9.06.2013

A Poor Man's Walden & A Lack of Revelation

I absolutely cherish solitude. I will go to great lengths to make sure I can afford the occasional distancing from people and any noise that I do not wish to hear. I've talked about being a loner before, and I'm not going to use the term 'introvert' as that word is so watered down and is often used as a misnomer; rather, I'd just say I enjoy getting away from things to get my wits about me and take the proverbial breath I need to keep going. Sometimes I end up losing my wits instead, but it's all academic.

When I was eighteen, I locked myself in a room for a week following a bad breakup. I turned off my phone, cancelled all my appointments, and refused to go anywhere unless it was deemed absolutely necessary. I spent the week journaling and reading Rick Warren's 40 Days of Purpose. Of course, shoving over a month's worth of knowledge into my head in the course of a few days left me forgetting what I had read a week later. I prematurely ended my banishment because I recall beginning to go mad. Even hermits have their limits.

There were other times when my need to escape swayed me from the events of everyday life. I remember skipping a class in junior college to go and sit in the woods near my house to ponder. I literally sat there. And pondered. 

I once looked at a mountain from Interstate 5 while driving around my hometown and thought I want to climb that. By virtue of the most roundabout route possible, I was able to park my car on the edge of an orange grove, where I could see the bottom of the hill. I fought and clawed my way through unkempt brush, eventually reaching the top. From there I could see five different cities and the Pacific ocean. Breathing a wondrous sigh, I sat down to write in the small notebook I had brought, only to find that my pen was out of ink. Cursing, I hurled it off the mountain in anger.

I disappeared for half a day while at school in Abilene immediately following a falling out with a close friend. I drove my car to the lake about ten minutes outside of the town. That night found my feet dangling twenty feet over the moonlit water as I sat on the edge of an abandoned water by the shore. Just as I couldn't take staying in my room for a week, I gave up on the idea of sleeping in my car. Filled with humiliation at my own lack of fortitude, I returned to my dorm as if nothing had happened.

Looking back on these impulsive excursions, I notice a pattern. Usually when I go somewhere to seek peace, I do so because I'm ignoring something that needs tending to. With my first example, I experienced heartbreak at a young age so I locked myself in my room instead of taking the necessary steps to deal with the reality of the consequences. It seems like it should be common sense, but for those of you who are driven to do silly things when you experience turmoil, let me tell you: being by yourself isn't always the best thing. Being by yourself and being confined to one location is even worse.

I skipped that class and sat in the woods in my second example. Unsurprisingly, I don't remember a single thing about whatever it was that was weighing down on me, but I do remember that it was apparently enough to skip class to do so. Lesson learned?

I talk about solitude because I am currently typing this post out while reclining on a chair in a two story cabin, hidden in the shadow of Mt. Baker, nine miles from Maple Falls, Washington. It's the kind of town that is so small that there is no number for a population count on the green sign that welcomes you to its city limits. There is one store and one gas station. The cabin I rented for two days is nestled in a small community of similar rentals, where the only tenants seem to be senior citizens. It's not the type of rustic cabin you may have envisioned, built completely out of logs, where the walls are covered with bear pelts and you have to chop your own firewood. It's much more modern and inviting.

While this post will be published at a later date (as there is no internet service here - which I am thankful for), it is my last night in the cabin as I type this. I'm listening to Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn by Do Make Say Think, sipping on blueberry superfruit tea - whatever that is. As to the occasion for this sabbatical, there's not really much to say other than the fact that it doesn't fall in line with the usual behavior that precedes my running away from civilization. This is the first time I've ever done anything like this. I'm two hours away from my home in Brier, Washington - with no cell service or internet. I've never taken time to go somewhere to relax by myself for a few days. It's always because I'm about to lose my mind due to the pressure of life's continuous onslaught, or because I've hurt someone or been hurt and I don't know to react, so I hide.

I know there are those of you reading who do the exact same thing.

As evidenced by the contents of the spiral notebook I found on the table when I first opened the door, I don't appear to be the typical visitor that these cabin walls usually house. The book is full of all kinds of notes from previous vacationers, going on about their time here and expressing gratitude to the owners. They fish, they ski, they visit town, they hike, they walk their dogs, etc. Several of them come here year after year or several times a year. What have I done since being here? I've read. I've composed blog entries and poetry. I've written songs on both the acoustic and electric guitar. I went on a walk while reflecting on new music I've recently acquired. I've relaxed in the hot tub. These mundane things have been almost spiritual for my constitution. 

You know what I haven't done? Beat myself up over the stupid decisions I've made over the past few months. I've written poetry and music, but none of them are bitter confessions of unrequited love or resentment. My phone is off because I have no service, not because I want to ignore those inquiring after me. I also haven't hurt myself. 

As of the typing of this sentence, it is the 4th of September. Three weeks from now, it will be the one year anniversary of my second suicide attempt. In the past two years, I've been diagnosed with a slew of mental disorders, prescribed a number of antidepressants/convulsants/whatever, and experienced a couple of breakdowns that have led to an annual desire to want to end my life. Many people would say that being alone in a cabin in a place with no way to contact loved ones isn't particularly the best place for someone of my mental makeup to be. I would tell them that while this would often be an accurate statement, they couldn't be more wrong on that position, at least this time.

Since my diagnosis and subsequent conception of this blog as a sort of outlet for coping with my disorders, I've been baffled time and time again by what it is that actually plagues my mind. At first I was merely depressed, prone to crippling bouts of lethargy and lack of motivation. Then came the new doctor and the  new pills and the new disorder - that of the bipolar type. I've admitted in earlier posts that I don't exactly have a handle on what it is that makes my mind behave the way it does. Despite the amount of things surrounding my condition that I do not know, I at least seem to possess the clarity to know when it's bad and when it's not. For example, right now it's fine. Last month when I almost broke my hand after punching a friend's car during the onset of a panic attack that I was somehow able to quell, I was not fine.

The truth is, I couldn't tell you how I am able to keep from breaking something in a fit of bipolar mania any more than I could explain the reasons why I'm sitting in this warm room with depression and suicide being the furthest things from my mind, apart from this post. I know what enables me to perpetuate the racing thoughts I have. I've identified my triggers. I know when anxiety strikes - real anxiety, the kind that makes it seem as if every step you take is upon quickly cracking ice - not the "anxiety" that any kid who knows how to complain throws around in a conversation about their math test. And yet none of this owns me. None of this has mastered me. Sure, it has driven me to go to places I never thought I'd visit, say terrible things to people I would never want to hurt, and fill my head with thoughts that make it seem like death really isn't that hard to accept. It has taken me to the edge and held me by the throat, teetering on the precipice of a fall that would surely kill me. And while that's a tough place to be, I always seem to be able to muster enough strength to take the hand off of my windpipe and stumble to stable ground. 

You can't have me. You won't have me. I belong to another, and I'm not going until He says I can.

It's why I'm sitting here shirtless in this warm room, scowling at the shape my belly has taken on while a fusion of folk and jazz pours out of the speakers next to me, instead of withering away in a ward somewhere where the walls never change color and the pillows are made of plastic. In both, I'm alone in a quiet place, but one is the result of not being able to cope with the challenges that life has presented me with, while the other is a necessary breather to gain my composure between those very challenges. I've learned what the difference between running and moving on is, why relentlessly parading the same thoughts around your head isn't the same as appropriately analyzing something. I'm here in Seattle as a result of these distinctions. I just needed solitude, but in a much bigger degree than any occasion before.

Friends, being alone is a good thing for most of us. For some of us it isn't. And yet we are all too familiar with the allure of it; the view from the top of your downtown apartment, the sound of the waves at the beach, the feel of the pine needles beneath your feet as you wander the woods. Why are you there? Did you say something to a loved one that came out the wrong way? Go tell them you're sorry, you love them, you'll do anything for them. No one person should be alone by their own choosing. It may be hard considering people are generally stupid, but in the words of Calvin (the six year-old cartoon character, not the lawyer), if you can find just one person that you can stand being around, you're doing something right.

I'm in this cabin because I need a break, but that's the simple answer. I'm here because it's 2013, and in 2011 and 2012 I convinced myself that it would be better to be the worst kind of alone than cope with my problems. It's September and I've yet to try my hand at that game again, let alone dwell on the thought of it. Because of this, I can take these kinds of breaks and have no one worry about me hurting myself. For those of you suffering from your own demons, I hope the same can be said about you.

I hope you learn to take those foreign hands from your throat and push back, even though the wind wants to take you over the edge.

You're not going anywhere yet, and neither am I.

JDS



Words - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Sounds - Balance & Composure, Search The City, The Safety Fire, Born of Osiris
Lights - Breath of Fire II, Breath of Fire III, Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Final Fantasy VIII

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