Saturday, April 26, 2008

I've got nothing left to prove

Love you so much
It makes me sick
Come on over
And do the twist
Beat me out of me (beat up, beat up)
Beat me out of me

Nirvana, Aneurysm
#16 Trevor Linden is my favorite hockey player and the cause of my most recent depression. (It wasn't really his fault.) The playoffs started on April 9, and my beloved Canucks were not among the playoff teams. (The Kings weren't either, but everyone knew they wouldn't make it since January.) That's not why I was depressed, though, even though that's a perfectly good reason to be depressed. There's a good chance Linden will retire before next season. This got me really, really depressed. Like, not being able to sleep, crying, worried about myself depressed. As much as I love Trevor as a hockey player, I knew this was about something else because I don't love him that much.

I first became a hockey fan in the early 90's. The sport intrigued me. I like the competitiveness and strategy of team sports, and how everyone on the team has to work together in ways that are sometimes hard to understand and achieve. I played soccer in high school but I don't like watching as much as playing it. Hockey is almost like soccer on ice, in terms of how it is played, the positions, and the rules, but faster and more physical. I love to watch them zip around the ice, fly around the net, crash into the boards, fall down, and yes, I like the fights. It's an intense game.

What really amazes me is the skill it takes- as fast as the players skate to the puck, they can stop on a dime and go the other way, skate backwards and sideways, control the puck and shoot it exactly where they want it in the net, and the goalie, with everyone skating in front of the net and the puck darting around, has the reflexes to block it, sometimes catching it. Now that I'm playing hockey myself I'm even more impressed with how easy they make it look. Believe me, it's not easy. Watching Wayne Gretzky play, it seemed like he always knew where everyone was on the ice, as if he could float out of his body and look over the game like an angel (a hockey angel). He knew exactly where to pass the puck so that it would be where his teammate was going to be when the puck got there, which as fast as they go, could be anywhere. I have no idea how he did that. His assists were just as impressive as his own goals. It seemed like he could get anyone to score just by passing him the puck.

I had a boyfriend who was sort of casually into the L.A. Kings when Gretzky played for them, but I got really into it. I watched games every weekend and checked the scores almost every day. I knew at least something about every team in the NHL and their major players. I even had statistics memorized. I knew way more about hockey than anyone I knew. Despite its proximity to Canada, Seattle is not a hockey town. The biggest personal connection I had to the sport was that my mom is from a small town in Minnesota, on the border of Ontario. I have a lot of respect for Canada, probably more than your average American. As someone who likes to cheer for the underdog and do my own thing, being a hockey fan in the U.S. is right up my alley.

Back then, I never considered learning to play. I never heard of anyone even ice skating in Seattle, besides the guys on the Seattle Thunderbirds (the minor league team). Vancouver, British Columbia is 2-3 hours north of Seattle though, and man did I love the Vancouver Canucks. Trevor Linden was their captain from 1991 to 1997, and took them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 (where they lost to the New York Rangers, my most hated team). As crushing as that loss was, the 1997-1998 season was much worse. Linden gave up his captaincy to Mark Messier from the Rangers, and was subsequently traded to the New York Islanders. As devastating as that was, it hardly mattered to me at the time. Just before the 1997-1998 season, life as I knew it ended when my brother killed himself.

I was so angry at myself. I felt stupid, naive, and worthless because I hadn't stopped it from happening. My whole life up until that point seemed idiotic, pointless. If I couldn't save the person who meant the most to me, what good was I? How could I love someone so much, and yet it didn't matter, didn't do any good, and I still lost him? I felt nothing but cold, heavy, terrifying grief, and everything my life had been lost all meaning. Hockey, something that I had been so enthusiastic about and enjoyed so much, seemed completely trivial. I don't think I felt I deserved that release anymore. It seemed like an indulgence. In fact, what I saw as "wallowing" in my feelings at all seemed like an indulgence.

Before Jeff's death, I had been struggling with depression as well. I had no idea that I had PTSD or even what PTSD was, and didn't understand that the emotional scars from living on the streets, being raped, and being abused for 14 years didn't just go away because I was in college and I wanted it to be over. I had dropped two winter quarters because I was so depressed that I could hardly get out of bed, but my problems now seemed stupid in comparison to what drove my brother to take his life. I didn't see my life in terms of how well I had done considering everything that I was up against, that my problems were probably comparable to my brother's problems, and I had managed to get off the streets (which was not easy), get into college, and was going to graduate the following June.

Besides the guilt that prevented me from experiencing and working through the grief, I was afraid that grief would worsen the depression, and depression would sabotage my last year of college and everything I had worked so hard for. I truly believe that I could leave my past behind me if I could just become a different person than the one who had been abused and had been so confused and hurt by the way I was treated. I thought that I was a loser who deserved abuse, but if I could be successful, have a "normal" life, and prove to everyone that I wasn't less than everyone else, they would treat me differently. Jeff's death made that fantasy of the "normal" life seem even more improbable, but that just drove me harder. I had even more to prove because not only was I a loser, I was a failure as well. I failed my brother. I was supposed to take care of him, and I didn't.

I even blamed myself for being depressed before Jeff's death because I thought if I had been more focused on him I could have prevented it. Instead of having sympathy for myself, I interpreted my feelings and struggles as evidence that I was too self-involved. It was selfish to pay attention to my feelings. It was selfish to let myself grieve, and it was selfish to alleviate the pain with things I enjoyed or with happy memories. The only "indulgence" I felt like I could allow myself was The Simpsons, but even that was self-flagellation because The Simpsons was my brother's favorite show so in watching it I was both honoring his memory and chastising myself. Writing poetry became a form of torture, a way to prove my worth rather than something I enjoyed. Everything I did had to have some higher purpose, a way to justify it as making me a better, more worthy person. I was struggling to prove to myself that my life had meaning, that I deserved to live in the same world my brother had been driven out of.

I rejected myself, and became very disconnected from who I was before Jeff's death. It almost felt like my memories and everything that had happened to me actually happened to someone else, someone I shared a body with but not a life. The one thing I retained was self-hatred. It has been less than 3 years since I realized just how numb I was, how disconnected I was from my feelings. I was going through life like I was sleepwalking, like I was a mummy hiding myself in layers and layers of self-reproach. It has been quite a process to unwrap all the layers of repression, diversions, attempts to focus on other people's problems to alleviate my guilt, ways of thinking about myself that were unfair and mean, trying to punish and torture myself, to beat me out of me. I don't know what I was trying to turn myself into, just someone different with different memories and different feelings about myself. How ironic, then, that in dealing with those memories and feelings I tried so hard to distance myself from, now I do feel different about myself. I am starting to like myself, or at least not hate myself. Accept myself for who I am, good or bad.

Which brings me back to hockey. I have no Sherman Alexie style argument for how hockey makes me a better person, how it has some higher purpose or demonstrates some great truth. I just like it. It’s so unpretentious and fun. The personalities of the players don't overwhelm the game and it doesn't suffer from the same celebrity overexposure that some sports suffer from, sports that I have lost interest in because of all the drama. It’s the most exciting to watch, fast paced, physical, never boring. It’s also surprisingly intelligent. There are reasons for all that fighting. It’s actually very strategic. If you watch a playoff series between closely matched teams with a history, or a history between certain players, you come to appreciate just how mental the game is. Just watch the activity in front of the goalie. The goalie has the toughest job, and it’s not just because he has pucks flying at him. What really sets hockey apart from other sports are the fans, though. I love the fans (mostly).

In 2001, after playing with the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and Washington Capitals, Trevor Linden was traded back to the Vancouver Canucks, where he's played for the last seven years. I, however, took longer to make my way back to hockey. I had gone to a couple of Seattle Thunderbird games over the years, but last March I saw the L.A. Kings play the Ottawa Senators, and four days later (thanks to my cousin and his connections) I sat in the 7th row behind the goal when the Kings played the Canucks. (Unfortunately Linden was a healthy scratch for that game so I missed my chance to see him up close and in person.) I took hockey lessons and played on the ice at the Staples Center after a game. Something inside of me started to thaw. I started to remember how hockey made me feel back then, how it felt like something that was mine. It was a part of my life that wasn't dictated to me, that wasn't about my family, it wasn't to impress anyone or fit in with a group of people, it wasn't an activity I shared with some boyfriend, it was about me. I liked it and that's why I was a fan. It was something that no one could take from me, no one, apparently, but me.

When I realized that Trevor Linden might retire this year, it felt like the end of an era. Of course, it would be the end of an era for him, but for me, it has been a difficult and challenging transition from my teens to my twenties and thirties. I got off the streets, graduated from college and grad school, moved a couple of times, and landed in my dream job and a city that I love. I also lost my brother and my immediate family, and spent years punishing and hating myself; years that I wish I had been kinder and more forgiving to myself. It's a hard cycle to break, beating myself up for beating myself up.

When the depression hit me, I felt that fear coming back. I thought I might sink into a depression with no end in sight, that the grief would wash over me, overwhelming my life and all the progress I've made. It did feel like grief- I was transported to the time right after my brother died. It really felt like I was there, emotionally. But I did something that I never used to do, I called some friends and talked about how I was feeling. I felt exhausted but surprisingly better. I reassured myself that I could handle it. I cried, and felt bad, and couldn't sleep for a couple days. And then it passed. It was the fastest recovery I've ever had from a depression. I'm surprised; I don't understand it, but I've been trying to let myself feel what I feel and talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable, unpleasant, or threatening those feelings are. When I stop fighting it, they seem to wash over me like a wave and then slide back down the beach, leaving me upright and breathing. I still feel like pounding on the beach and yelling at the ocean, why why why, but I'm not drowning. I can feel the sand between my toes and I'm standing (in a hockey jersey).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

She's alive!

Dear sexual side of me, (If I'm going to write you, I think you need a name, so I'm going to call you Veronica. I know, that's my bowling name, but bowling is sexy, don't you think? Okay, so bowling is not so sexy, but I'm sure you could make it hot, so we're going with Veronica. I don't want to have too many alter-egos or I'll get confused.)

Dear Veronica,

I see you've gotten work. I love the dress and the knee socks. Very cute. I don't know about your friends' sweaters, though. I never understood trying to make granny sweaters sexy, but I'm no Dolce & Gabbana. I have to ask, are you taping our boobs down? We haven't been in the chest since 1985. It is the modeling world, so I guess I understand. Still, I hope you're not keeping the girls bound up like that all the time. I don't want to look like Posh. And don't make that face.

I just want you to know that I'm VERY sorry about that last guy. I know, he was really selfish and truly terrible in bed. Believe me, you weren't the only one to suffer. The experience was painful on so many levels. I've learned my lesson- no more insufferable prick boys. I totally understand why you left. You just take all the time you need. Have fun.

Don't be a stranger, though, okay? Send me a postcard every once in a while. I promise to take our bowling ball, Betty, out on the town. Maybe I'll even wear a mini-skirt, in your honor. Maybe not. It would be hard to bowl if I was worried about flashing everyone. How about a push-up bra? I could do that.

Take care, you little minx,

P.S. Thanks to Bliss of The Strait of Messia for the Dolce & Gabbana link, and all the Sarah Chalke. I feel brainwashed into liking her. And look, D&G advertising porn!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The refusal of suitors

The floods is threatening
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I'm gonna fade away

-Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones

I was born during a flood, and I always wondered if that was symbolic of something. Water is a symbol of the unconscious. I have a powerful unconscious, but the thing about the unconscious is that you cannot control it. I stuff my feelings in there, and they come out in ways I don't understand. I feel like I'm trying to purify myself- let the floodgates of my unconscious open and wash over me without drowning.

Part of me is a very talented survivor. Some of the things I've done, without knowing why at the time, were critical to getting me where I wanted to be. Especially with my career, if I decide I want something it usually seems to work out, but always in unexpected ways. I could never plan out the good things that happen to me. I seem to have a talent for being at the right place at the right time. It's almost like someone, some higher power, is watching out for me, or some part of me has foresight that I'm not consciously aware of. On the other hand, I also seem to have a talent for making things difficult on myself. My move to Los Angeles is a perfect example.

Before I moved, I longed for a job where I was appreciated, paid fairly for my level of experience and education, and with co-workers that I liked and fitted in with. I also fantasized about writing a book, and having a supportive group of writers to give me feedback and encourage me. I have found both in L.A., and, unexpectedly, I've reconnected with something I really love, hockey, and in a much more satisfying way, because now I am playing hockey and I live in an NHL city with the most dedicated fans I've ever seen, and I get to be one of them. I never could have predicted that one. I miss my friends and my cousin in Seattle, but I have friends in L.A. that I adore, and some of my favorite times in L.A. have been with my cousin who lives here, and his family. I love this city, and I feel like a truly belong here.

The way I got here is so signature me making it hard on myself though- I hooked up with a guy who seemed sweet and supportive at first, but turned out to be angry, cruel, and mean as a junkyard dog. I moved in with him, and let him take his anger out on me for a number of months before I had enough. He insulted and belittled me, kind of like that part of myself that still does not believe in me. That part of me has focused in on my love life as the nexus of my self-destructiveness, so I can trust in my decisions and gut-instincts about my career and other areas of my life, but I have no confidence in my ability to make good choices about boys. That area of my life is so fraught with self-hatred, I feel like I should just stay as far away from it as possible until I can work out all the self-reproach and self-esteem issues.

My therapist chides me for using the phrase "work out". She says I'm giving myself the time and space I need to heal. I don't need to think of it as work. I think she's right in that there is part of me, maybe the same part that knows how to be successful in other areas of my life that knows exactly what I need to heal myself. I started writing this blog having no idea it would be a pivotal part of my quest for recovery from my life of abuse and tragedy. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Somehow I find people who help me through this, who hold my hand and keep me from feeling lonely. They are the positive powers that pull me out of the negative waters of the abyss.

Sometimes I struggle with feeling angry that I had to go on this journey at all, angry at the people who put me here and left me with so many questions and unresolved feelings. I wonder who I would be and what my life would be like if I hadn't been so challenged. I sometimes think of myself as a twisted distortion of who I was supposed to be if I had been supported and loved, and hadn't lost the person who meant everything to me. I want to burn away those memories, those betrayals, and the knowledge that life can be so terrible. But I can't. And there are parts of me that are strong and insightful because of what I've been through. I would be a different person if I hadn't been through this, but there's no way to know who. I like who I am now (most of the time). I have things to write about. I can relate to other people's struggles. I like people who are like me- survivors who know about the dark sides of life but don't want to live in despair and self-ignorance.

Sadly, I have (temporarily) bid a fond farewell to my sexual self. She understands that it’s just too confusing for me to incorporate her into my life right now. I'd like to think she flew standby to Hawaii, and is now frolicking in the ocean in a teeny tiny bikini, and learning to hula. Then maybe she's go to San Francisco, make eyes at bike messengers, and dance in the clubs all night long wearing outfits that would get her written up on the internet. She'll be back, someday, with lots of exciting stories of her adventures. I will be happy to have her back.