This week was my birthday. 55 trips around the sun. I’d like to say that I’m full of joy and mirth, but that would likely be more apt to be full of something else. I haven’t been rocking the hopeful vibe the last few months, but that’s life. I do, however, like ritual, symmetry, and symbolism, all of which can generate ideas that resonate with me. I’ve been blah for a while now as I waited for my birthday to symbolize the start of another attempt at changing my life trajectory into a slightly more elongated or off-axis orbit than it’s current flat spin.
The last few weeks, maybe even months
If you read my post earlier this week (Pushing through or squirming out from under), it may have seemed like a bit of a pity party. Don’t worry, it wasn’t. I know what that looks like, as I threw one about a month ago when I was struggling with my ongoing leg issues. The bathroom reno was done and I was attempting to enjoy a good tub soak.
For a picture none of you really want or need in your head, let’s start with the fact that I’m a big guy. In a normal-sized/normal-depth tub, like we had, it’s not exactly the best of experiences to take a bath. It’s more like wallowing than fully submerging, like in TV shows and movies. We had tried to find a good option with a deeper tub that was also a shelf/alcove style, not a stand-alone, and we did the best we could with what we had and what Andrea wanted it to look like too. So I gave the new tub a go, and well, to be honest, it kicked the crap out of my self-esteem, confidence, self-image, etc. I was not mentally prepared for it, I guess. I basically thought of it as, “well, we’ll see what’s it like, no big deal, just see if I like it”. I didn’t think of it in advance as something that might not “go well”.
At the time, my leg was giving me trouble with my shins. With past problems and my ongoing diabetes, I have wound care issues every time I get a scratch on my leg, which is easy to do. Compression socks help but don’t solve the problem; they can aggravate the issue…I might get away with a simple bandaid or something, but the compression socks can shift or rub during the day, and I can’t have it scratching at the surrounding tissue. It’ll just rub the skin clean off over time. So, I need some sort of barrier in between. The potential for having to do this will generally be with me for life, yay me. Anyway, it was looking like there was a potential for infection earlier in the week, I had gauze on it, but it and the bandages were “stuck” to the wound. I thought I would let the soak help loosen it, it didn’t work completely, but I managed to get it off, even if it took some new skin with it. I am still dealing with it several weeks later and likely will be until the fall; I’ll be doing wound care again with bandages, gauze, tape, etc., every few days.
Unfortunately, because of the location on my leg, I tend to need Andrea’s help to adjust/cover it effectively and efficiently. I confess that I hate that I need help with it, or rather, that I need Andrea’s help. She’s 46; she shouldn’t be reduced to wound-care nurse for an aging husband. She has her own stuff going on. For better or for worse, I know; but when you’re the cause of the worse, not that great a feeling.
Soooo, I needed her to help me that night with the wet-but-mostly-removed bandages, except I was in the bath. Not the most flattering of appearances or experiences, honestly. The only thing that I would have found more mortifying would likely have been if I’d soiled myself or something. Yeah, yeah, I know, it all happens. That doesn’t mean I want my wife to see me being an invalid. Then after that shame and she’d left, I tried to get out of the tub, and with my back bothering me, plus my weight plus a lack of handholds, it was…umm…challenging. Yeah, let’s go with that term. I felt like a giant pig wallowing in the mud who couldn’t get out. Pretty raw for the emotions. I got dried off, climbed into bed and asked Andrea to go elsewhere in the house for a while so I could basically lie there crying into my pillow for an hour. That was my pity party. It was a mental and emotional release, and maybe I needed that, but it has also been a mental yoke to haul around for the last few weeks. Letting my brain adjust to the new normal, at least my normal for now.
Best practices in managing my squirreldom
I feel like things have been piling up, as my squirrels have run around focusing on many negative things. I know what I’m experiencing, as I have been here before. And to tweak the old joke included on the West Wing at one point, I may be in a hole, but I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.
My exit door moves from time to time, and often the only way to find it is to shine a light into deep dark corners of my brain and soul to see what’s bothering me. Even if I can’t see the door, I know where it is hiding. It’s always, in a sense, near a recurring landmark. It’s right behind wherever my so-called dark passenger is standing.
If you’ve read the Dexter series of books about him being a vigilante serial killer of serial killers or watched the TV series, he basically uses the term dark passenger to refer to his dark inner demon. Don’t worry, I am not a serial killer. I just like the term dark passenger better than Carl Jung’s “Shadow”. But it is a combination of the parts of me that I choose to reject or repress. (How very Skin of Evil of me, for the STTNG crowd).
Over the last 2 months, my dark passenger has been eating away at my sense of self. My size. The experience with the bathtub. My leg and back problems. Feelings of isolation building off the inertia and domestic entropy of the last four years. Lack of close friends. Not comfortable doing stuff alone as much. It makes me irritable, quieter, and sometimes passive. It tells me to sit on the couch and binge-watch shows like Dexter. Castle. Blue Bloods. White Collar. And about another 15 to 20 that I nibble away at, even some that I’ve binged before. My dark passenger wants me alone and on my own, as it knows that the more isolated I become, the more I have to rely on it to get me through the day. A dark energy that can keep my feet moving forward, even if the light doesn’t enter as much.
At different times in my life, I’ve considered fully embracing that dark passenger. Sometimes because I didn’t feel like I had another option, other times because that dark passenger feels less deeply than my normal psyche does. Without diving too deep into the Jungian side of things, lots of people do it. You can see it in some of their comments or slogans — “I speak the truth, and some people can’t handle it”; “Well, this is the real me, and if you don’t like it, too bad.” There are a dozen other common ones where people basically say, “I’m going to let my dark passenger be an asshole to others before they can be an asshole to me!”. It offers strength, which is why many choose to lean on it like a crutch. But, if you know yourself, you can ultimately see that it’s a choice, not a default.
It’s not a choice I like, which is why I try actively to avoid it. Yet the last four years, combined with my own internal issues, produced a fairly isolated existence outside of my immediate family. For the last couple of months, I’ve let my dark passenger tire himself out, binging TV shows while my inner squirrels run around unchecked until they need a nap.
Like everyone else on the planet, though, I want more. And if I want it, I need to go find it. I always have to shove my dark passenger to the side and stop obsessing about stupid things at work, home, or wherever. Setbacks that really don’t matter. If my only way out is through, the door handle tends to be made up of my goals in life. Something tangible that I can grab onto and pull myself through and back into the light.
Yet as I reach for them, trying to find handholds and pick up some common themes, the foundation I stand on is generally made up of common principles from self-help books, control issues, various alcoholics anonymous-like programs, etc. I don’t go for the “give yourself over to God” approach, which is not really my style. But there are elements that resonate with me. Ritual, symmetry and symbolism are all ways to reinforce the new mindset, hence why I target big dates like birthdays or New Year’s Day to trigger new beginnings.
I’ll talk about some of them tomorrow, before getting on to my actual goals for the next five years.