I asked my friend Leigh to read my three card Tarot, and, obliging, she told me to ask a question before I drew my cards.
The past year had been ineffiably charged. Awash in trouble and success in seemingly unpredictable tides, and the water was always around my feet, if not up around my neck and coming up to drown me with the good and the bad. I'd accomplished so many enormous things in only 12 months time, and each seemingly eclipsing the one before. I'd printed a thousand copies of my Xeric-funded book in a spring blizzard in a freezing garage, screaming and singing in equal parts all the way through. I'd traveled for the first time out of the country (while not having a severe panic attack) for TCAF, the largest convention I'd ever been a part of. As part of the insanely-hard-working AUTOPTIC crew, I'd helped establish a arts/comics/printmaking/music convention of our own for the city I loved and called home, and it was amazing.
But the pain had come almost in equal intensity. Stress cultivated anger and I turned it at myself and friends and anyone who might cross my path and appear a threat to my fragile balance. Like being tied to an operating firehose with no one to hold me steady. And then, as guilty as a tulip is brief, I'd loathe myself and do so behind a shut and locked door so I could punish myself, uninterrupted. I worked constantly to keep myself away from myself. I was my own abusive step-father, my own whiskey stashed behind the sugar and flour, my own attacker. Given an idle moment, I became the devil's instrument and I was such an easy fucking target. I knew just where to jab the knife and how to twist just so. My depression, the thing I couldn't even bear to acknowledge with its goddamn name, was back and she was not leaving this time. I walked out of my studio into an unlit hallway on a summer morning, and as I locked the door to leave, I swear I could feel it, as a cold-hearted, cold-handed woman in the dark, staring daggers into my back. I shivered as if I had walked over my own grave as I left, hoping that she was just not real.
Unfortunately, facts were that indeed she was. Even more real, because she wasn't a metaphor woman haunting me, she was a chemical reality, an endogenous and exogenous mental illness.
As I've said before, I hated medication. For many reasons ultimately irrelevant in the face of how fucking terrible I felt, in the knowledge that I wanted to stop existing and I was reaching my limit of just silently coexisting with that profound sentiment. But still, I wouldn't. So, instead, I tried everything else available. I didn't accrue hundreds of "Conscientious/Diligent Student" comments on my school report cards for nothing. Astrology, numerology, Meyer's-Brigg's, enneagrams, work-books for every stripe of mental illness, nutrition, and poorly-advised mixtures of vague anti-depressants available at the gas station, for fuck's sake. Therapy, specifically, as the main counter-attack. As a naturally very selective person about opening up, this was fucking hard. Pulling teeth, but with some string and a door, not even a set of pliers. And paying the person to do this to me, out-of-pocket, to boot.
And as it turns out, a big part of what gave that imaginary woman with poor circulation in her hands her power over me was this heavy guilt, this overwhelming shame, this abject fear I had about her. That I was imperfect, a burden, and worthless because I was weak enough to let her in, and - haha, the joke's on you, Skaalrud - I had been probably from the day I started differentiating cells in the womb. Pathetic, and it was my true nature.
But thank god for people who know better, for people who saw and loved and understood me better than I did - because I didn't, and sometimes it's still difficult to keep in perspective - because they told me the truth, told me how to try and fight back, told me they loved me, told me about their own unseen fights, and told me to fucking keep trying. I have never hated silence more than when I learned it was keeping me sick to keep quiet about what was happening to me.
I got medication, again. It made me sick, tired, trembling, unable to eat, unable to sleep some days - unable to see any goddamn light to work towards - and then, as low as I had gone, I began a climb up. That is not over. In truth, I don't know it ever really is. But then I was able to be happy, to be level-headed, and to sleep, as well as experience a reasonable-sized negative reaction to something. Not being laid flat, turned unreachable emotional wreck for no reason at all. I don't get to set it and forget it, either. This is a new part of the work, and I am conscientious and diligent, goddammit.
One of the tennents of the Shitty Religion I worship, as I heard it called once, is that my needs must never supercede or interfere with anyone else's, otherwise I am selfish and selfish people are not loveable. I am only of worth if I can serve other's needs, or, in the absence of others, my needs never infringe upon another person. That taking care of myself, at even the slightest inconvenience to another, was tantamount to crime. If I did, I was sure to punish myself when I laid down at night and it was just me and my brain in the dark. Call me Libra Ascendant, but it tore me up to think I needed to be selfish, but I could understand that I could not help others if I did not know how to and did not help myself. That if a body should try to catch another body, coming through the rye, I had to stop underestimating my own strength and my own worth. I needed to be whole, with arms out and ready.
I asked the Tarot that day, "How do I learn to be selfish, in order to become selfless?"
The take-away of this odd-numbered, tumultuous, glorious year would be just that. Be whole if you want to help others be so, be ready to never stop trying, and know that I will meet you out in the rye if you need me.
And to Leigh, my Kiddo, to Zak, my North Star, and to Alicia, the Woman with the Joy Spark, thank you for it all, and I love you.