Defeat. Accept defeat.
I think she’s saying, “Accept death.” That’s what it feels like to me across the circle, as I’m sobbing wildly, my torso heaving uncontrollably. She’s clearly gotten to me this time, beyond my defenses, because I’m disintegrating in public, burning up and out of control. I’m dying. The circle is quiet, except for me. I am invisible and on stage at the same time, flying and underwater. Mucous streams out of my nostrils, evidence that I’ve melted from within, liquid seeping out as part of my final something.
And then, I quiet. A great silence envelops me after the defeat. My head is a two ton bowling ball, so I move carefully on the rickety frame of my body to keep it from snapping under its weight. I am still alive, the group is rapt and with me as I return. I’ve gone into the darkness again, the terrifying place of falling and knowing nothing, struggling and screaming on the way down, and I’m somehow alive, doing the normal things again. My butt burns on the floor. I push my hair back.
I’ve been facing this threshold for a long time. It was given to me, a dark gift, from my grandmother and mother, and probably a host of ancestors. At age 5, my mother was molested by my grandfather. He was active with the other children in the family, my mom’s cousins, as well. Probably also my grandmother. Granny was my ally. She had a dark seed inside that I imagine was always calling out to her, saying, “This life is too painful; we’ll be done very soon here.” My mom told me that Granny was depressed, that she had threatened suicide various times to make a point, usually to influence my hippy aunt’s rogue behavior and guilt her into changing or coming home from Eugene. She also told me with strange pleasure that I had this same dark seed within, and that there was nothing I could do about it. Meanwhile, as if to make a point, she herself fell into curtain-closing depressions, spending the days weeping in bed and threatening vague disasters. I tried to get out of the house as fast as I could on those days so I could make it to the world of high school: life, movement, noise, distraction. The house was a place of subdued violence, burning and lurking under the covers like smoke.
I’m 44 years old, and have walked this path for 14 years. The path is defeat. Defeat is not what you think it is, what Nike says it is, what your parents told you. Defeat is a great fire that rages and rages until you let go.
I’ve had a hard time letting go. I struggled with depression in my late 20s, valiantly working harder and harder in an attempt to catapult myself away from the dark seed that sat quietly inside, waiting. I traveled to Cuba twice, planned for a PhD, worked full-time, worked as a teacher’s assistant to two professors, served as managing editor of the history students’ journal, danced flamenco, rode my bike around San Francisco, drank a lot of alcohol. I lived fully. I wanted out of the contract with the seed, the fucking seed. The way to do that was to charge into a big juicy life with huge gusto, outrage, hilarity, gregariousness, sexuality, all at full tilt. The problem was that I was careening out of control, fully tilting into chaos and destruction. But this was living! Adventure! Joy!
At 30, I had my first real job working as an account executive at a web design firm in Portland. I was excited to make more money and move out of debt into a life that would, I hoped, blossom into something that looked like fulfillment. I worked hard, learning the skills of business and project management, though I had only known academia and restaurant work. After three years, I was asked to work in the London office to support a big project in Germany. Life was happening. Taking off, I thought.
Before I left for London, my stomach had been a mess. My life of going out for drinks, scones and coffee in the morning, working all day and sometimes in the evenings and weekends seemed to be offensive to my gut. After eating I’d bloat and cramp, then deflate and suffer diarrhea. I started to stay in more because I didn’t enjoy going out and feeling so terrible after eating. I went to many different doctors who started me on HCL, supplements, special diets. I had a colonoscopy to check for polyps, cancer, other sources of the problem. Finally, I received the diagnosis of IBS. This thing had a name. When I returned from London, I realized the job was a series of political games, sprinkled with a bit of high school popularity contest. I was losing the game, clearly. In London I had followed my integrity and completed my project in a way that felt right, but my way wasn’t what the managing director of my agency wanted: money was at stake, and I had helped another office win the business. My boss began my slow erasure. I wasn’t just shot in the back alley. I was being punished slowly: not fired, but not given any work, either. The IBS raged again. I sat in my padded office chair, watery diarrhea seeping out of me. Shame. I could not control my bowels.
I filed for disability and left the next day and never returned.
By 35, I had learned to manage most of my symptoms by altering my diet. I started working at another agency with an extremely high volume of work. The expectation of speed and accuracy with few or no breaks created a manic, edgy environment of prickly misery. My new boss displayed a sugary sweet calm while her hands shook with anxiety. Her workload seemed to be an avalanche she was awaiting, staving off, awaiting.
One day she whimpered my name pathetically from her office across the hall, hiding under her desk. Medications in various sizes lined up in front of her files like Russian dolls. “I’m dying. I need help. Help me.” The sugar was gone, replaced by a harrowed look of desperation and panic. I sat with her and tried to offer some calm. It’s only work; the client isn’t that important. Life is important. It’s going to be ok.
She left on medical leave the next day, then returned to help transition the team. “You’re next,” she said to me. “I worry about you. Take care of yourself. Don’t do it.” She had apparently reached some beatific state of wisdom from which she could now give me advice. She had just been under the desk in a fetal position two weeks earlier. It didn’t bode well for me; I was the newly trapped. Trapped in the machine of faster, no time, make them happy, be perfect, faster, no isn’t an option. The dark seed was in there, doing its slow, steady work.