the idea of adventuring across the vast living room tundra and foraging the wasteland of the refrigerator is too daunting. You're too weak. So the light wanes, and the symptoms wax.
It's dark out, and it's the combination of thirst, hunger, and a building need to urinate that finally make you brave the cold, vast expanse of the house. Balance isn't working so well, your right arm not at all. But you make it to the bathroom with a supreme effort of will, nearly pass out as you pee, and discover your water bottle standing there on the bathroom sink, which is actually the only sink in the house at this point in time.
You see your face in the mirror, guant and pale and dark circled, hair greasy and unwashed, face unshaven. You look as old and disgusting as you feel, if that's really you looking back. It's really hard to care.
You discover you can't open the water bottle. You're too weak, and you've only got one hand, and trying to unscrew the cap feels like it's going to rip the skin from your hand. So you give up and, still shaking, drink directly from the faucet for as long as you can handle it, then stumble back to bed.
Later, the wave of cold hits anew. You've been lying on your side for hours, so long it's painful, but moving is even more painful. The only thing you want is sleep, please, God, just sleep it off.
A new symptom hits. Your entire right half goes numb. At first it's actually a relief because your elbow doesn't hurt, but the wave passes in about a minute, leaving you with a refreshed point of reference for the pain. Then it comes again, and stays longer, and with it comes the slow, mounting terror that this could be very, very bad.
Your mind split into two parts. One part of you is panicking, tossing, whimpering, turning, wincing, and screaming silently. The other is weighing options. What you are now experiencing sounds a lot like what you've read about having a stroke, and if you are having one, an hour away from anybody who could help, five days from seeing anyone, and unable to move, it could be deadly. You've been keeping a log of your experiences on welbutrin from day one, adding tiny notes as each new thing develops. Fueled by sheer terror you somehow manage to email a copy/paste to both your partner and your doctor of the logs, along with a short text to your girlfriend that you might be having a stroke, and if you don't answer her by a certain time to please come rescue you. It takes you nearly an hour to accomplish this.
Somehow you feel embarassed the moment you send this, as though you're just acting like a drama queen, but it's still probably the right move. As you send the email from your phone, you notice it's about 1am.
Somehow, unbelievably, everything rachets up another notch. The frustration of being unable to sleep begins to overwhelm you. You start whimpering and whining louder, screaming into whatever direction your face is facing, and it barely helps but barely is something. Wouldn't it be nice to just die?
A rush of excitement fills you, and once again you split, as you imagine your intellect hovering above the moaning wretch below.
What a wonderful moment, you realize. You can use this!
Because this is most definitely the most afraid for your life you've ever been. You have a sense that this isn't going to actually kill you, especially since you've got a rescue plan set up. But if you are having have a stroke, then you'll never recover. There will be no hope, ever. You won't be able to solve this and you'll end up doomed to forever living as an invalid. So that's really not much different, except that it sounds a whole lot worse to you than death. It's a simple thing to actually shift your fear to being about death, a relief, even.
So yeah, you're afraid to die. Definitely. This is good, because you may never have another opportunity like this. So let's face this. Let's turn this hell into something profitable! But how do you even begin?
One of the most common threads in religious literature is the idea of a life review, and that seems as good a place to begin as any. Once you’ve decided you begin to fish around in your memory just as another wave of pain strikes and blanks your mind.
“What was I doing?” You wonder when it passes. Then you remember, and pushing through a thinly veiled wall of uncertainty, you reach for the shaping of your life.
In your mind’s eye, it feels like a blank sphere around which you’ve traced line after line in a tight spiral, covering the blankness with action. It’s more of a sense than a reality, but you feel as though you can see the shape of all of your life at once. It’s visceral.
Has this always been available? Doesn’t matter. You can feel the questions coming, but right now they’re distractions. Because you’re terrified of what you’ll find if you really, truly, look.
Using a will that sometimes comes to you in situations like this, but which you do not understand, you open yourself to the flavor of your life.
At first, you look for the negative. There is an internal voice compelling you to believe that you deserve harsh judgment. You assume, also, that harsh judgment will be the harder thing to accept. Let the positice be the solace for failure.
In your mind’s eye threads lift from the sphere, several at once, and in each you percieve a memory of selfishness. And yet... something is wrong. Your expectations are baffled, because try as you might, even your failures look more positive in context than you’d expected.
You stop searching. And just...
No, that can’t be right.
You are drawn back into your body for a moment. Another spasm, another sharp pain, another sequence of waves of tingling numbness washing down your right side from the top of your skull to your toes. Focusing here suddenly looks like the more attractive option. Easier. Calmer. Less terrifying than choosing to believe something like this.
You already saw it. You already know.
You look for the love.
Floating above yourself, the image in your mind explodes into a kind of perceptual white color. Suddenly you can see all the negative things you’d been trying to judge yourself for, in far, far more detail. And yet, running through all of them is a kind of powerful loving compassion and desire to do and be better than you are.
The vision becomes more detailed, as if you are imagining the ripple effects on the people around you. People you ticked off, people who fell in love with you. And through all of it, in every situation of your life you’ve somehow done better than you could have reasonably thought possible.
Your life has been, for lack of a better image, an atom bomb explosion of love.
It isn’t because you were always perfect, but because you were flawed, and because those flaws drove you to compassion instead of bitterness. That’s all. Even the days you cowered away from the world, you could have done so much worse.
And then you realize the truth, for the first time.
You are afraid of death.
But you aren’t afraid of dying. It isn’t annihilation that scares you. What truly terrifies you is the death of the idea that you have about who you are and who you are supposed to become. It’s the incredibly complex tapestry of self-expectations and defense mechanisms that you wove to survive all the different hells you’ve walked through, naked and afraid.
And this is ridiculous.
Because those ideas of yourself are already dead. They died two years ago when the illness began. Funny, how long it took you to catch up.
You take a moment and have a funeral for yourself in your mind and heart. It’s very traditional. You imagine your notions of future you lying in boats as you send them down the river and shoot flami- no, it’s your imagination after all- rain fire from the sky.
You say goodbye. You let them die.
And as you do, another epiphany arises like a smack to your stupid, stupid head.
You haven’t failed! Suddenly, completely in the moment it’s terrifically easy to see: everything you’ve ever aspired to has been accomplished! With style, no less. You’ve made art that changed the way people view the world, songs that have made people cry for so many reasons. You’ve written essays that caused strangers to take time out their day just to comment about how much bit of writing meant to you.
In short, that feeling you’d always had about needing to accomplish some thing or other before you allow yourself to be happy has been neatly revealed as an absolutely gigantic pile of crap.
The vision begins to fade.
As you focus again on your pain wracked body, tossing and turning amd whimpering beneath you, your heart smiles.
Because now you know:
You are no longer afraid to die.
Hey everyone! It is, apparently, the holidays, and that means a lot of us are going home to their families or spending time with loved ones.
And then again, some of us won’t be. >_>
Today is Friday, the 22nd of December, 2017, and on the 24th it will be four months since I started HRT! And it’s actually working too!
Edit: on second thought I think I’m a little too emotional right now to post anything really unbiased and worth reading. I’m sorry if you read the thing I had posted a little while ago. Which is why the link says something different than the post does. 😆
I did have another story post prepped, but it turns out it had too many personally identifying details for someone in it and it needs to be edited.
Anyway, since I’ve got nothing better I figure I can show off this oil painting I’ve been working on over the past few days! This is really good news- I haven’t managed to pull out my oils in over two years. And holy mackerel does it feel good!
Originally I was going to wait until I was finished, but hey, we do what we do.
Also, the whole process here is basically giving the finger to art school. I did zero planning. There was just a really strong desire to push colors around a canvas and this is what happened. At this point I know exactly what it is and once it dries enough that I can rest my hand on it, I’ll add the detail. I’m really happy with it so far!
“No”, you say, trying to force a smile and failing, “I’ll stay here. I have homework, or something.”
She stops in the hallways and looks at you, in that slightly tilted head style. You feel her eyes burn a hole right through your pretense. “No”, she says, “you’re coming.”
“I am NOT!” You insist, though it doesn’t do much good because your little sister had been exchanging looks with your mom and you knew they somehow knew. What were they, psychic? Thus, as they come for you, you react too late to barricade yourself in your room and Mom catches hold of your arm and pulls you down the hall towards the front door. The old computer is on a desk in the hallway, and you make a grab for it but your sister is there instead and keeps your hands off.
You start screaming at them to let you go, but either you’re some kind of pathetic excuse for a dude, they’re strong, or some part of you actuallt wants to go to church right now. Whatever the case, your mom and fourteen year old sister with all her teenybopper bracelets and stupid looking sparkles drag you on your ass right out through the front door. You stop screaming at them when you hit the yard and make a more concerted break for it, but they have suddenly become a pair of she-hulks. You’ve never seen them so determined as they shove you into the backseat in a lump.
And right now, that look in mom’s eye is scarier than staying alive any longer.
As you pull up to the Faith Center, an old movie theater scooped into a church, the shame washes over you. You can’t look anyone in the eye as you go towards the lobby. It feels like everyone knows. Right outside the doors stands Skylar. He’s got short, super spiky blond hair and a metallic necklace with tiny spikes. You can tell his mom probably made him wear that button-up shirt. He looks so awkward in it. He’s also the last person you want to see, because you’ve got very mixed feelings about this kid.
On the one hand, he’s got the pain in his eyes. You know he knows what it is, and he’s kind of nice to look at too. On the other hand, he’s been trying to kick your ass for years now. At first he scared the crap out of you, but as time went on he turned out to be easy to avoid. Unlike your other torturers, he’d always try to set a time and place for a fight, so all you had to do was not show up. As much of a badass as he pretended to be, he was also kind of honorable about it. But in any case, you did not want to him to see you weak like this, so you just push right past and don’t respond to his hello.
In the lobby are more people you recognize. Rod, the youth pastor, will be upstairs, and you feel too ashamed to see him too. So you do something unusual for you- you opt to sit with the adults in the main sermon. Oddly, so does your sister. You don’t want to see them, because despite being ashamed, you’re also still really angry for having to wait another few days. And you aren’t sure you’ll have the courage again by then. If you’re being honest with yourself, you aren’t really certain you’d have had the courage tonight either. You didn’t even have a real plan. Just that it involved the shower curtain, water, and maybe some kind of tying device. Or a toaster maybe, that kind of sounded cool.
Anyway, you’re at church instead, with brand new grass stains all over your ass.
You choose a seat about seven rows ahead of Mom and Suzie, mostly because there aren’t many people in that row.
“Good evening everyone,” says the pastor into the mic. “This thing working? Okay, great. How is everyone?” Everyone mumbles vaguely positive noises and the pastor continues. “Great, great. Well, I had a whole thing planned for tonight but a good friend of mine- A missionary- is in town and I thought tonight we could give him the floor.” Everyone applauds. The pastor steps down. Another dude steps up.
You just sit there in your hoodie and slouch and daydream about death.
The missionary launches into what is likely to be a very fine sermon, but then stops in the middle of a sentence in order to initiate deja-vu: “You know what?” He says, “I had this whole thing planned for tonight but right now God just has it on my heart to talk about suicide.”
You feel trapped. He knows. But why would he stop an entire sermon just for you? You’re completely worthless and a drain on everyone you’ve ever met. You’ll never be loved, because who would want to love someone as insane as you? Your very existence causes other people to become violent. No way it’s about trying to save *you*. You don’t deserve to be saved. There has to be someone else. Or mom told him. Except there’s no way because you were behind her as you all came in.
The missionary goes on and on, and you aren’t really listening because you’re too busy fighting with God in your head. Why can’t you fix me? Why can’t I start over? Why do I have to be like this? And why do you want me to forever be all these things that contradict who you made me to be? Why would you be so cruel as to make me like this? And then keep me alive instead of just letting me die so I can at least suffer in peace? The irony of these thoughts escape you.
The lights dim suddenly, and it breaks you from your reverie. The podium is now in a spotlight, and the missionary is standing there in his unbuttoned suit, looking extremely missionarial. The music goes into the contemplative communion/come-up-and-accept-Jesus playlist. It makes you want to puke.
“Everybody close your eyes and bow your heads.” Says the preacher. You do, not bothering to see if anyone else does. Be invisible, you think.
“Now, I have it on my heart today that one of you out there has been planning to end their life soon, maybe even tonight. And if that’s you, I just want you to know that Jesus loves you and that nobody is looking. Why don’t you stand up and walk over to the stage and we’ll all pray for you. And nobody will open their eyes.”
You’ve got a funny feeling inside you, nearly pulling you to stand. But as the music plays on, you resist, fighting with yourself.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” Says the missionary. You can’t help but look up and see him staring right at you. “It’s okay. Go ahead. Nobody’s looking.”
His quiet voice is somehow louder than the pride raging inside of you, and you stand, exceptionally happy that there’s no one else seated near you in the row. As you exit the aisle, you feel something looking at you and turn around to examine a sea of bowed heads. All of them praying for you, anonymously.
Your mother and your sister are two silhouettes with four shining eyes. You lock eyes with them. They are crying, and so, you realize abruptly, are you.
Right then, two things happen at once. First, you realize for the first time in your life that you are actually, truly loved, and second, you have a vision. It’s more like what you’d get if you crossed a daydream with a dark epiphany, and maybe that’s precisely what it is.
The moment seems to stretch forever and as you gaze at your family, you swear you can see your funeral. You can feel the pain in the hearts of your entire family. The anger. The despair. The sense of uncontrollable loss and betrayal. The confusion. It’s worse for each person than what you’re going through now because it would have ended for you and they’ll carry it forever. And it happens to them all.
You can see the kids at school, pretending they don’t care. You can see your siblings acting out, your mother withdrawing into an abusive relationship. The pain is unimaginable. And with this vision comes the realization of just how truly selfish your suicide really would have been.
And so you take a silent oath before God and before Mom and your sister that no matter how much you are hurting you will never, ever, commit to this again. You can suffer so, so much more if it means that horrible version of the world is never realized.
You walk towards the stage, tears leaking down your face like raindrops on a window pane, and when you get there, you kneel. The prayers begin.
Now, you think. Maybe now it’ll finally happen. Maybe now I’ll be clean enough and the Holy Ghost will come to me and I’ll start speaking in tongues and I’ll be freed from all this pain! And so you pray, as hard as you ever have. And when the praying stops and the singing begins you don’t move.
The pastor taps you on the shoulder. “It’s over”, he says. You look around and everyone is gone but Mom and Suzie, standing near the entrance.
You still want to die. Nothing feels better. There was no revelation of Holiness. Just that vision of the hell on earth you’d have caused had you followed through this evening. As you meet up with them, all you say is that you promise you’ll never do that.
It’s a promise you will almost fail to keep several times. And it will be ten more years before the darkness finally begins to clear away and death is no longer the thing you long for.
“You know, blue really isn’t your color”, he offers, freely, just as you and your partner are about to walk out the door.
“What?” You ask, confused. You’re an artist, and you’re reasonably sure that at least up until this moment, blue has most definitely been your color. It makes you look younger.
“Yeah,” he says, “it makes you look a lot older.”
Ha. There’s no accounting for taste, you think. Also, this comment is coming from a guy who’s nearly seventy. You’ll take your own opinion on this one, and besides- this is your favorite skirt and you won’t let him ruin it.
“Ha!” Chimes in your partner, ungratefully. “I told you it makes you look old!”
She most certainly had. She’d told you it looked like “blue grandma hair”, and you’d taken it as a compliment on principle- who wouldn’t want to have blue grandma hair? Unfortunately, you're not anywhere near that cool. Your hair is actually what you’d get if you mixed blue grandma hair with a trailer park ponytail. It’s straight and slightly frizzy from the dye job, uneven from a major failure at giving yourself a haircut a few months back, and basically looks like someone hijacked your sense of style and replaced it with the hope that everyone who sees you is temporarily blind. But hey, you’re in transition and it’s part of the process. Yeah, you only wish you were cool enough to have blue grandma hair.
Just as you are about to make some witty retort, a third voice chimes in. “Yeah, blue really isn’t your color”, she agrees. This coming from a middle aged woman whose sense of fashion is somehow both brilliant and horrifying. She’s got a legitimate talent for finding garments that look more than a little excellent on her, but almost zero sense for how to put those things together into a cohesive outfit. Plus, she wears a fanny pack around everywhere. Enough said.
“I disagree”, you say, sagely. “I think blue is absolutely my color, and the reason I look old right now is because my face has the texture of a minefield.” This is true- you made the mistake of shaving so you wouldn’t look like a tramp, and thus you now look more like a tramp. If you’d had smooth skin the blue would have tinted all the shadows on your face, normalizing the color as a shadow tone and therefore helping to hide the ubiquitous beard stain.
Unfortunately, today your face is like a desert infested with fifty thousand itty-bitty moles who refuse to clean up after themselves. While the blue shadow makes smooth skin smoother, it just adds contrast to your razor burn and adds ten years to your look. You were trying very hard not to think about this as a survival tactic. It’s much easier to feel okay in your own skin if you can forget about how much that skin hates you. Apparently, this is no longer an option, because now it’s three against one.
“Why not try orange?” Asks that one old guy who started this whole tragedy. WIth that, the three of them have systematically and totally invalidated your shaky defenses.
Truth is, you hate wearing orange- It makes you look old.
It’s been a dysphoric week. You’ve done your absolute best to focus on all the things you have and what’s going good for you, all the love in your life. But attitude is a shaky thing during a dysphoric phase, because the sensations of incongruence between the actual placement of your body parts and the place that your mind continually expects them to be are at war. It is during times like these that the borderlines of self are so cleanly defined that you legitimately feel like two people crammed into mostly the same space, and while the tens or hundreds of thousands of overlapping points between the two bodies are not particularly annoying on their own, as a crowd they make you want to rip off your skin. These overlap points are all of varying size and shape, and the sensation is different depending on whether these areas are or are not a part of your actual physical body.
You find it frustrating that for whatever reason, your brain insists that the unreal self is the real you. It’s been this way all your life, in fact- even as a young kid this sense body of yours would taint your reflection and prevent you from being able to recall your own face by taking the liberty of replacing it with a moving and amorphous set of subtly different features bent on competing for dominance in your mind.
Philosophically, this is absurd- you aren’t an idiot and you aren’t blind. Your body is clearly the one you’re stuck in, yet despite the fact that your brain is smart enough make such an obvious observation and even wax into deep thought about the issue, it stubbornly refuses to recognize many parts of said body as belonging to itself while maliciously pointing out that other parts are missing.
How your brain became such a hypocrite you may never know, but after fighting with it for over thirty years you’ve surrendered. Maybe you’ll look like a freak for a while, or forever, but at least you might be able to eliminate some or most of these incongruences. So fuck it.
A month ago, you sleuthed out a clinic that works on informed consent and deftly swapped blood and a signature for a twelve day wait, an admonition to quit smoking cigarettes if you don’t want to die anytime soon, and some pills that promise to make stubborn and ideological people everywhere feel extremely insecure about their sexuality.
The reflection of your blue-haired tramp face is outlined harshly in the light of the overhead fluorescent lamp. You know you should stop staring at your reflection; you know that this process takes time; you know that eventually your face will heal, and that if you can force yourself to go three days without shaving it’ll heal up enough that you’ll get one opportunity to shave close and *maybe* it won’t destroy your skin. If it doesn’t, you get a blessed three or four hours of being able to touch your face without feeling like it’s someone else’s face. Patience, you tell yourself.
But right now, patience is in short supply. You feel hideous, replaced, repulsive. You turn away from the mirror but you cannot stop touching your face. The texture and the drag of the stubble grates across your fingerprints, preventing you from being able to reach your skin. The frustration of it is unimaginable.
People are constantly trying to be helpful: “Why don’t you just grow a beard? You look so good with one!” Or, “Oh, you just have to get past the first couple of days and then you don’t even notice it.” The longest you’ve ever been able to manage is one month, and it was sheer torture.
It isn’t just the feeling of the hair itself, but every comment about how great you look with it and how you ought to keep growing it is like a needle in your soul. They think I’m ugly, says your cynical side, they just like it because they don’t want to have to see the way I actually look. But when you have that persistent crop of parasitic worms slowly breeding all over your face so openly and visibly that you want to vomit every time your hand brushes your chin, it’s like it’s all people see. The way they treat you changes for the worse. Suddenly they expect you to be stronger, tougher, everything you’ve never cared at all about being.
But you were born a man, and a beard is the proof that you succeeded in somehow sneaking into a social class you secretly want to attract, not embody. And now, one month into hormone therapy, here you are in another dysphoric spiral.
You open the package of American Spirit cigarettes, yank a fag, set it alight, plant your ass on the deck. It’s a cloudless night, but dim. The half-moon barely lights the river, but it’s enough to watch the silhouettes of leaves and branches of dance above the flow. Be like the river, you think. Be like water.
Like water, you pull a drag of your cigarette. Like a failed dragon, you breath out flameless smoke, watch it bloom into the dim moonlight. The swirls in the smoke trigger a memory.
You drag yourself off the loveseat, one leg at a time. You wait. You place your hands. You wait. You breath in sharply and use the influx of energy to push yourself to an upright seating position. You breathe. You wait. Okay, now. You stand.
Once standing, it’s all much easier. Then gravity does half the work for you, and all you’ve really got to do is fall forward in a strategic manner. You strategically collide with the front door, open it, wait, pull out a fresh smoke. “Hey Walt, want to come out with me?”
Your youngest brother is currently sitting at his computer topless and wearing headphones. He groans, then pulls on a t-shirt. “Hey Phil”, he says, “did I show you my laser?”
Right then you aren’t remotely interested. But you’re so out of it that you can hardly light your cigarette, much less have the energy to care about expressing your lack of caring, or the energy to then move your lips and form words, so you just say nothing.
You’ve been very photosensitive today, and so you’re smoking with the porchlight off when he returns with the laser and flips it on. It’s a long green beam, and through your fogged mind you seem to recall him bragging about its capabilities, how it can hit the moon or something like that. You take a drag, blow it out.
Walter begins swiping the laser side-to-side quickly, and it creates a two-dimensional cross-section of the cigarette smoke, and it’s riveting; absolutely beautiful. The fractal swirling patterns are usually very hard to see while the smoke is in a three dimensional cloud, but as a cross section it’s clear as day. A light rain begins suddenly, and a new layer of beauty is added as the drops puncture the blooming smoke patterns and change them. It’s an image you won’t soon forget, standing there in the bloom.
The dysphoric episode breaks into epiphany. Standing on the bloom. Of course.
In your mind’s eye, you suddenly see a connection between life and the blooming patterns in the smoke. You’re sucked into a larger view, a more top-down perspective, perhaps. You see yourself as a tiny dot in the center, and your actions as pulses radiating out from yo and affecting the patterns of life as they flow around you. You’re the raindrop busting through the pattern, changing it, redirecting it.
In this larger picture, things like dysphoria have no real import, except in their ability to compel you to take action. Instead, even an imperfect transition is beautiful. The body is a tool, and what causes it to be read how it is is the energy running through it. And what that energy is defined as makes no difference other than whether it’s used as a way to add love into this world. And you see this in yourself as you bump the bloom, disturbing it’s flow while you try to control the outcome of something for petty reasons. And as you realize what you are doing, you stop.
Around you, leaves are rustling in the breeze. The river runs. The breeze touched you cheek, and your cheek has the cheek to touch it right back. It’s fine. It’s all going to be fine. You know it cold, because you’ve got blue grandma hair, a minefield for a face, and you are right here, standing, alive and part of the ever-unfolding moment in which you exist. Change, you realize, is not what causes fear. It’s attachment. So stop worrying, you tell yourself. You know what to do. Just remember to stand on the bloom.
Sometimes in life we are faced with difficult situations and it can be really hard to know what to do. If you’re anything like me, it can be really easy to just let someone else decide for you, or to just go with the flow of things. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes it’s a huge, totally life-changing decision. How do you even know what the right thing to do is?
In western society, talking about death is often a great way to kill a conversation. It’s almost a taboo. It’s sad and painful and we don’t want to have to think about it. Perhaps this is because our impending doom reminds us of how much time we’ve wasted in the pursuit of wasting time? I don’t know. Whatever the truth of the reason may be, I sincerely feel that there’s a tremendously positive benefit to be had by keeping death in the forefront of our thoughts as we make decisions throughout our lives. I don’t mean in a despairing, nihilistic way, however. If we’re seeing death as a reason to give up, we’ve got it completely backwards, don’t we?
Here’s the reality: you will die. I will die. We’ll all die. There’s no way around this. It’s an absolute fact, more certain than anything else in life. If you are alive, you will one day die. Period.
There’s no point in being afraid- it’s inevitable, and in any case there’s no reason at all to fear death if you’ve made friends with it. How do we do this?
First of all, if we want to understand death, we need to realize that time is nothing but an idea. Seconds, minutes, and hours are only concepts- deviations constructed by human beings in order to coordinate within a social structure and to gain some measure of control over the world. In the beginning, there was day and night, changing seasons, etc, and as we learned to differentiate between these things we also learned to predict their order. Repetition meant the capacity for reliable prediction. As things evolved, we began creating new deviations of our own to account for benchmark points in the cycles. “Noon” to describe a time of day in which the sun reached it’s peak, for example. One thing led to another and now we live in a world where time dominates everything we do and hangs like a threat over everything we don’t.
The thing is, if you’ve ever just sat and watched a sunset you know that it occurs smoothly, in a perfect gradient. It doesn’t jerk down one second at a time. And so it’s pretty easy to see that what we think of as time is actually a form of trying to control our environment, and it has, for the most part, been successful in this task.
It’s also stressed us all the fuck out.
Outside of time, what we have is a moment. Not a sequence of tiny moments strung up like an infinite string of Christmas lights, but just one big, fat, infinite moment that exists in a constant state of manifestation and withdrawal at different frequency rates all existing together. The manifestation of a new galaxy can take uncountable eons, while the manifestation of a sneeze can seem really sudden. Some manifestations flit in and out of existence faster than we are able to perceive and others do so so slowly that we cannot comprehend their movement. All of it occurring right here, right now, in this moment.
And this one.
And it is in this moment that each of us will realize that it’s our last. We’ll feel very much like we do right now in terms of sense functions and brainwaves and then we won’t. Then we won’t be anything but a pile of food for other manifestations, dissolving into the ecosystem.
Just before this happens, many of us will know the end has arrived. And when it comes, with it comes the reckoning.
Regardless of what one’s spiritual beliefs may or may not be, the closer we step towards impending annihilation the more we are going to think about our lives and how well we’ve used our time.
Perhaps once we kick the proverbial bucket we’ll have to face the judgement of a being greater than ourselves, perhaps not. But it is absolutely certain that before we cross that threshold we’ll have to face ourselves.
People have told me over and over how brave they think I am, and over and over I tell them that if they think I’ve done something brave, the truth is I’ve only done it because I was a lot more afraid of something else. I’m not brave so much as more afraid of facing my final moment and having to look back and regret my cowardice. Nothing on earth scares me more than this.
And so I do my best to make as many decisions as I can with my death in mind. Over and over, I ask:
“Of these options, in my last moments as I’m thinking back over my life, which one of these will I regret the least?”
It’s not always the answer I want right then, but so far it’s never failed me. I’ve had plenty of failures in life, but the decisions I’ve made in concert with death have consistently been ones that I would choose again every time, no matter what the cost turned out to be.
So walk with your death. Do it every day. Make it a habit. Make death into a friend and you won’t be so afraid to die.
Make death into a friend, and maybe you won’t be so afraid to live, either.