AFS #4: Does insecurity and mental illness make me unlovable?

I found this question from Mr. LordMacbethh on Reddit’s r/RelationshipAdvice, and it made my heart hurt, because I see myself in the question and it’s taken me years to get to the point where I believe I deserve to be loved in spite of my issues. Here it is:

I believe that people with Mental Illnesses and people who are insecure are just as deserving of relationships as everyone else. Of course they shouldn’t let these things negatively affect their partner or significant other.

On flip side, I believe that all of my insecurities and mental illnesses make me unlovable. I’m 19M and gay and I’ve just started talking to someone and I’m concerned that my problems may make me hard to love.


I’ve had many bouts with Anorexia, and that’s something that’s likely to continue. It takes me like 30+ minutes to get dressed and choose my outfit because I want my clothes to fit a certain way to cover my insecurities & I want my clothes to project a certain image. The idea of just putting on clothes or just wearing comfy clothes is completely foreign to me. I’m constantly checking my appearance in mirrors and adjusting things, some of my friends think it’s annoying. I control my diet very seriously and workout a ton. Being shirtless/ nude around a romantic partner makes me really really insecure. I just generally hate my body. I’m also just very insecure about my personality, I’m always concerned I’m not funny enough or too overbearing, etc etc.

I have anxiety, depression, and OCD and they affect me of course. I’d never project them onto my partner or let my issues negatively affect my partner but I would definitely need a partner who is very supportive, empathetic, compassionate, and patient with me. I’m not necessarily controlling, like needing to know where my partner is at all times but if for example my partners behavior was drawing attention I’d get very anxious. I also have a lot of family related trauma. I think these problems would make it hard to be a romantic partner to me.

So my question is, what are your experiences with insecure partners? Can someone with mental illnesses and who is intensely insecure find someone who loves them and can be patient with them or is it likely to constantly be a barrier in their relationships? Any discussion is helpful!

Oh, darlin’. Before I even get started here I want to lay down a blanket statement, and I’d like you to write it down somewhere you can see it and repeat it to yourself for as long as it takes to start getting seriously on your own nerves: You deserve to be loved, protected from harm, and treated well by those around you. No quality you possess, from insecurity to mental illness to a face like a foot, can change that. It’s what you deserve, it’s a fact, and it doesn’t require a lot of data to prove it – I know you deserve love, and I don’t even know your name.

But you’ve got a rough road ahead of you. You know that. You know that growing up as a gay man at this moment in history is still a lot scarier and more isolating than it looks on TV. You know that people, especially men, don’t often treat men’s mental health issues with respect or compassion. You know that the gay community can serve to reinforce body image issues at times, because there are a lot of guys out there very much like you who will try to soothe their own insecurities by needling yours.

None of this is news to you… and yet, you’re not asking, “How can I feel better about myself?” or “How can I find someone who will fix all my problems?” When you look at potential partners, you aren’t thinking of what they can offer you. You’re distressed because you feel like you don’t have much to offer them. And that right there sets you apart from most people, especially most non-neurotypical people your age.

I want you to acknowledge this because the first important thing you can do to protect the people around you from your issues is remember that they are your issues to manage. You’re already doing this. You’re already anticipating the ways your behavior might affect a partner and trying to figure out how to mitigate that on your own, before you even have a partner. So let’s first acknowledge that you’re already ahead of the curve: you are ready to do your own emotional and mental work to get better, not put it on someone else. You are ready to do the best you can to give yourself to someone, not your mental illness. Two things I want you to focus on about that, two things you already believe, because you’re acting as if they’re true:

  1. You are not your mental illness. (Relatedly: you are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are a being inhabited by those things.)
  2. You still get to choose how you act, however shitty those choices may be, and you are responsible for how you treat other people regardless of what problems you may be having.

That is a big-ass deal. Those are some advanced lessons, okay? It took me thirty years to get that far. Some people never do. The attitude that made you ask this question is going to make you a fantastic partner for whomever you choose to be with.

One more thing… I’m not going to nose into your family trauma too much, because you didn’t choose to go into it, but the data points you provide – anorexia, OCD, lack of self-esteem, desire to go unnoticed but still be exactly correct if anyone should notice – they also describe my life, and they paint a kind of picture. I think maybe the reason you think you don’t deserve love is because someone who should have loved you made you feel that way. I think maybe the reason you’re worried nothing about you is good enough is because nothing ever was, once. I hope you’re somewhere else now.

I’ll make some suggestions later on, but for now I just want to tell you that I know some of those people, the people who made you feel that way. They had ’em when I was a kid too. It took me a long time, but I found out that those people are wrong. They’re wrong for days. They’re wrong up one side and down the other, man. They are so wrong they have no idea what’s going on, and you know what else? What’s worse than being stupid, they’re mean. They’re fucking mean! They’re supposed to help you, protect you, love you, and they’re not just hurting you “for your own good” like they say. They are, in fact, doing something that hurts you, something that will never, ever make you better in any way, and they don’t care that it doesn’t work. Hurting you satisfies them.

That kind of person doesn’t know anything you need to hear. That kind of person has nothing to teach you. That kind of person can’t tell you who you are or what you’re worth – they can’t even see you. They only see themselves, so their judgment is meaningless, them projecting their issues on you. I know more about you from the few paragraphs you wrote here than that person knows about you, and I’ll bet they’ve known you for years. I know that you are trying not to burden someone you love with your pain like someone burdened you. I know that at nineteen you’re more of an adult than any of those people, because you’re preparing, with compassion and introspection, to manage yourself like an adult and give a partner something you were never given.

Now that we have established that you’re a catch, son, we can get down to business. To my mind, you just need a couple of things to help you manage your insecurity in a relationship:

1. A therapist

Get thee to therapy. No, I mean it. And I’m talking to all the rest of the class as well, now – everyone can benefit from therapy. We all grew up in a capitalist hellscape that places the value of human life somewhere below that of last year’s iPhone. You don’t have to have any kind of issues to benefit from someone whose job is to listen to you and not judge, to demand nothing, to help you understand yourself better. If you’re poor, I feel it, but you still have options. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a whole division just for helping you find support near wherever you happen to be, and it’s free. If you’re super poor like your gracious host, may I also recommend Medicaid? It’s saved my life, literally. Thanks, Obama! F’real tho, thanks.

An important caveat: trauma makes therapy… difficult. People with trauma often find traditional CBT therapists make them feel more self-critical and aggravate their anxiety. That was certainly my experience. I went through four therapists before I found one who could help me. The keywords you want to look for are “trauma-focused,” “MBCT,” or “EMDR” – those last two are therapeutic methodologies that have been proven effective with people suffering from PTSD or CPTSD. Psychology Today is a really good search tool and my therapist tells me that, at least around here, doctors keep it up to date and respond to it quickly, so it’s probably reliable. It’s okay to dump a therapist if they’re not helping you. Sometimes it takes a while to find someone you can connect with, and that sucks, but you’ll have a leg up if you find someone who understands trauma.

2. Support outside your partner

One way to take some pressure off your partner to be everything in the world to you is to make sure you have other friends, other things to do, a life of your own. This is also a good way to find a partner in the first place! You’re 19, this is your moment to figure out how you want to spend your time generally, so go try stuff. Join groups, take classes, go places. Go do interesting things; you will become more interesting, and there will be interesting people there who might share your interests! Your anxiety and depression will try to make you stay home, and that’s okay – don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. At my best I can manage about one social outing a week, so if that’s what you can handle, that’s just fine, do that. Don’t go with the intention of making a friend, that’s a lot of pressure. Go with the intention of staying for at least twenty minutes and talking to one person. (Person-talking script: “Hey, my name’s Macbethh, what do you like about this thing we’re doing? What got you interested in doing that?” People love to talk about themselves. Ask questions, back off if someone seems unenthusiastic, and you will make a friend.) If you have fun, go again. If you don’t, try it one more time – sometimes it’s just a low day – and then fuck it, try something else.

It sounds like you do have friends, and I suspect that you probably overestimate how annoying you are to them. We tend to assume other people are noticing a lot more about us than they actually are. One strategy I’ve found effective with this kind of insecurity is, when you start wondering what other people are thinking of how you look in some way, ask yourself… the person you’re worrying about, what were they wearing? Did they have cat hair on it? Was it stained? Do you remember their appearance with any kind of detail… or were you so worried about what they were thinking of you that you didn’t notice a damn thing about them? Here’s the big secret of life, seriously: everybody’s that way. Everybody, every single person is so concerned about how they’re fucking up they can’t possibly notice if you’re fucking up. The confirmation bias you have, the memories of people abusing you for your minute fuckups come from a vanishingly tiny minority of assholes, and once you’re an adult, you don’t have to listen to those assholes anymore. You don’t have to nod sagely and go, “Yeah, thanks Dad, I’ll contemplate your drunken wisdom at length once you put the belt away.” When someone says (like they never will in real life), “Hey, stupid, you’ve got a stain on your shirt!”, you know what you can say? “Why are you staring at my chest, weirdo? Fuck off.” You get to say that now. It works now. It’s nobody’s goddamn business but yours what you look like, because you’re an adult. Go out wearing your underpants on the outside like Superman, fuck ’em, what are they actually gonna do?

3. Strategies for advocating for yourself and asking for what you need

Minimizing the harm you do the people around you with your issues is mostly a matter of clear communication – asking for what you need and setting boundaries. Having a therapist and other friends will help you feel the confidence it takes to stand up for your own needs. Remember that whatever you need to feel secure in your own space and your own body is fine – you get to dictate that, and anybody who tells you otherwise is not someone you want to be anywhere near! You get to say, “Hey, I’m working through some stuff around my body image, and right now it’s tough for me to be looked at. Can we have the lights off for a while / you tell me some things you think are attractive about me / you just tell me I look great when you notice me fretting in the mirror?”

Your partner can provide support and do a lot to make you feel sexy and beautiful, but it helps them if you can give them concrete things to do, rather than saying, “I feel bad, please change your behavior till the bad feeling goes away.” In a perfect world, how would they respond to you? If you can figure out what outcome you want, that’s actionable data for your partner. If you can’t… it’s possible you’re just trying to find a source for your bad feelings, but there’s not actually anything your partner could have done differently, and that’s a case where you have to manage those feelings on your own. You can also ask for space to process your feelings, and generally it’s okay to ask for time to recuperate and be alone if you need that. As a mentally ill introvert, I can take about four hours, max, of anybody, even people I love, before I need to go crawl in a hole and not be a person for a while. When I meet people, I say, “I try really hard to be up for fun stuff, but sometimes my brain clobbers me, so if I have to cancel on you for no useful reason sometimes, please know it’s not because I don’t want to be around you, it’s just because I don’t always have the spoons for social interaction with anyone.”

Generally, don’t be afraid to overshare with your partner. If they can’t take it, they are a douche, and I’m sorry, but you might meet a few. It’s getting better; there used to be more. If you’re feeling shitty and you don’t know why, it’s okay to say that. Your partner will be relieved to know you’re not expecting anything specific from them. Being somewhat impaired at expressing my own emotions, my go-to phrase is, “I don’t feel good.” This almost never means a physical illness, it means I don’t feel good; it’s nonspecific and true without feeling too whiny for me to say. “Hey, I don’t feel good, can you snuggle with me for a bit / bring me food / tell me I’m pretty and kiss my face?” Someone who loves you wants to do those things and will leap at any opportunity to do them! They were just sitting there trying to come up with an excuse to kiss your face!

In summary…

This is already lengthier than I intended, so I think it’s time for a TL;DR.

  • You deserve love. You are compassionate, brave, honest and capable of self-analysis. Anyone you choose to be with will be very, very lucky indeed. Don’t ever forget it.
  • Get a therapist who specializes in trauma
  • Spend time with your friends. Do new things, figure out who you are, not just who your depression is. Believe your friends when they tell you they care for you. Dump the friends who don’t and make new ones. Being by yourself is much, much better than being with someone who treats you badly – don’t do like I did and spend all of your 20s putting up with bullshit because you’re afraid to be alone.
  • Ask for what you need, be honest when you don’t know, and give your partner actionable ways to help if you can. It’s okay to ask for compliments! I’m shameless about it, man, I just come in the room all shiny and say, “Hi, tell me how great I am pleeeeease!” Someone who loves you will think it’s adorable.
  • Try very, very hard to perceive it and believe it when someone loves you and is good to you.

That last thing is gonna be important. Your brain lies to you, you know that. It tells you that your friends think you’re annoying. It will tell you that your partner doesn’t want to be with you, that they hate you, that they’re fucking someone else, someone more attractive, more experienced, whatever. Your brain is going to tell you a shit-ton of lies. Most of the time it’ll be telling you that your life sucks a lot more than it actually does. The only way you’ll have a chance is if you try very hard to see the stuff your brain is pretending doesn’t exist: your successes, your talent, your beauty, the love and kindness other people offer you. Your depression can make you totally overlook those things even when they’re right in front of your face. My therapist once had to tell me I’d done a “good job” three times before I actually absorbed it and felt a glimmer of pride. She was talking right to me and I couldn’t hear her, because my brain doesn’t want to believe that I can do a good job. Your brain doesn’t want to believe that you’re gorgeous, funny, interesting, lovable… but you are. You are. You really, really are. Find someone who will tell you as many times as it takes for you to hear it and believe it. You deserve that, and so much more.

A Manual of Happiness

One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness.

– Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

Content warning: lots of explicit talk about suicide and the mindset that accompanies suicidal ideation.

I bang on about absurdism a lot, but I haven’t really put anything coherent together explaining what I mean and how it underlies everything else I endlessly bang on about. There are a couple of sonnets with some musings as an appetizer, but they occasion more questions than they answer, because, well… I tend to start conversations in the middle, I suppose? With you, and everyone else. I think of this as a conversation we’re having, you and I, from which you can glean that the people who suffer me long-term are very patient creatures who don’t mind being ranted at for fifteen minutes and calling that “a conversation.”

So I was bopping around trying to answer some questions and express myself like a goddamn person this morning, and scanning back through Camus’s “Myth of Sisyphus” essay because I reread that shit like scripture, and I snagged on the line quoted above. This is why I tend to read and watch and listen to the same things over and over, hundreds of times – I get different insights, notice different elements and interpret differently each time. I never paid much attention to this line before, but today I’ve realized… that’s what I’m trying to do here. That’s what I’ve been trying to make all my life, in bits and pieces and a thousand different media: a manual of happiness.

suicide with a grin

It’s a ridiculous idea on its face. Who can say what happiness is? We never really know what we want, or how to fulfill all our nebulous needs. And the last person to tell you how to be happy should be a traumatized data ghost ambivalently haunting a run-down flesh prison who brings up suicide with a grin in every conversation, like good Christ, is that strictly necessary?

My friends keep this gif handy, and it’s a totally fair way to respond to virtually anything I say, although it’s not a foolproof way to shut me up.

But of course, the more ridiculous the idea, the more I like it. That’s the whole deal. That’s absurdism. I want to do this because it’s a pointless, silly thing to do that I am desperately unqualified for, much like everything any human has ever done, and for that reason it’s beautiful to me.

I’m not sure what form such a thing should take, and obviously me running in here with a new project going, “This is the new best thing ever!” is something that happens semi-regularly, so nodding and smiling is a perfectly reasonable response to my blather at this point. We’ll see how it turns out. Think of this as an introductory essay.

drunk and full of bright ideas

I think perhaps there’s something worthy to be said about happiness from the perspective of someone for whom it’s never been a given. We get a lot of advice about how to live from people claiming to have attained “success” in their process of personal development. It’s good salesmanship, fair enough – they set up a before and after picture with you on the shitty end, and on the other side, their perfect life of whole grains, yoga, four-hour Tantric sex and a schedule full of Oprah-approved activities. The one sure way to get from before to after? Buy their product!

The people who have been the most actual help to me in my life have often been the most damaged. The people who saved my life were the people who were also drunk and full of bright ideas at three in the morning, that’s why they were handy when I did something stupid. The shiny healthy people we’re supposed to emulate… those people are asleep at three in the morning. They’ve got to get up for yoga at five, after all.

Some of the kindest, most insightful, most comforting and inspiring people I’ve known would have said they were desperately unhappy. Sufficient happiness and purpose to keep living just isn’t that tough to achieve for most people – most people whose brains produce the right chemicals, most people who haven’t been kicked in the head by circumstance or other humans. Neurotypical people don’t have to analyze the reasons they’re still alive and come up with something bulletproof that stands up to endless interrogation. They find it weird and pointless when you try.

But if you’ve ever been suicidal, you’ve stared straight at the fact that you could check out at any time. That understanding is a reorientation of your perspective on the world that never truly leaves you. The first time it occurs to you, like all bad ideas, it seems like a sudden panacea, the sword that cuts through all the Gordian knots in your life. Long before it ever occurred to me, I lived with a man who’d attempted suicide twice before I met him, and tried another three times during the years we were together. He told me once that the days after he decided to kill himself and made a plan for it were the happiest days he’d had in years. All his fear and regret fell away, nothing mattered, the world felt bright and real and precious. He concluded from this that suicide was a good idea. This was, let me at this point emphasize, where he was very wrong.

a sense of existential freedom

What my undead friend was experiencing but misattributing is a sense of existential freedom. He confronted the fact that continuing to live was a choice, that all his misery and all the pains of his life were in his power to simply reject. He chose to reject life, and thought the sense of freedom and peace he then felt came from the rejection. But ending our suffering by checking out of it isn’t control, is it? It’s surrender. It’s letting the meaninglessness of the universe make him meaningless. It’s admitting that he thinks his life is worthless unless something external grants him value.

So to truly control his life, to maintain that state of happiness, of existential freedom that he felt having made a choice to end his life… how could he have done that? If it wasn’t the rejection of suffering that made him feel stronger than his burdens, at peace with his failures… what was it?

It was making the choice. Choosing consciously to live gives us the same control as choosing consciously to die: ownership of our fate. It’s not about what choice we make… the choice is the thing. The fact that we have the choice, and know it, and make it consciously, gives our lives all the meaning they will ever have.

only we can choose to die, rather than be killed
only we can choose to live, rather than be alive

An illustration: animals don’t, for the most part, commit suicide as a way to end their suffering. (The lemming thing is a myth.) There are parasites that can induce self-destructive behavior, and many animals will give their lives for their young or group in an altruistic way, but these aren’t suicide the way humans refer to it. The animals who have been seen to behave self-destructively in response to emotional pain have largely been animals with deep bonds to humans – animals we’ve trained in conscious emotional behavior.

What I’m saying is: choosing to continue living is a privilege only conscious beings have. Only we can choose to die, rather than be killed. Only we can choose to live, rather than be alive.

You can’t control the misfortune you encounter, but if you act like you can’t control it, you will live the life of a victim and a martyr. You will spend all your days mourning the control you don’t have and the life you could have led if only the world didn’t insist on fucking you so hard, so specifically, so personally. The only possible agency you can get in your life is by reacting to things as if you can positively affect the outcome, by pretending that your actions are meaningful and your perspective has value. You have to live like you have free will, because if you don’t, nothing matters anyway.

lunge at your life like a rabid wolf

Happiness is a matter of choice. Not choosing to be happy, but choosing to be here. Choosing to keep choosing. Choosing to commit all your attention to the experience you’re having and act with the agency you have, rather than raging at how little you can control and what you wish was happening instead. Regardless of what’s going on, y’know, try to act like you want to be here on earth, instead of acting like a four-year-old somebody dragged along to a boring cocktail party.

I know it sounds like what I’m saying is a complicated retread of “accept your fate, be happy with what you have and you will find peace, grasshopper,” but that’s not it. I don’t want you to accept your fate. Do not go gently into that good night! I want you to fucking rage at the dying of the light, and laugh at it, and give it the finger while you light more fires. I want you to realize that the only joy you’ll ever tear from life is going to come when you lunge at your life like a rabid wolf, okay?

Every time some new bullshit knocks on your door, another bill in the mail, another breakup, another war, another random accident, I want you to grin like a fucking pirate with a knife in his teeth and start looking for opportunities to express yourself in this situation, to respond how the passionate, defiant creature inside you wants to respond. You think it’s impossible to feel like a badass existential warrior when paying bills? I call that cowardice, my child. That’s you saying that in order to be strong, in order to be brave, in order for you to be worthy of your own admiration, you need big, easy, cartoon villains to fight, shiny rewards to win, unequivocal victories to brag about.

That’s you forgetting that being alive to pay those bills is a choice you made, and you’re making it again right now, every second you don’t jam a pencil into your jugular. You picked those bills, you decided that they were better than an eternity of utter nothingness. You chose to be here… and then you chose to drag ass through life like it’s a consolation prize.

Choose again.

Life’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book. What if somebody caught you reading a book like that and said, “Hey, why do you care about that? What’s the point? All the endings are written down anyway, why go through all the rigamarole when it doesn’t really matter what you choose?”

You’d be bewildered. Somebody who’d say that fundamentally doesn’t understand the fun of a game, of any activity where we have a modicum of agency and a lot of inflexible structure. Of course the ending is predetermined, nobody cares about that – the fun part is participating, getting to flex the little power we have within the confines of the system, to see what we can do. The fact that you get to decide anything is the whole point, the only point. It’s all you can do, so if you’re going to read the book at all, it’s the most important thing you can do. If you’re not doing it consciously, you’re not enjoying the book, and it’s because you decided not to participate.

In this book, you can’t go back and read the other endings you passed up. All you can do is choose. So choose. And choose again. And again. Pay lots of attention to how the world is, not how you want it to be, not what you hope or you fear. Then, with the little control you have… make the story more interesting any way you can. Look hard at the world, believe that you can change it, laugh at the despair in you that tells you how stupid that is, and start trying stuff. Make a decision, see what happens, and recalibrate. Stop trying to debug your code without ever running it.

the choice is the thing

By being here and putting up with the bullshit, you assert tacitly that being here is worth it, that being you has meaning.

When you become conscious, when you think about your existence, you declare: “I’m here!”

The universe responds, as it always does and always will: “No one cares.”

Next time the universe tells you this, like the next time you turn on the TV, repeat after me:

“I care. And I can care because I exist. I think, therefore I am. The more shit you throw at me… the more I think, the more I care, the more chances I get to try new things, change and grow, discover stuff I don’t know and see things I haven’t seen. I choose to be here, which makes being here important, because it was my choice. I care, and that’s enough.”

79 – Naked

I gotta get back at the Shadowplay rewrite, if only because the world is always and perpetually lacking for decent queer love stories and erotica, and Keshena is a person who, ahem… gets around. She has some of the same issues relating to women that I do, obviously, as she’s the poor puppet I invented to try out all my neuroses on. This one is from her perspective, but it has some of my own wistfulness in it.

Sometimes – especially if you are, like most of our congregants, a little fucked-up – and please, join the cult, take a taco – sometimes, you feel like the kindest thing you can do is spare someone the burden of knowing you. Sometimes you meet someone so arresting that all you can think is, “If I touch that, I’m gonna ruin it.” When you encounter someone from outside your little bubble of trauma and toxic people and mental illness, someone who doesn’t live in that world, you feel like a filthy animal on someone’s white carpet, terrified to move in case you destroy everything you touch.

I stayed away from women for a long time because I felt like that. It seemed like my love did people harm. An old friend who didn’t make it out of the Well once aimed a finger and a Texan laugh at me and said, “You got a head fulla bad machinery, darlin’.” And I do. This old thing don’t work right, and it will definitely leave oil stains on your sheets.

The fact is, it can be shocking to see a wound. Most people don’t like to without a little bit of warning. But it doesn’t harm them to see it, and it isn’t a sin to share your pain with someone, so long as they consent. In the words of Spider Robinson, trouble shared is trouble halved. When I am brave enough to stay, to be honest, to be naked… generally people aren’t as scared of what they see as I thought they’d be. Generally they’re a lot less scared of what I have hidden than I am.

Eyes on the ground, my creaking back is bent
from rolling stones down the hill behind me,
burning memories so they can’t find me.
But somehow, I sense this dream is different.

The ground is sticky for creatures like me.
This craft can only get airborne one time.
Just take your moment when our wings align,
and slip into the next cheap memory.

What if we were to stay this time instead?
What if we made a promise that we kept?
What if when the lady wakes up in bed
she isn’t alone with the tears she wept –
not just another notch above our head
not to retreat when we’re out of our depth?

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

46 – Anachronism

One of the frustrating things about therapy, for me, has been that I feel immense pressure to give up portions of myself in order to be healthy. I’m not sure if this pressure is from my therapist or myself or both – probably a little of both. The thing is… I’m a person who loves people’s flaws. I love people for their human moments, their weaknesses, their awkwardness, their genuine feeling and inability to hide it. So there are a few things about myself that I truly love, a few things that feel like part of my identity, that my therapist and the rest of the world would term “unhealthy.”

I want to be healthy, if what “healthy” means is that I can be kind to myself, that I can stop feeling personally responsible for every flash of emotion that crosses anyone’s face in my presence, that I can stop hearing the voices that hate me telling me all the fun ways I could die every second of every day… if that’s what healthy means, I want that very much. But it seems like in order to have that, I have to give up so much of who I am.

Who I am is who I’ve become playing out the moves I was taught. I’m not saying it’s amazing. I am a bent, twisted person. I am a little bit of a junkie, and I will probably always be all about whatever new addiction you have to offer, but I’ve learned to channel that toward relatively harmless addictions. If being healthy means not having that junkie chattering in the back of my head, calculating how many pills it is between me and not being able to deal with fucking life again… I might never be healthy.

I am a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster rider – I would rather be in pain than indifferent, rather be terrified than checked the hell out the way I’ve been for the last few years. I will probably always be the person who cries because swans can be gay and falls in love inside a week. If being healthy means not riding that rollercoaster, I might never be healthy, and I don’t know if I want to be.

I’ve spent my life looking for people who would love me not despite my flaws but because of them. I need to be allowed to be the broken creature I am… but I don’t know if that creature has a future. I don’t know if the future I want is a place I can really live.

My children’s children’s faces before me
are sending their mercy back through the years,
telling me they’ve seen the deaths of my fears,
and those that remember me seem to adore me.

I want to know that future memory –
myself, tempered by the time between us,
finished with the penance that redeems us,
purified of every part of me.

It seems unfair that I should have to build
me into that person with no blueprint,
plot this ship’s course with no destination.
But then, that’s why martyrs have to be killed.
The world I want isn’t one I can live in –
that story starts with my abdication.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

37 – Hold Your Breath

Ever since I got to this planet, it seems like I’ve been looking for a way out. I turn every door handle I pass, just to see – I’ve gotten into some ridiculous places as a result. I’m still looking for the one I’ll turn that will lead me into another world.

This one has some Last Unicorn symbolism, I guess. I especially love that bit toward the end where they step through the clock into that misty null-space, to get to the lair of the Red Bull. We’ll run when the wine drinks itself, when the clock strikes the right time… but that clock’s broken.

Outside, the pre-dawn light is grey and green.
Sometimes the ocean mist can last all day.
That dreamlike feeling never goes away.
I’m never sure of anything I’ve seen.

The clock up in that tower’s never right;
it’s possible it doesn’t move at all,
except that every time I climb the wall
it’s telling me I’ve lost another night.

As time goes on I look for other ways.
The clockface lies, but I always try doors
I steal whole seasons from their trap of days
Never let them tell me there isn’t more
Keep on looking, no matter what they say –
I think I can still see the farthest shore.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

20 – Jump the Track

It’s been a day, friends and congregants. The more stressed I am in general, the more prone to dissociating I become. So I get to swing wildly between violent emotions at the drop of a hat and also totally disconnect from reality periodically. It tends to make stressful events rather harder to manage and thus aggravate stress, as you can imagine.

I guess I perceived my trajectory a long time ago, and got comfortable with it. That’s kind of what I meant when I said “they slaughter the runners who finish this race,” back in this poem – I saw the white-picket-fence reward they wanted to give me for jumping the usual hoops, and it didn’t seem worth it. They won’t let you go back once you start, so… I’ve spent my life trying to hop over the fence, metaphorically speaking. Trying to define success a different way, measure my value by a different standard. And to people trying to win the race, or even just trying to keep up… I realize that what I’m doing looks very much like trying to lose.

I’ve seriously considered the “born to lose” tattoo – but I’ve promised my wife not to do it unless I’ve already tattooed more than 40% of the rest of my body and thus fully committed to frightening squares and old people.

“Crashing In,” April 2015

Grab the flowers!
Take a handful!
Now… blow!
They form a thundercloud of butterflies,
but you can’t see past the stars in your eyes.
You miss the moment when it’s time to go.

In Sign Language they say, “Sorry, train go.”
It means, “you missed it – don’t bother to ask.”
It means, “the help you need has come and passed.”
Like everyone else, you’re just supposed to know.

Eventually you turn into the skid.
You take the hard road just because you can.
You tattoo “born to lose” across your hands.
You leave behind the precious things you hid.
You come to love the title “also-ran,”
and each day burn down everything you did.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

15 – Charm Bracelet

Having a bad day. You know that especially life-affirming kind of stress where you can’t stop thinking, “If I were actually good at my job, this wouldn’t be stressful at all”? Not such a terribly helpful thought, but there it is.

I was given a lot of charm bracelets as a kid. The first one I can remember was beautiful, silver chain, all these perfect little silver charms. They told me we could get new charms for each birthday, and I got the impression that I would be given one of these little artifacts each year of my life, and its shape would tell me what I was supposed to be. I was thrilled, and excited – it seemed like the kind of thing that would happen in a fantasy story, and when my bracelet had all the charms on it, I would be ready to meet my destiny.

I didn’t get any more silver charms. I saw that bracelet once, when I got it, and then it was put away so that I didn’t lose it. Never saw it again. The next year I got a plastic charm necklace, with a little pan full of breakfast, and a phone that made an annoying ding when you poked it. That one I held onto for an improbably long time, of course. Wore that dinger out.

A pewter cat, an octopus, a bell,
each tiny charm no bigger than your nail.
A tiny pirate in a tiny jail,
a tiny plastic key that unlocks hell.

The only charms you’ll get are charms you make
So siphon off a vial of your tears
Write up a little black book of your fears
Press your shiny ego as a keepsake.

Delineate your shame with Perler beads
(but don’t tell them what you make the Barbies do –
even molded plastic has its needs)
And don’t forget the bullet with my name.
I’ll have just one charm to remember you –
the scar from the last time you made me bleed.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

13 – Blood Hammer

This is… something like a self-portrait. What some of my processes look like from inside. It’s not about guns, at all, so let’s just put that out there. The bullet is a metaphor, but it’s also an image from a recurring nightmare I’ve been having all my life. It’s now been about four years since I had it, and I have hope it won’t come back this time, but…

As early as I can remember, I was tormented by shifting abstract visions. This sounds way more pretentious and exciting than what I experienced, which was this: when I closed my eyes, I could see nothing in my head but an expanse of flawless, terrifyingly perfect, matte whiteness – “PURITY” in the abstract. This grew and grew, like a pressure that would split my skull, until it shifted abruptly to a vista of… utter conceptual Corruption. Like a landscape made of rust, a rotten world, it too grew bigger and bigger, making four-year-old me want to shriek, but just before I quite got there… it shifted back, whiteness rolling on the back of my eyelids. These two images would alternate for hours if I kept my eyes closed. For years, this is why I stared into the dark while trying to sleep.

This cycle fed inexorably into a dream of being in the barrel of a gun. That’s the only way I can describe it – the sensation was of terminal speed combined with violent claustrophobia, falling faster and faster into an ever-shrinking space. The sensation built and built, just like the abstractions, and though after the first few hundred times I had this dream I was aware throughout that it was a dream, I was never able to wrench myself awake. I could never escape the next part… The Tea Party.

From the Gunbarrel I was all at once in a small room, lavishly decorated – think Umbridge’s room in the Harry Potter books, a space so pink and white and frilly and tacky that you’re pretty sure a thousand Barbies shit themselves to death in there. I was in this little room, surrounded by little old ladies with teacups and snacks, all of them smiling and wanting to hug me and talk to me… and there was nothing in the world so terrifying as their empty, toothy smiles. They came closer and closer and I was not allowed to scream or fight them, and the horrified certainty that they would grab me, hold me, eat me, tear me apart, their horrible revolting smiles – back to the Gunbarrel, please! Please, anything!

And so back to the Gunbarrel I would go. Back and forth, all night long, until I woke up drenched in sweat and exhausted. Two or three nights a week. This went on for years, although over time the pattern spread out. By middle school it only happened about once a month. By the time I moved out, it had been nearly six months since I’d had the dream. Just when I thought I was rid of it, in 2014, I had it again. It makes me sick with dread, but I think it also has formed some key parts of my internal geography. This makes it hard to fully escape. I guess that’s why I shared it with you here, even though god knows no one wants to hear about a stranger’s dreams. If it illuminates the following, please write me and tell me how.

Inside this machine, a series of pipes
transports lubricant to each moving part,
ships barrels of love to burn in the heart,
cycles and stores chemicals of all types.

But the blueprint is not the map in here.
This isn’t a maze from which you come back.
Won’t know till the end which components you lack.
Won’t know which settings you scrambled in fear.

The bullet sees the barrel’s walls go by
Infinite pressure and infinite speed
Don’t catch the terror in the bullet’s eye.
Don’t ask it if it likes when people bleed.
The polite bullet never asks you why,
or wonders if a gun is what you need.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets