Monday, 23 April 2018

Away, away, away, away

In order to survive the exhausting nature of work at the moment, I’m pacing myself in my other time. Not staying up late, not exerting myself too much, picking my battles. Consequently I’ve spent stretches of time doing little but listening closer than usual to my internal monologue, and ironically this is exhausting, too, and I wonder if I’d be better off if I was ‘busier’. Everything is out of balance.

(yeah, I’m about to have an unusually thorough whine. Yer been warned.)

About a year ago I became aware of the existence of period tracker apps, and I installed one on my phone, solely with a view to finding out if the angry little eruptions that kept popping up on my face were hormonal. It didn’t take long to establish that indeed they were, and then when I knew what was causing them, I found a serum that would deal with them, and just like that, I got rid of an almost lifelong source of annoyance and feelings of being at the mercy of a mysterious and unkind process. I now have a much more elaborate one of these apps and in using it every day I’ve learned a great deal about the effects of the rhythmic monthly ebb and flow of sex hormones working in complex counterpoint in my body and mind.

This idea of myself as explicable through awareness of this subtle dance of chemicals has become a narrative of real power for me, parallel to psychotherapy in many ways: each provides me with a compelling way of accounting for the otherwise incomprehensible intensity of my feelings and desires, and for how resistant these emotional states sometimes are to the operations of observation, reason, thought, reflection – all those capabilities I pride myself on possessing and on knowing how to use. And then, although I adjust its data every day and, usually, make sense what it tells me, I do keep the app in the section of my phone I have labelled Woo, so I guess I’m ambivalent, or sceptical at least, about the tidiness of the thing as a complete source of answers to every possible question. Yes: the chemical narrative and the (loosely) Oedipal narrative, another species of conveniently useful Woo, are alike in that they both grant me the relief of an explanation for the otherwise inexplicable, but, at the same time, I resist, I chafe against, I feel sad about the determinist quality of these stories about my life. Nothing’s ever easy, is it? Ultimately, the usefulness of both narratives outweighs their drawbacks. Recognising the patterns in my inner restlessness and disturbance requires a moment of detached scrutiny of it, and that basic act or gesture has intrinsic value, whatever manner of nonsense it’s prompted by.

I am considering ending my analysis. I don’t know that I have much more to learn from it. Sometimes after I’ve seen my doctor I have an unpleasant sense that all I’ve done is bore her with soap opera material. My internal version of her, the one I use to imagine what she would say to me if she said the things she doesn’t say, tells me that I’m not finished with therapy, rather I am clinging on to my ‘patterns’. In a way this is true. I still do just as much stupid stuff as ever, but in stark contrast to how I’ve behaved in the past, I don’t ever do these things except in full awareness of the real needs I’m serving – so I always know that I’m doing something-or-other because of some motive with no connection to the situation at hand except the connection I’ve created. It’s not ‘acting out’. I don’t deceive myself about this and I don’t punish myself. (I should say that one of the understandings that makes this rather monstrous degree of self-awareness tolerable is that my values are not impaired by my unhappiness, hunger, whatever it is: I have the safety net of continuing to know what’s right and what isn’t.) 

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I had a long stretch of time to myself, and in keeping with the aim in these weeks of looking after my wellbeing, I set out for a long pastoral wander through not-too-familiar territory in the blissfully mild sunshine. I was aiming for Westerfolds Park, and I decided not to overdo things at the start of the week by riding all the way there then walking around then riding home again, so I rode over to the appropriate railway station, but when I arrived it turned out that there are no trains on that section of the line at the moment, and bikes can’t go on replacement buses. On the spot I then decided instead to do something that entirely fitted the bill of a rash act cooked up to meet a ragged and primitive desire, and in full consciousness I went and did it, I allowed myself that brief taste of sweetness, it lingered on my lips for a while, and I don’t need to describe it to you any further than that. Is this clinging to a pattern or illness? I think not. It's me looking after myself. It’s not a brilliant state of affairs, but increasingly I’m aware of why my life is in the shape it’s in. If that’s all therapy can give me, it’s enough – but I have that insight now and so maybe that job is done.

But knowing why my life is in the shape it’s in doesn’t make the living any easier. It doesn’t take the edge off, it doesn’t soften the rawness, not a bit. Overnight my body hit the top of the hormonal rollercoaster, and I went into a free fall. A tiny little egg unmoored itself from the place it’s been waiting for more than forty years and began the journey down to its final destination, the velvet stadium where it will be met by no crowds and no glory and nothing at all will happen, it’ll wait around for a day or two before my body quietly casts it away altogether. Meanwhile I’m an emotional lottery barrel; give me a spin and anything might fall out. 

When the alarm went off this morning I reached for my phone and turned it off, then spent a minute finding five songs I wanted to listen to on my commute and dropping them into the continually updated playlist I keep just for this purpose. I got up in the dark, not fully awake, and drifted around doing my morning things on autopilot, gradually slipping into consciousness. I slid my feet into sandals, stepped out the front door, and swung onto my bicycle, and in the tropically damp but warm sunrise my bare toes stayed as warm as if they had never left my nest of blankets. I still wasn’t awake. 

After a little while it dawned on me that the dream I’d had, and in which I was still in some sense bathing, of being exquisitely made love to by an Australian pop star of the late 1970s, was just that, a dream, and I was instead riding across a Melbourne as silent as it ever gets, in a mist so heavy it felt like minuscule raindrops hanging dense in the air and resting against my skin. Buildings and trees ten metres away were dim shapes in the grey. People looked like ghosts. My tyres hissed across drifts of wet leaves. 

And then Solange came into my headphones, singing Cranes in the Sky, and I began to cry, small hot tears forming behind my glasses and slipping down my cheeks, while the full and beautiful force of the shape she has found and articulated for the familiar experience of struggling in isolation riven by restless desire poured into my body, down into my chest and throat, where I felt the hot, raw tightening of that hungry, bitter need, while the particles of water in the air parted to let me pass and closed smoothly behind me, without a trace or a ripple.

I was also a ghost and invisible. I passed people who I sometimes greet or stop and talk to, without a word or glance exchanged between us. I could not believe this was me, this weeping woman on a bike. I said Good Morning to the man who owns the largest of these three dogs (photographed on a different day), and whom I have had many past conversations with; he seemed not to see or hear. In Little Bourke Street I passed two young soldiers in slouch hats and rumpled dress uniforms selling Anzac Day pins and I stopped to buy one, so that they would talk to me. I chose an enamel pin in the shape of a sailor’s cap and the taller one wished me a good day, ma’am, and just like that, the spell was broken. As I knew it would be eventually. All I can do is hold on, wait, cry when I need to, and after a while the pain and sadness releases its grip on that place inside my ribcage. It has to. That's how this dance goes. Maybe afterwards I can speak about it, as I’m doing now. And then I collected up the broken pieces of my heart from where they lay on the wet pavement around me, and I went on with my day. 

And you know what, it was not too bad.

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