Tag Archives: depression

Depression, Zen, and BDSM

“I’m dying, Critter,” I whisper to my imaginary raccoon. She has appeared, as always, to talk me through a flare of chronic depression.

“No, you’re not,” she retorts.

“God damn it. I don’t mean physically,” I grumble. I close my eyes and feel my cheeks burst into flame. Jesus Christ, Zottmann. Do not cry.

That thought just makes me want to cry more. Everything makes me feel worse. I push it away the only way I know how.

“Of course, I’m not literally dying, you condescending trash muncher. For fuck’s sakes! Listen!” Then, my voice echoes back into my ears. Aw, shit. I’m an asshole.

My posture flops and I add softly, “Please.”

Yep, here come the tears.

I slink to the bathroom to loudly saturate three-eighths of the kleenex box. Then I slump back onto my kitchen chair and lay my face on the table, looking away from my shat-upon friend. The cool surface of the oak soothes my cheek, but the grit of neglected crumbs and the tacky tang of a dried apple juice puddle scratch at my tenderness.

“Fuck. This is disgusting,” I think. “I am the shittiest housekeeper who ever lived.”

I bet there is some hideous bacteria festering in the table’s center crack right now, just inches from my face. All spills run into there. It’s like an ocean of failure.

Has the the table been warped, or was it designed with an imperceptible slope just to ensure that stupid crack would catch every drop of spill? It’s so wrong! It makes my head ache, along with that ghastly-smelling organism mouldering in the dank crevice.

We don’t even own the fucking leaf that’s supposed to slide into there, for the love of God. What a piece of crap. I mean, it’s actually a nice table, all solid oak and everything, but it’s a hand-me-down, like everything else in our shithole house, and the surface is wrecked. We promised ourselves we’d fix it up, but have failed at that. Like everything.

Critter’s impatient sigh disrupts my mental rant. I open my eyes and lift my head. For a moment, I forget why she is mad. I creak my neck around to look at her. Then I remember.

She is staring at me with her short arms crossed. Waiting. She doesn’t waste time chastising me. She just looks at me with that look on her face that says, “This conversation resumes when you make it right.”

I can feel my mouth twitch. It wants to mutter, “Bitch.” But I don’t let it. I’m not thirteen years old anymore.

I take a big breath and look at the furry face of my conscience embodied. She doesn’t look hurt, but my lashing out has pissed her off. She has no time for my self-sabotage bullshit.

Part of me wishes she would rise to the bait and we could have it out like a couple of furious drunks.

I want to purge all my pent-up anxiety with an apocalyptic throwdown. It would feel so good to scream, and then grab that holier-than-thou scavenger and let the violence blast out through my hands.

My blood aches for an emptying out: a grunting, heaving, exhausting grapple.

Even the stinging trails where the Critter’s claws would rake my face would feel like satisfaction. The disaster inside me could leak out there, through the wailing pain and trickle of blood.

Finally, I would savour an explosive release as I hurled the Critter’s weight into the wall. There would be a kick-drum thud. Finality. Utter fulfillment. Maybe even a dent in the plasterboard: gleeful, undeniable proof that I escaped the jaws impotence.

But as I said, Dark Little Critter is too smart for that. And although the monster in me is roaring to bathe in our blood, I am glad that my imaginary friend steps coolly around my trap.

I don’t really want to hurt her. She’s not the one who’s done me wrong. It’s me. Just me.

I want to be done now.

“Critter,” I rasp, “I’m sorry.”

She looks at me and exhales.

“I know,” she says.

I stare at the table. The filthy, ancient fridge behind me hums obnoxiously.

“Are you going to say what you need to say?” Critter finally asks.

I sigh.

“Okay. Here it is: I’m fucked, my friend. Totally fucked. I can’t make this writing business work. I tried. I’ve been balls-to-the-wall for six weeks. I spent hours every day watching, reading, and listening to “take it to the next level!” courses, while I scrubbed floors and toilets, fed the kids, bathed the kids… and ignored the kids. I built a new website, networked, set goals and conferenced for accountability. I even got a couple of clients. I got so close to figuring it all out, and then I got sick. I had to put things off and reschedule, and suddenly, I hated it. All of it.

I don’t want to do it anymore. I dread every eyeball-throbbing early morning, and the nights of multitasking mania that don’t end until I should have been in bed an hour ago. I despise the useless productivity plans that get crushed by bullshit from the kids, or me, or just life. I can’t stand the suffocating pressure to keep pushing harder and harder until it works. I can’t do this anymore. I’m fucked. My family is fucked. I’m a useless human being.”

Critter listens with her black brow furrowed, but doesn’t interrupt. She pauses a beat before she responds.

“You need sex,” she says. “It always clears my head when the bullshit squeezes too hard.”

“Ha! Are you kidding?” I say. “I wish it was that simple! I can’t even wrap my head around the thought of it right now.” I rub the flesh between my unplucked eyebrows and more tears come.

Unwisely, I start to picture Critter in the throes of a sexual exorcism. What would that look like? Do raccoons make weird sex faces? Do they do it in different positions? And what do they use for toys – pinecones?

I must be making a weird face of my own; Critter laughs out loud.

Then, she pats my leg kindly and crawls up onto my lap like a warm lump of comfort. I stroke the tiny curve of her crown, and she rolls her neck to expose the space behind her ear. I take the hint and scratch the fuzzy valley.

“You may be a long way from carnal bliss, but you can’t deny it, that’s what you need,” she says with her eyes closed.

I think about this. She’s not wrong. Orgasm is pretty much the opposite of depression.

I think back to times when I have used sex as an escape from self-hate. Sometimes, it was a huge let-down that just made the cycle worse. But other times, it was… a great release. The best times were with a partner who let his inhibitions go, and who I trusted to respect my boundaries while I let go, too.

Wild, but safe. Honest, open, and naked with someone who joins me at my level. Putting all the shoulds on mute, and turning rapt attention to our feral appetites.

“Holy shit,” I blurt. “BDSM is fucking therapy!”

“Hehehe. Fucking therapy,” Critter says. “Sounds good.” We both ponder the thought for a moment.

“Do you actually mean BDSM, or are you just talking about regular sex?” Critter asks.

“Definitely not regular sex,” I answer. “The usual is just painfully… judgemental. It gets ruined by criticism – hating on your body, your partner’s body, your experience or lack thereof, the expectation that the act will begin in a certain way, last a certain duration, and look and sound just like the movies. That second-guessing shit is exactly what makes life such a steaming pile of… of….”

“Lunch?” Critter offers.

“Putrescence,” I say. “Loathing. Despair. Depression.”

Critter tilts her head and frowns.

“What makes you think that BDSM is different?” she asks.

I rub my hair and frown while I think about this. Where is this idea coming from?

I picture all the things that are crushing my brain right now – the spiralling money problems, the fights with the kids and the husband, and most of all, the constant, contemptuous whisper that huffs in my ear and slimes every conscious thought.

“You fail,” it says with decayed breath.

What is the opposite of that?

Suddenly, my hands spring up, finger to the sky like a field goal cheer.

“The orgy!” I shout.

Critter’s mouth flops open.

“You had an orgy? How do I not know about this?” she asks.

“Not mine, Butthead,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Someone else’s. I read an essay by a man who organized an orgy, because it was his girlfriend’s birthday wish.”

Critter looks disappointed.

“It was amazing. The piece was about this very experimental couple involved with the fetish scene. One year, the woman shared her fantasy of being the center of an orgy. She was very specific – she wanted to be lavished with attention and sex on her terms, and the men needed to be healthy and kind and share the couple’s sex-positive attitudes. She asked her boyfriend to find suitable candidates, book a venue, and serve as her bodyguard during the event. The man was intimidated, but on-board, and together, they worked out all the details and made it happen. And they were both so happy. It was the most heartwarming love story I’d ever heard.”

Critter’s robber-mask markings shift like raised eyebrows. She’s impressed.

I can feel my face brighten as I remember reading the story. It blew my mind. I couldn’t believe there were such emotionally-secure relationships out there.

Wouldn’t that be the opposite of depression?

Ownership of your appetites. Open communication, acceptance of limits, and collaboration for mutual enjoyment.

No shame. No isolation. No punishment.

“Holy shit, Critter,” I say. “We might have just discovered the cure to depression.”

Critter smiles.

“It’s sex, isn’t it?” she says.

I laugh.

“That’s definitely part of it. But it’s more than sex. I think the answer is mindful, intentional pleasure and honest connection.”

I think about my life. My brain. My failures. My piece of shit kitchen table.

What if I could forget it all, and let the sweet synaptic honey of self-indulgence wash away my bitterness?

I might be a long way from planning an orgy, but I can start right now to make room for my inner animal. Who knows where that will lead.

If I’m honest, I have to admit that in spite of all my obligations to the house, the kids, and the gaping debt hole, I can hear the wet chambers of my heart slapping out a message: write a book.

I’m going do it – let myself slide beneath the bubbles of the most selfish use of my time and money I can think of.

I’ll make sure my husband is on-board and recruit a gang for support. We’ll see if we can set that fantasy free.

And I’m going to scrub this fucking table.

“So, you’re saying we need to find like-minded members for our orgy, and march proudly into the dens of ecstasy where we belong?” Critter asks.

“Pretty much.” I answer.

“I can get behind that philosophy,” she says, her eyes crinkling with a smile. “Though, I prefer to be the one got-behind.”

Critter hopes that you let your fantasies speak, too. May you actualize your version of the great birthday gangbang, and may it cure what ails your body and brain.

A Constant Process of Coming Back

“Holy crap, you’re back! Where the hell have you been?” I blurt.

It comes out too hard, like an air-bubble blast from a ketchup bottle. I groan.

I have been sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop open. My butt has warmed the grooves of my grubby wooden chair, and my heart feels tight in my chest.

I am supposed to be writing, lightening the world and my debt load one essay at a time. But I am not writing. I am drowning.

I have got to get these words moving.

I have banged a title across the top of this document. It is my summoning incantation, an invitation for my muse to come and show me the way out of the crushing pressure in my head.

And she has appeared. I heard the dry tick-tack of her raccoon claws jogging my way. I turned my head, and saw her furry grey form approach.

But instead of relief, I felt a cold flare of anxiety.

My armpits began to prickle. This isn’t the sweet comfort I was hoping for.

That’s when I spat criticism at my dearly-missed friend.

Now, my Dark Little Critter has stopped beside my chair. She doesn’t answer my rude question. Her face is blank.

She cocks her head to the side and stares at me, then rises up on her hind legs and begins to sniff. She puts her paws on my thigh and leans in for a stronger whiff. Her head sways back and forth and her nostrils dilate, sniffety-sniffing, taking my measure.

Finally, she stops, and sits back on her haunches.

“You’re in strange shape,” she says.

“You have no idea!” I answer. “I’m stuck! All gunked up. I can’t breathe. Can’t think. Can’t sleep! Can’t parent, or wife, or write. I’m full of garbage. Where the hell have you been?”

My voice cracks and my heart hammers.

Critter stays seated at my feet, looking up at me. I become hyper-conscious of my face – my cheeks, mouth, and nostrils. They all seem to be snarling. I try to force them to relax, but they won’t listen. There is a numb disconnection between me and my body, and I am awful.

“You’ve been gone for months!” I suddenly cry. “How could you leave me like that? I’ve been floundering without you. Everything is bloated and stiff: every muscle, every thought. I’m in agony. I needed you, and you didn’t come.”

Now, there are hot tears in my eyes.

Critter’s face softens. Her green eyes seem to melt into puddles of mossy light.

Looking into them, I feel like I’ve slipped into the heart of a deep cave. I see a pool of cool water, rippling with light from a source I can’t explain. In this space that should be dark and cold, I feel penetrating comfort.

Critter’s voice brings me back to my kitchen.

“I know it’s been too long,” she says. “You’ve been unhealthy. It’s been hard for me to watch.”

“You were watching?” I ask. “Why didn’t you come?”

“Because you never asked,” she said. “I watched and waited, and hoped you would reach out, but you never called.”

Now I feel sorry. A wave of it rolls over me, dousing my hot blades of anger.

She’s right. I didn’t call. I had felt the freezing stress, rising higher and higher up my body. My toes went numb, my groin screamed alarm, and my chest squeezed blue. I was strangling inside the pressure of fear and despair, but I never called out for help.

I had forgotten that was an option. I lost the words to say and the numbers to call. I went horribly blank.

Two blinders had covered my eyes; one said that I was alone, trapped in a world where no one and nothing could help me. The other said that no one would help me, even if they could, because my darkness was too sticky and gross. I was unbearable to touch.

“So you kept your mouth shut,” Critter interjects, having seen this story scroll across my trembling brow. “How did that work for you?”

“Not good, Critter. Not good.” I admit. I take a full breath and sigh it out slowly, feeling the weight of my mistake.

I didn’t call for help when I needed it. I didn’t open up and give my friend a chance to help. I made her watch me drown, and attacked her when we finally came together. That must have been painful.

This truth, seen directly, is sad, but not crushing. I am surprised that I can fully feel my regret, and somehow draw strength from it. It feels like next time, I will remember this, and I will do better.

I look up at my fairy god-rodent. She is crying.

“I’m sorry, my friend.” I say. I scoop her up and hug her to my chest. It feels like I have shed a chain mail sweater. My burden is suddenly lighter, and there is no more barrier keeping warmth away from my heart.

I bury my nose in the Critter’s thick, coarse coat, and inhale the dusty spice of her body. She sighs.

This is why people love pets, I think, wishing that I wasn’t allergic to real fur. I would get the most intuitive, raccoon-looking cat I could find and love that thing with all my soul.

“It’s not about holding a furry body so much as choosing to open up ,” Critter says.

“Mmm-hmm,” I agree. And it starts with being honest with myself.

I hold my imaginary raccoon for one more breath, letting the warmth of our embrace penetrate right to my spine. Then I let go, and she hops down from my lap.

I notice that the cold pressure around my lungs has released, but a weight has settled down on my lap. It doesn’t interfere with my breath, but it begs to be handled.

I look down, and see the weight take on a physical shape. It is a grubby bar of steel, and there is a number stamped into it.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” I ask Critter.

“That is your work. You need to make something out of it. Take your aching and turn it into something useful,” she answers.

“Oh. Okay,” I say. “But what does this number mean? I can’t quite make it out.”

“That is the number of people you need to help. You don’t need to know how many just now, but I’ll tell you, it’s a lot.” She explains.

“Whoa,” I say. “I think I see five digits!”

“Yep. But don’t worry about that. Just start working, and start helping.” she says.

“Okay,” I say. My chest is getting warmer. This feels right. “What happens when I hit that number?”

“You’ll see,” Critter answers, and her eyes sparkle.

I really want to know what is making her smile like that, but I know damn well she’s not going to tell me. It makes my eyebrow wrinkle, but I give it up for now.

“Alright,” I say. “One more hug, then.”

“Of course,” she says. “Then, get to work.”

And now, I am.

Today, I want to leave you with a few thoughts:

First, we are all drifting in the same ocean. No one is so wretched that the world has created an entire, extra-horrible ocean just for them. The universe is way too busy maintaining the physics of every atom, planet, and star system to single out one pitiful human. We are all in this mess together.

That means that you are not alone in your darkest times, even though your weather may be stormier at the moment than others’.

If you feel like you’re drowning, reach out your hand.

Ask for what you need, and try not to blame people for not reading your mind.

Apologize when your fear makes you mean. Get back on track.

Find people you can trust to listen and help you get oriented when you’re lost. They may be friends, professionals, or figments of your imagination. Call on them as needed. Allow them to support you.

Return the favour when someone you love falls into the ocean.

And most of all, never stop trying until you grasp salvation. It is near, even when you can’t see it. Remember that. And find it.

Just Show Up

My mind is a mess today. I’m sorry. I wasn’t able to pull together a proper essay for you all. There has been a lot of screaming, crying, and dragging of unwilling donkeys around here in the last few days… my brain has finally walked out, waving goodbye with its hypothetical middle finger extended.

Whenever my Productivity takes a sabbatical, Appetite for Snacks and Naps takes the wheel. And here she is. She has little patience for any obstacles to her comforts, and is threatening to make me fiddle with more settings and crash the site again.

I’m surrendering this battle, but not the war.

Before I slink under my blankie with something sweet (yet not crumbly! No crumbs in bed, for Pete’s sake!) let me leave you with this:

Sometimes, all we can do is show up. That might mean dragging our reticent bodies out to the car and physically appearing where we planned to be. Or, it might just mean not ultimately checking out.

Whatever that means to you, just keep showing up. I promise that both of us will be back in fighting form soon.

I’ll meet you back here when the fog clears.

 

There is Always a Way

My oldest daughter, a four-year-old so opinionated she will probably launch her own blog before I get this one off the ground, recently had her first nightmare. At least, it was the first one she shared with me.

The dream involved volcanoes. As she related it, several things struck me. First was the sense that this moment was critical, my first attempt at open surgery on her anxiety. There was a hush in my ears that blocked out the breath of the furnace and other murmurs of the night. I wanted to be there and get my reaction right.

Second, I noticed my little one’s tone. It wasn’t hysterical or dramatic, like I would expect from a small child confronting the limitlessness of imagined fear.

Her voice was quiet, and surprisingly sad, like she was resigned to a crushing inevitability. I realized that she had not come to me for comfort after her bad dream. I might not have known about it at all, if I hadn’t been woken by her baby sister and noticed her sitting awake as I passed.

“Mommy,” she whispered when I asked what was wrong, “I’ll never go back to sleep. Never.”

I took her in my arms and could feel the weight of sadness, her chest pressing into me with more than her little body’s mass.

I held her close, rocking her, breathing words into her hair, willing the warmth of my chest to radiate into her. Her trunk was stiff and her limbs were limp. It felt out of sync.

I pushed my worry down and pulled my knowledge up, all the things I knew about childhood emotions, managing anxiety, and the role I wanted to play in her growth.

I listened quietly until she was done. I reflected back the feelings she described, and admitted that sometimes, I had bad dreams, too. I said I knew a trick that helped me feel better, and would share it if she’d like.

She sat on my lap, turned her back into me, and looked out into the darkness. Then, she nodded.

I said, “My trick is to close my eyes and imagine the dream again, but this time, I imagine myself solving the scary problem. I might fix it with magic, or by talking, or fighting, or calling someone who can help me.

Maybe you could wave your hands like Elsa and make all the hot lava get frozen, so it’s not dangerous anymore. Maybe you could make it turn into chocolate syrup, and eat it all up. Or maybe you could imagine a great big butterfly that appears and picks you up and flies you to safety.

All you need to remember is that there is always a way to get safe. Every scary dream has a way out: a secret door, or magic spell, or fairy godmother who will come to help when you call her. No matter what, there is always a way to get safe.

When you wake up and feel so scared and can’t get back to sleep, start telling yourself, ‘There is always a way to get safe.'”

We repeated the words together a few times. At first, my girl was reluctant, then she got into it, and finally, she started to seem a little bored. She rubbed her eyes.

“Great job, Honey, “I said, kissing her soft hair, “I’m so proud of you.” I laid with her a little while, and when her breath got slow and even, I crept back to my own bed.

Ironically, now I couldn’t sleep. I was happy with how we handled her fear, but bothered by what I saw behind it. That quiet shift she made, from fear to hopeless resignation, bore the signature of my personal monster. That is depression, in a nutshell.

This was my biggest fear, the reason why I didn’t want to have kids. I hated the idea of bringing someone into the world who would grow up tormented like me, and many others in our family.

I felt tangled in smothering blankets of guilt, shame, and doubt. I looked ahead and saw my gorgeous girl struggling, growing up emotionally stunted, sabotaging herself both purposefully and unwittingly. I saw her in my place, fighting dark urges that never completely go away, especially when near a high railing.

I sneaked down to the bathroom, where I could tremble and cry without disturbing my husband. I did that for quite a while.

What finally brought my breathing back was a particularly sharp slice of shame. It poked me between the ribs, harder and harder until I could barely breathe. When I finally paid attention to it, I realized it was not just garden-variety shame at my brokenness, but something more focused: it was shame at my hypocrisy.

I realized I would never be able to sell the whole, “There is always a way to make things okay,” shtick to my anxious daughter unless I lived it, too.

My nose stopped gushing and my chest stopped heaving that very second.

I won’t say that I haven’t had any moments since then of sorrow and fear for the journey ahead of my sensitive kid. I have. However, I can say honestly that recognizing the need to take my own medicine in order to help my child has made me ready to commit with all my soul to winning the war inside me.

Fighting depression through every strategy imaginable has dredged a rusty ton of useful tidbits from the bottom places of my life. The knowledge is there to help me and my girl; I just need to trust it and use it, to wave my magic hands and call upon the wisdom to resolve each nightmare as it comes.

If you see me looking in the mirror, or watching my star-bright, complex little girl with a smile on my face but a wrinkle in my brow, you will know that I am whispering to myself, “There is always a way.”

And there is. For you, too.

Welcome, Dark Critters.

Welcome to Dark Little Critter.

My name is Laurie, and my dark critter takes many forms: depression, anxiety, rage, and a mental fog that sometimes gets so thick, you can stand a fork in it.

I’m starting this blog to give my shadow animals some air time. They have surprisingly helpful things to say. I suspect yours do, too; you just have to learn their language.

Once you get past all the moaning and hissing, dark creatures will tell you something true that will help you move forward. That is what they do. (They also have a tendency to knock over garbage cans, but it’s not their fault; they just want to visit, and don’t understand why we hoard our rotting refuse.)

Anyway, my Dark Little Critter and I welcome you and your mental raccoons, and look forward to deepening the trust and communication in your strange metaphysical marriage.