Bearable anguish

I was speaking from my feminine self. It is delightful, and also frightening. I feel vulnerable. There have been moments when my voice goes into a higher register and I say something I know with my whole heart. At last, my mask slips. It is an iron mask, put on to protect me, now constricting and rubbing at me.

Speak from your heart, said Menis, and you speak directly to the hearts of others. It is the most direct way to touch someone apart from a kiss. Five years later, I speak from my heart. I spoke at Jamie’s zoom workshop, and then his zoom get-together, where I said the government’s threats to trans people frightened me. And I felt the love:

You’re also warm and wonderful
I feel like I want to give you a huge long hug Abigail xxxx
I love those words, I am scared…I am mostly harmless. : ) A poem could come from that…..Your voice is so important. Don’t give up hope. Be the poet that you are and spread yourself into other people’s lives. Get writing girl!!!
Sending long, warm hugs m’luv xxx
Really feeling that Abigail ❤
🧡💛💛Love you Abigail
Big Love Abigail ❤

And I spoke at the racism zoom. “I want to move from guilt and embarrassment to action”. I don’t know precisely what the mask is- ego, or the sense of “What will people think?” I know there are feelings around taking it off, fear, which I don’t want to feel so I don’t even consider taking it off. And then I pass through the fear and talk from my heart and people hear me and value me.

I loved the zoom Quaker worship on Sunday. Some people sat outside the meeting house under a mulberry tree, some people joined by zoom, and I sat with my eyes closed listening to the birdsong. I wanted to be at the meeting house.

I am not alone at home. I have all these books, magazines and sites on my computer, which give me a war. There is always something to react to, so I am in the reaction, much of which is habitual, rather than in simple wordless perception which is generally delightful. I look up, and consider my curtains. I find the colour glorious, this soft, gentle green.

The simple wordless perception is delightful, I think, then in comes the challenge: what about cycling uphill when too hot? I have wanted to cycle that thirteen miles, but not enough actually to go. What weighs against it is fear of perception, of being with my actual feelings, or with truth, manifested as fear of going uphill when too hot.

Pure happiness rarely gets through my defences, and when it did my first thought was all things will pass. Momentarily happy now, considering those curtains, then considering where I am now, worrying, questioning, comes in immediately.

It is anguish.

The anguish is bearable because I am worthy. Happiness and anguish co-exist. They may be separate brain circuits firing off at the same time. I feel a passionate desire to understand which may be different from my usual desire to keep in control. It could be a desire to see truth in all its complexity and to understand for its own sake.

Reading of that Quaker meeting’s racism, in 1948, and then discussing it, I felt embarrassment and a deep desire not to exaggerate the racism, to be clear about its precise bounds, which is difficult when I cannot remember the details of the paragraph in which I read about it, and in any event that paragraph is a secondary source and the writer of the primary source might not have been there. Layers and layers of fog, and my embarrassment and discomfort, white guilt, and a desire not to accuse that pastor of any more than my knowledge clearly supports. Or, cut through the white guilt, let go of my shame and embarrassment, and just be clear. They were racist. This is bad.

It feels the same way as taking off the mask and speaking with my female voice.

Quakers can be gentle. We rarely say something is wrong- only when called to stand against it. We exhibit polite interest, and of an idea which is clearly wrong, guarded neutrality. I may refuse to do something to support another when I don’t see that it is right, but may investigate to see the good in their position. We don’t directly confront unless we can’t avoid it. That makes it difficult when someone is suffering the ongoing emotional pain of discrimination, anti-trans, racist, sexist, against disabled people, whatever- and others just don’t see it. There is the general perception that Equality in the UK is pretty much alright, and Quakers share this. My guarded neutrality in me, with inquisitiveness- what is going on here?- it is a virtue in me, but it can get in my way if I expect it from another, perhaps another who is howling in pain.

Possibly the embarrassment I see on a wife’s face when the husband stands to minister is similar. Breaking through the shell or mask is difficult. It does not necessarily mean she thinks he is wrong to minister.

There is truth and clarity in the Now. There is safety in vulnerability.

Be still and cool

I awoke to a social media storm. The first thing I saw on facebook was, “Woke to find the Government has declared war on my existence. Stress, shaking, panic, fear.” Oh. What’s happened now? The Sunday Times’ main front page article was about trans. It said nothing new about the government’s plans on trans recognition, in the most obnoxious way.

I read the article, and wondered whether to blog about it, or go cycling before Meeting. I decided to blog about it, and share that blog, so I did, and then felt wound up. I needed to calm down before Meeting, and knew the passage: QFP 2:18.

Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.

Considering that was not enough, so I phoned a Friend. She knows a lot of the Bible. God challenges Job:

Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendour.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on all who are proud, and abase them.
Look on all who are proud, and bring them low;
tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then I will also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can give you victory.

Job, sitting on his ash heap, cannot do these things. So Job says, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. Then, he gets wealthy again, with sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys and beautiful daughters. He is a bright, active man, and he does what works for him.

I still need to calm down. There is a lot to wind people up, these days: the deaths from the Pandemic, Brexit, the George Floyd demonstrations, and, for me in particular, JK Rowling’s statement and that Sunday Times article coming after Liz Truss’s statement. Others have been outraged about Miriam Margolyes. For years Donald Trump has been fomenting the outrage through Twitter, and it seems Boris Johnson is following the same route. So there were far-right demonstrators “defending statues”,

I find the source of the Fox quote, which is his letter to Lady Claypole, at p346 of Nickall’s edition of his Journal. I read it, before and during Meeting, and considered its predictions. “Looking down at sin, and corruption, and distraction, you are swallowed up in it,” he says. Ain’t that the truth. Of course I knew “Be still and cool” before, but today it speaks to my condition in the clearest way. But- “Looking at the light that discovers them, you will see over them. That will give victory; and you will find grace and strength; and there is the first step of peace.”

A Beatles song comes to mind:

Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?
The sun is out
The sky is blue
It’s beautiful
And so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?

Saturday, my personal growth workshop was about Yin. Yang goes out, does stuff and achieves things, and Yin receives, notices what is, including what is inside me, what I feel. Jamie Catto says our education is far more for Yang than Yin. Mmm. So, “I awoke to a social media storm”. Well, why? Because the first thing I did on awakening, before showering, dressing or breakfast, was to scroll facebook. One answer would be to spend less time on facebook. However, I want my voice to be heard. I shared about JK Rowling, and had 1,163 views of it on the post’s first day. I had a lot of social media love. It is nothing compared to in person friendship or affection, but it can be a delight- “Love the way you write. Hate the way you hurt,” said one person, once.

So, my voice is calling for peace, about Rowling and the Sunday Times. I feel this is worthwhile, and may even be worth the costs of “looking down at distraction”, in order to coax others from it. I might find other ways for my voice to be heard.

I am still with Victorian genre painters. Here’s George Goodwin Kilburne:

Dialogue of the Inner Voices

Anxiety is fear, curdled.

Two of my inner voices have been diametrically opposed, struggling, both miserable, both mostly unconscious, manifested in lassitude and misery. Both want my good. Both are Welcome. My Frontal Lobe, as the conscious part of this process, this animal, this Euarchontoglire called Abigail, invites both into consciousness, to see if they could be brought into dialogue.

One is resentful, frustrated and angry. It wants me to justify my existence, to have meaning in my life. It wants to stretch me and push me to achieve. The other is resentful, frightened and hurt. It feels bullied by the Stretcher. I call it my No. No, that is unreasonable. No, I will not go out cycling and struggle up hill, being cursed as weak and useless.

Fear, unheard, slops around inside like stagnant water, like bilge water in a ship. It could have been useful. It warned of a threat. And now it has gone bad, detached from the threat it warned of, attached to anything it can slime. It becomes anxiety. It does not mean there is no real threat, just that finding that threat is more difficult, and needs patience; and anxiety may linger after I find the threat, unsure that I really have dealt with it.

So the Frontal Lobe, the Love, the Reconciler, to make this a positive sum game brings both voices into separate rooms, lavishing praise and gratitude on both for their care and labour, with a hint of a suggestion that their aims might be achieved better if a few small adjustments were made.

There is the Stretcher, which the Protector wishes to call the slave-driver. It wants me to achieve. I am competitive, and it encourages me this morning to go cycling. The Protector fears the slave-driver will get angry and frustrated, and start to bully uselessly. Harder! Faster! I cudgel myself, scourge myself, as I go up hill too slowly for my liking, not wanting to go down a gear because I should be able to do it in this gear. The Stretcher is continually bamboozled, as well as resentful, that this is not as easy as it thinks it should be.

Well, the lie it imbibed was that things are easy and its performance should be perfect. It has fixed at quite a young age, this aspect of myself. At that young age, I decided that difficult things should appear easy and require little effort, and the Stretcher, frustrated, resentful, angry and mostly unconscious, affecting me unawares, has not learned how to- drop a gear, literally and figuratively, to break the task down, take it slower, make it easier, take the time necessary to learn it, build up gradually.

With Love, the Reconciler thanks it for its determination to achieve and develop, and suggests it might achieve these worthwhile goals more easily by breaking the task down. That is a long hill, steep in places. I notice that if I drop to a gear lower than I ever use at the steepest parts, I can rotate my pedals quicker, and be in a higher gear later on when it is less steep. I have noticed that the cyclists who pass me turn their cranks much faster than I do. Possibly that is a technique which would make me more efficient. I read about it last century, I think, this idea of Cadence, around the time I found that a simple change to my breaststroke technique made me a faster swimmer.

(Last century. There’s the resentment, the self-blaming. How stupid I am, how stupid these voices! That resentment does not help. Turn it round. Here I am learning ways new to me, which will improve my performance. I will achieve the goals of both!)

Now is what matters.

I am in conscious incompetence. These are decisions to make. Gear 2.1 is much lower than 2.2. I can go up hill in 2.2 but it is a struggle. Then 2.1 feels too low. I may learn which works best by trying both, or perhaps work harder for a bit in 2.2 then go back to 2.1. Trying different combinations may help me learn. Bringing this to consciousness and putting it into words, doing something I don’t know will work in a spirit of enquiry, may help me improve.

This is the aim of the Stretcher.

The Reconciler has also been aware of the Protector, also in its room. The Protector is anxious. It has been scourged and cursed before, it will happen again! But the Stretcher does not seem so angry and frustrated. The Protector might be enticed. Sunshine is good for me. Birds and blossom are beautiful. The Protector wants me to achieve, too, just not to be bullied. Bullying is a No.

The Reconciler hears that demand. No Bullying. Well, that seems reasonable. The Stretcher does not realise it is bullying, that is the problem. Do you see it wants our Good?

Mmm. The Protector is not absolutely convinced, but willing to suspend judgment for the moment. Then its anxiety comes over it. What if my tyre punctures or Something Bad Happens? It has worked so hard to protect me, it needs my care itself.

Most of the time I was out, the Protector was grudgingly admitting that the Stretcher was behaving more sensibly, though some of the time one or the other panicked and needed reassurance. Well, I am a sensitive soul, and that is a blessing, and I need my own love and reassurance. The Reconciler worked to reassure both.

This is a work in progress. And I notice my progress, and give each of these voices, and my whole self, necessary praise and thanks.

Forgiveness and the Inner Voices

I may be too good at forgiveness, at seeing things from the other’s point of view. Self-respect requires me to see things from my own point of view at least sometimes.

On Friday 22nd I found more inner conflict. I spoke on Jamie Catto’s zoom gathering of how I felt about Emma Nicholson, and the LGBT foundation letter. The way to talk about how I felt scared was to use my most feminine voice. Then I spoke about other internal voices seeking to suppress that voice: one says “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” I have quoted this voice before, and it seemed then I allowed it to speak through my vocal cords.

That was big for me. It is a voice the conscious self does not like, its desperation, its violent anger at something I see as authentic self. I saw I have to welcome that terrified voice as well. It wants my good. It affects me if I am unconscious of it, and I may become conscious and hear a more nuanced message from it if I welcome it.

On Saturday I did his zoom workshop. “Don’t push yourself,” says Jamie Catto. Um. I want Opening! That’s why I am here. He says it’s a matter of receiving, not forcing, yin not yang, and what he talks of may be the “inner light” of the Quakers. He talks of full body listening. Stop numbing feeling. Self-love means being willing to feel uncomfortable or unacceptable feelings.

Another talks of RAIN: ground yourself, then ask what you feel. Then Recognise, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. After an eye-contact thing, which does not work over Zoom, and two games to get us speaking playfully and unselfconsciously, we get the forgiveness exercise.

Pick some wrong you have suffered, then imagine a judge has found the wrongdoer guilty. Write a plea in mitigation.

Without self blaming or making yourself wrong, or changing the facts of what happened: are there any ways you co-created what happened?

What point or fact or thing do you usually leave out of the retelling of what happened that reduces their guilt and your victimhood or innocence?

I think of various things I resent, and really I can forgive or understand most of it. H has betrayed herself as well as me, and, well, I see the route she took there. With S, it is complex. I won’t get to the bottom of that here. The person I cannot forgive is myself. I should be capable of more!

Much of my plea in mitigation I have often rehearsed, about my parents. That about me, seems new. I learned of the world through them. I knew no better. I have suffered 54 years, now, I do not deserve to suffer longer. I am untwisting.

Those two voices of the day before, the terrified voice shouting “Shut Up!” and the playful child-

Who is Love-

I write that in capitals. I am surprised by my vehemence.

I am Love.

Two voices, in unended conflict. I don’t know who I am or what to do and that is unbearable
and not my fault.

There it is. Not my fault. That is a moment of forgiveness right there.

What have I missed out of the retelling? Listen for the inspiration. Don’t try to answer the question with intellect or as a problem, listen for it as the muse might inspire a poem. Missed- my gifts- my courage, my capacity for joy, the value of the journey?

What is Now matters more than any of it.
Such as is still blind and twisted will heal in time.

Yeah, yeah. Live in the Now. I have heard that so many times. I even manage it, some of the time- and it has never meant so much to me before. What I am doing, Now, matters more than all that has led up to this point.

Talking this over in pairs, I say I feel like a snake shedding old skin, and she suggests the image of a phoenix rising.

Jamie has more questions for the inner light.
1. What is the bravest, most healing action I could take regarding this story/relationship?
2. What is/was the gift or training buried within/on offer from this experience?
3. Is there anything I’ve missed or skipped?

I test possible answers out, with my intellect. Does this fit? What could I do- trust? Forgive? Live?

Surrender.

The gift? A blessing for others which will give me delight?

The ability to hear others and to be present to them.

What have I missed: I sit with Unknowing, which is so painful. I am brave. I am goodness.

The unfolding is the point.

“Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is,” Victor Frankl wrote, “but rather must recognise that it is he who is asked.” Sorry about the non-inclusive language, I don’t even know if he wrote it in English or German. For me, the meaning is (at least, right now, when I am doing it) finding those voices and bringing them from conflict to reconciliation. Sadness and Anger, the feminine and what makes it shut up.

On Sunday, I wanted to cycle before worship, and found myself delaying again. I could just do that thirteen mile run, have a shower, and be in time for worship. I go out, and then think, I could do the ten miles instead. I come up to the T junction. Should I turn right, or left? I stop, to make the decision.

There is a voice inside which wants so much to stretch me, to make me go faster and further, to make me achieve. That is a good voice. And there is another which wants to protect me from the first, when it pushes me too hard. That too is a good voice. And the two are mostly unconscious, at loggerheads, and therefore so much I do disappoints me. I Welcome both voices, and make the decision with them both.

I turn left. I take the shorter route, with less climbing. I did not think of just turning round, which would have been shorter still.

Coming down the hill on the busiest part of the route, I am angry at the cars passing so close, so I move to the centre of my lane. I am claiming my space in the most vulnerable way possible.

In worship, I think, I so want to stretch myself and I so want not to. I think of Northampton Quakers. They would probably have tolerated me as a mere nutcase supplicant, coming to meeting, it was me saying what was true and what should be done, and taking my place as an equal that they could not stand. I turn off the video camera, in case I disturb other worshippers.

I Hurt,

I think, and immediately another voice says, “Your lifestyle is completely unchallenging”. I know this is untrue, and I

Welcome

the voice. I tell it “Do what you like. Say what you need,” in an accepting, curious tone, rather than the angrily sarcastic one I would use to reject it.

I felt utter misery a few moments ago, and now I feel playfulness. Might I dance?

Someone ministers about how exciting his first Quaker meeting had been, and he wanted that recreated.

Another ministers that early Friends talked of the spirit moving within as Quickening, the same word used for a mother feeling her baby move within.

I minister, that I have been broken open, so I switched off my camera in case I disturbed others, but perhaps it is hard to damage the meeting.

Another quotes 1 John 1:5:

God is Light, and in God there is no darkness at all.

We become who we are, dealing with our issues, integrating them. Another quotes QFP:

The art of living must be studied, as must every art. It calls for imagination, so that every advance, every change, is not merely a difference, but a creative act. Achievement, at any level above the lowest, calls for courage to hold on, in spite of current moods, and for exacting self-discipline. The art of Christian living calls for the same self-preparation; but its reward is not merely aesthetic satisfactions. The soul, hungry for God, is fed. Life itself takes on new meaning. Thus it is that we break from the confines of the prisons we have built about ourselves. Thus it is we are brought into the freedom of the Kingdom of God which, every day, through the wide world, is being realised in the hearts of men.

Self-consciousness and self-knowledge

Self-consciousness and self-knowledge may be incapable of coexisting. I have one when I do not have the other. Trans people may be particularly self-conscious. Other people call self-knowledge “flow”.

Cycling last week, with the brilliant new idea of being kind to myself, not pushing myself too hard, I was more efficient and enjoyed it more. And today I was back to old habits, resenting the hills and the wind, and going in a higher gear than necessary. Then I pedal more slowly. I went to the supermarket in the sunshine, which could have been more enjoyable. Coming back, some of the time I was in a lower gear, sometimes not.

In self-consciousness, I have strong ideas about how I should appear, and never match them. So I am struggling against the pedals and the hills. In self-knowledge, the prompting to change down a gear feels instinctive, with no gap between perception, desire and act. My competitiveness manifests in both- I want to go as fast as possible, I want to improve- but I know that revolving the pedals faster in a lower gear is more efficient, so in self-consciousness, beating myself up about my weakness, I do less well.

Yes. I have been transitioned eighteen years, and I still want to make a man of myself, and am continually frustrated and disappointed at my failure to do so. Cycling, I look at the blossom and like it but I also look at the houses on the ridge and think of the hill to get up to them. I am still pushing myself, testing myself all the time, demanding more, at the same time that I spend most of my time in my living room. Pushing myself is pleasure and fear. I still bully myself, push myself, even as I do less and less. If I can just be in the moment, cycling, rather than thinking of past and future and how I might appear, I might enjoy it more. Wu Wei, the Do-Not do of the Tao, relates, as does the idea of unconscious competence, bringing something into consciousness only to fine tune it.

I want to cycle, and I want not to. There are two impulses. The desire for fresh air, sunshine and exercise may just be because intellectually I know I ought to want them. Or that is how I care for myself, for my body.

If I ceased to see myself as worthless, thinking I should be doing better than this, I might be freed. My judgment of myself might have value were it not so harsh. It is a response to external judgments in the past. Its intention is to keep the child me safe, and to improve me. It wants to help, but it- she- is in a panic all the time. Here, I construct an intellectual understanding, in words, so as to let go the demands  and just be.

Tina observed, the contrast in me between the calm serenity of my usual presentation, and these bursts of utter frustration. She said, “Those parts of you don’t understand each other, or will not talk to each other, or upset each other tremendously”.

I mother this panicking aspect of me.

Then I went out the day after, and cycled in conscious awareness. After that, I met Pauline over Zoom. She agreed to explore this way I am becoming more conscious of feeling, and how my feelings conflict. I would not have said I was an anxious person, and now I discern anxiety in myself, and find it far too great. I should not be anxious. I told her of anger holding sadness down, and now they are not fighting.

She understands. Ignored feelings shout louder. Feelings are a flag-waving exercise, drawing my attention to my need. Or, acknowledging that a need is met. For anxiety, I might ask what the need is.

For anxiety, I think it is my own judgment of myself that is too harsh, and that makes me anxious, not wanting to do anything that will be judged.

Part of me despises my agoraphobic lifestyle. Despises is a strong word. It fits, though.

I have a need to contribute and be valued. I want freedom, both freedom to act and freedom from the demands. I need affirmation and acceptance.

My great No has removed a great deal of the stress.

She has a picture of me with the neighbour I fear, playing the piano together “uproariously”. Possibly this fits my sadness and my anger with it, now playing together. There is self-acceptance.

She suggests I allow my unconscious feelings expression. Could I improvise it on the piano? My thoughts on this are of possible sounds that would make, and of the fact that I rarely play and rarely improvised when I did, I just played from scores. So there is the old negative, oh that won’t work, but it is not as strong as before.

The sounds do not have to be explained. Possibly they cannot be put into words, but the conscious intention to give this time shows them they might be accepted and that might bring them into consciousness. The process acknowledges them, begins the acceptance which may lead to perception.

If it does not feel safe to come out in words, not requiring it to express itself in words may be helpful. It’s like sitting in a clearing and she feels her level of reverence and acceptance might allow a deer to cross the clearing. Odd. Someone once said I was like a deer in the woods, peering out shyly.

Things you have no memory of may be expressed in art therapy.

So I decide, I will stand in the middle of my room, and allow that part of myself to make a movement. In the evening, I do this, and look around the room. There is a moment when it suddenly feels inauthentic, and I stop. The next morning- this morning, as I write- I stand there again, with that intention, and say “Welcome”. The image of a Mexican standoff comes to mind. Lots of people are pointing guns at each other, with shifting alliances. One hesitantly begins to lower his gun. After sunset I stand barefoot in darkness, say the word of power that initiates the ritual- “Welcome”- and start to dance.

Well. I know I should not say, oh, there’s this worrying symptom with my heart, and then go silent- but this is huge for me. I think I make progress.

I have no idea who painted this, but it fits.

Feelings about feelings

My feelings are my response to the world. If I reject my feelings, I reject my self. I have been taught to reject my feelings, and this paralyses me. My feelings still affect me even if I am not conscious of them. It seems to me that I need to be consciously aware of feelings in order to process them.

I went to the supermarket yesterday. I cycled along the unmetalled road, in the sunshine, enjoying the colours of the lakes. Impressionists using strange colours for water, not blue but colours I cannot name, make more sense to me, and help me see the water more truthfully. I needed to go as I had no fruit in the house, and wondered why I had still not wanted to get up. (At last I was aware of not wanting to get up, rather than being unconscious of it, or in denial.) Why would I not want to be here?

Well, there is the effort of cycling, which is harder on this track, though there is little wind. And, I am outside. There is more sensory stimulation outside, more light, more noise. Rather than the various electric hums of my household, there are birds. Inside, where I prefer to be, I am in control, safest in the immediate moment, and outside is different. And there are people about. People are weird, and possibly threatening.

Knowing that everything must be perfect as I perform this task, of going to the supermarket, finding and buying things, and bringing them home, and therefore everything must be predictable, I feel anxiety. This is completely wrong of me, proof of my weakness and inadequacy. I should not feel anxious.

“You are terribly harsh with yourself,” said Andy.

Because I judge myself for being anxious, I rarely permit myself to be conscious of anxiety, and noticing it can be surprising. And realising how liberating knowing my sadness could be, I am determined to excavate it. That judgment may in the past have made me more effectual- I suppressed my anxiety, and got on with the task in hand- but now it cripples me, stopping me doing anything. And, so distanced from my own feelings, the choice of that task would rarely be my own.

Unconscious anxiety just stops me acting. I do not want to feel anxious, so I do not want to go out. So I lie in bed, half the morning, wondering if I will ever have enough motivation to get up; and when I think, oh, I’ll have lunch then watch TV all afternoon, I finally do.

The emotional being then becomes a recalcitrant servant, always needing coaxed, never doing as much as my conscious sense of rightness or need wants it to do. It is rarely brought into consciousness and it rarely makes positive choices to do something that I want to do. When I am conscious of my feelings, they disturb or distress me; they feel as if they are merely wrong. So I continue suppressing them, and notice I am not doing what that sense of rightness feels is appropriate.

My income is low, and I have been dipping into savings. I was not really conscious of income and outgoings. I was more and more careful of what I spent, for example not buying clothes, but had no real idea of when I was exceeding income. I paid utility bills when I got threats of legal action. It seems to me I am unconsciously resentful of my situation without any idea what to do about it, and I would be less vulnerable if I could monitor my spending, fit it to my income, and pay bills as they come in. I did not like the idea of powerlessly resenting. It feels to me this is more conscious, more truthful, and I should be in credit at the end of the month, just. The feeling affects my actions, whether I am conscious of it or not, and may be noticeable to others, even if I do not see it myself.

In the past, the denial of my feelings has served my purposes. The feeling was too scary to be admitted. But this is a child’s perspective. Generally, the sooner I am conscious of feeling the better it will be.

Joy in sadness

Outside my window there is a single strand of spider silk, discarded, perhaps used for flight. The light reflected on it is beautiful.

When I first became conscious of my feelings, they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I have also been aware of pain. Tina spoke of seeing sadness in me, and I was aware of my anger at myself, holding the sadness down, asking it “What on Earth have you got to be sad about?” in contempt and derision.

And there is disappointment in how my life is turning out and what I have been able to do about that.

Jamie spoke of sadness too, when I sang to him. “D Minor is the saddest key,” he said. Now I am ready to face my sadness. What about? My nephew and nieces, crying out delightedly “It’s Uncle Stephen!” comes to mind.

I don’t need to cry. I just need to acknowledge the sadness. I don’t need to resist it: resisting is outdated.

George Fox wrote “Then you will walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one,” but the paragraph began “The spirit that is transgressed and in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one” and I can imagine if it had been cast slightly differently, and the phrase we would all know would be “liberating that of God in every one,” including ourselves. “People must be led out of captivity up to God,” Fox writes. It’s the Journal, Nickalls’ edition, p263.

The bars of the cage are melting and becoming pliable.

What have you got to be sad about? I am not sure. All of life, perhaps. Specific things. H, and H, and Covid, and Edinburgh. If I am mourning what I could not mourn before I am not conscious of all I am mourning.

There is sadness. Hello.

In the Meeting for Worship, held on video-conference, we have our microphones muted, so I can mutter to myself the message which is only for me, to help it to stick in my own mind. And, today, I can get a pen and paper to write this down. I have the lattitude to do my work here, talking, writing, and sighing, and am aware of the others.

Sadness at not being all-knowing: all that Confusion!

I am joyfully sad, because I am no longer sad or angry at being sad. The bars dissolve.

That silk catches the light. It is resilient. I think of the idea that I cannot see any quality outside myself that is not within me, and the word-play “resile” comes to mind. That is painful. I have an inner voice which denies all possible good qualities in me. That voice hurts me. The silk is beautiful.

I will resist that voice! I am crying helplessly.

Ministry on grief- a woman quotes. Something like, having a body is about feeling the exact feelings of this body, of being present in this body not just having a body to carry around. I am present in the mass and the matter of it. She sees the grief we are carrying. What would I say if someone asked why I was crying? “I can’t tell you, but it is good,” perhaps. I am

Opening, Flowering, Accepting, Loving, Receiving.

It is

Peace.

You cannot recognise something without you that is not within you, or acknowledge something outside that you cannot acknowledge within. If you resist yourself, you resist the world. If you reject yourself, you reject the world. If you accept yourself, you accept the world.

After meeting, I have the feeling that I have had a deep massage, removing long buried knots in muscles, or even a heart-bypass, removing blockages. Or it is suddenly being able to face what I could not face before.

Anger and sadness, depression and motivation

-Part of you is dreadfully sad. You have this deep well of sadness in you. When you are motivated to do something that succeeds, you notice and hold that achievement. I am wondering what happens when you don’t, whether you judge yourself or care for yourself and feel the disappointment.

Of course I would like only success, and failure, sooner or later, makes me withdraw. “We tried that once and it didn’t work”- I have noticed people not trying something a second time when trying again seemed worthwhile to me, and I notice that I stop trying too. I could not bear yet another failure, so I stopped. Trying was too painful, but I needed to be screaming before I acknowledged the pain, and by then I could not try again.

-We can see the positives, achievement and celebration and success and doing is very much our culture, but not so good about seeing the other side of things, or fearing trying again, failing again. Fail better, said Beckett’s Krapp, showing the difficulty of it. I dwelt on this until we met again two weeks later. What stops me feeling the sadness, or the pain, is my anger. My anger is directed inwards, at me. What do I have to be sad about? I demand, disdainfully, contemptuously. It is like my other internal conflicts- the anger pushes down, the sadness pushes against it, I exhaust myself but do not move.

Richard Rohr wrote Your life is not about you– the ego at the centre of the Universe. It is about God. It is about a willing participation in a larger mystery. At this time, we do this by not rejecting or running from what is happening but by accepting our current situation and asking God to be with us in it. I thought, The spiritual lesson is learning the opposite of what you believed- I was worthless, not the centre of the Universe at all. Learning the different aspects of truth- my value as a unique being, my ordinariness as one among billions- I need a different corrective to the one Rohr administers.

What does the anger say? I sympathise more with the anger (as it is righteous, with something soft and weak). I am proud of it, so I bring it into consciousness and accept it. It seems appropriate. My anger tries to be stoic, accepting trouble and keeping on (except that it fails at that). I admire stoicism: Marcus Aurelius was seeking the Good Life, was the moral philosopher whether talking of getting out of bed or facing death. And my anger denies the sadness- go away and stop bothering me. It blocks the sadness from consciousness. Stop whining! it commands, and the whining becomes quieter though no less effective as a block to action.

The anger is inside me now, the anger is me, though it may be learned from the culture or the family, from voices outside. I don’t remember it, particularly, as an outside voice, condemning me- perhaps I learned it from others’ example.

Then I find the sadness, and I want to process it. I have the idea that if I could simply feel the sadness it would have told me all it needed to tell me, I would have learned from it all I needed to learn- not Don’t do that! but Take care doing that. And I have the idea that I am simply coaxing the sad part of me- I will listen to it for a time then say, that’s enough time now, come on- wheedling- coaxing- now take action. At which the sadness or the sad part digs its heels in again. It’s too painful right now. Rest a while more.

The anger is me. The sadness is me. Consciously I am more in the anger because it feels right, and it feels effective. Kicking my own backside was my way of motivation. Get on with it. It did actually work, for a while, it got me out of the house, going to work, achieving some things. Now if it works, if I get out of bed because I kick myself, I am wearied by it, it is heavy, an effort, it gives no joy. Anger and sadness are in stalemate.

-Where is your agency? she asks. Where’s the rest of you? I see your appreciation of culture and awe and beauty and there is something in you which wants to go and appreciate these things.

Well, that was my social training. My Dad showed me that culture required effort. We listened to Bartok string quartets expecting not to enjoy them- for them to be so alien, so complex, that my first feeling would be distressed boredom. Then with concentration and repeated listening the drama of the work, its progression and feeling, would reveal itself. I had this experience aged about 14 with The Silmarillion. I struggled through it, and found it weird, and the third time I read it I enjoyed it. Now I have The Mirror and the Light. It has huge sales, and I imagine more people will buy it than read it because they do not appreciate the effort it requires; but it will reward that effort. I am re-reading Bring Up the Bodies, knowing the characters better than I did. Its sequel is a 900 page novel which will be worth savouring.

In the same way I walked up the stairs in the National Gallery with a stool, because standing still too long is uncomfortable for me, turned right into the first gallery, turned left to the first painting and sat in front of it. That Veronese is fabulously beautiful. I retain it in my mind, and think of the legend of St Helena. And it is an effort. I need to concentrate, and I need to go and seek it out.

The anger is conscious, the sadness comes to consciousness. Partly it is an intellectual exercise, working out what might be there, partly it is trust in you as the expert who sees sadness in me, and partly it is inklings of feeling, peeking out from the woods, or surfacing briefly from the depths.

The anger is directed inwards, against myself, because I am weak and without status. If my anger is expressed outwards I will be squished. I got this from my family, and perhaps from their experience as human beings in the pecking order. I am at the bottom of the pecking order. Well, when I am sucking up to this admin worker, Oh, you lost a stone! How strong willed you are, how determined! What an achievement! Rather than about time, you’ll ruin your knees otherwise you fat slattern.

I have value only for what I can achieve, rather than in myself. So I need the opposite of Rohr’s lesson. I don’t blame my parents, it’s sins of the fathers, just the situation being passed on, like a mother rabbit bending to lick her kits, and the rabbit parasites march down her nose and onto them. It’s just what happens.

-Where is your agency? she asks again.

I have desire without action. I passionately want to be seen. And I want not to be seen, to hide away at home. My friend said it was as if I wanted to blend into the background in the most eyecatching way possible, which he might have wanted for himself. One of the best ways of hiding in plain sight is the steady achievement of the quiet efficient worker, who does what is expected.

-When do you feel these things rather than intellectualise about them?

When you talked about my sadness I felt irritation. Feeling the sadness- it’s too much to bear in consciousness, and I need to intellectually accept that, it’s part of the process of unearthing it.

HELP ME!

-That does not feel real. It feels like an intellectual exercise.

Well, yes. I am acting. I can only say that within several sets of quotation marks, and you can hear the quotation marks in my voice- but I am acting myself. That is what I want to say to you, perfectly sincerely, and I can only say it as an act.

-What stops you being as opposed to acting?

Lack of practice. Uselessness and inadequacy. A deep lack of trust, in myself and in the world. Those are the things that come to mind immediately.

-Is the better self totally intellectual?

No. But the feeling self, anger and sadness, is tied in such knots I can barely perceive it. Or there are feelings flooding through me, and I cannot speak them. I might type or write them.

-Does this practice, of seeking art, music and literature out, and working on them, apply to anything else?

It applies to ideas. I read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Implicit Bias in order to understand implicit bias better. I found it a struggle. I want to understand. I’d like to walk down the street buying stuff, but I can’t see how to get to there from here. I want to meet people and get to know them, and I do, sometimes, talking to people with different experiences to see through their eyes. People learn what is fun by convention, then do that for fun because they don’t know any better, but by exploration we might find something rewarding.

The weight of the world

I want to save the world because I could not rescue my mother.

The suggestion that TERFs claiming to protect vulnerable women from trans women is as baseless, as much in bad faith and as invidious as racists claiming to protect white women from Black men was like a plunge into cold water or a slap in the face for me. I simply could not have seen it that way. That someone else sees it that way gives me hope. Those calling me monstrous, those demanding protection from me, are wrong about me.

Then the leadership team of UNISON wrote a letter, including this: UNISON stands with our trans members and all trans people, who face high levels of discrimination and prejudice in work and increasing levels of hate and abuse in public spaces.

I am writing something for publication. I dumped a sentence in the middle of it, apparently apropos of nothing: A social work tutor said BAME and LGBT people were less likely to complete courses. The editors pointed that out. I really had not wanted to state explicitly, on my own authority, that people leave courses because being policed into heteronormativity or the constant reinforcement that Black is less, white is normal and better, is STRESSFUL!!!!!! It may be easier for me to speak, as an ally, on behalf of people of colour than to say it for myself. I should just cope, after all, it’s entirely normal, everyone has their problems.

It is about acceptance and rejection. I am crippled by repeated rejection. It sits like a reservoir of pain in the centre of my being. Conform or be cast out– I suffer from it now, and have not processed it.

There is a risk in writing of something I have not fully processed. The pain may come out. Excuse me for a moment, I need to scream.

NO IT IS NOT NATURAL AND NORMAL AND RIGHT IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS!!!!!!

Ah, that’s better.

Writing of something I am processing may set me off, but it can give the writing an immediacy or edge which is harder to capture when I have finished the processing.

One group kicked me out, and another group takes me in, and my friend’s words and actions, especially the hugs, are warm and welcoming. And I want to say, look! Listen to them, this is what they say! I respect them (though I have riled them and they have rejected me I still like and respect several of them). Partly I might tell myself this is wisdom, seeing the positive in nine years of relationship and even Acceptance of Reality, and the thing in me which is harder for me to see is my assertion that they were right to reject me because I really am that bad, destructive, negative, totally worthless. And I am nervous about the new group. It is only a matter of time before they see how repellent I am, and reject me too.

I wanted to download four years of texts from my phone, with a particular person, as a reminder of her intelligence, strength, enthusiasm honour and humour. So I put a “phone manager” program on my computer which has probably hoovered up all my data to sell on. A few hundred texts is not much of a memorial- I have blog posts and diary entries, emails and even memories- but I wanted them because I cannot resurrect the friendship, which is dead. Previously I have felt good about dumping a long chain of emails as a sign of moving on, but not in this case. Despite quite a bit of fiddling, I could not download the texts.

I have not been crying much this year, and now I am weeping helplessly. I want the tears not to go down the tear ducts to the throat, I want them to well over, because that is a cultural proof that they are real. Sobbing is not enough. It is midnight, and I feel I need to talk to someone to regain equanimity. I will not tell myself sharply to GET OVER IT!!!!! It has to be the Samaritans. The phone rings out for a long time, then I get Ivy. She wants me to explain. I am crippled by rejection, I say. I do not want to give all the important or most recent examples, though I tell her of my father and sister to establish I am not whining over nothing.

Emoting for a bit to another human being gives relief from the immediate misery, and will help me sleep, so that’s a good thing, but I want more. This is shaking me to my core, and I want to understand why. I want all gender variant people, including the anti-trans campaigners, all working together for our common good, united. It is a ridiculous thought, and there is nothing I can do to forward it- or small actions now and then which have a pitifully small effect before the enormity of the task. I may go into pointless symbolic activity, like copy-pasting each of those texts individually, to create a relic or monument which I despise even as I create it. The relic is worthless, the desire is pointless, and feeling that is unbearable and I weep. Well, it makes sense to me, whatever Ivy or you think of it. I type notes as I talk to her, because I am questing for answers beneath my screams.

The pain is in my need to reconcile the irreconcilable. My love should be sufficient to understand explain and persuade. And it isn’t. And others see the dispute very differently. I am loving, creative, intelligent, articulate, persuasive, and that gets me nowhere because the problem is intractable.

I could not save the friendship and I could not save my mother.

I did all I could.

I could not rescue my mother. All I can do is rescue me, which I do more slowly than I would wish.

Seven Samaritans

I am scared of phoning the Samaritans. I have an idea of what I want to do with the conversation, which terrifies me. My judgment that I am worthless, without the most basic resilience or intelligence, is mine, and I feel that it comes from my childhood. However from the same place comes my judgment that I had an unexceptionable childhood, and that no-one would be affected negatively by it except someone who was worthless, stupid and disgustingly fragile.

“You were tortured,” Liz said, referring to how hurt I appeared in 2011.

I had the thought that I would talk about my childhood with the Samaritans. I would project my judgment on them that there was nothing wrong with my childhood, so saying it would take my courage. Then, in speaking it out loud I would advance towards believing my childhood really was difficult. I was not in this position because I was worthless. Unfortunately, I could not have the conversation I desired.

I explained to the first what I wanted, and he took control, asking questions. When in answer to a question I said I noticed I felt worthless when I was twenty, he asked “Did something happen when you were twenty?” Yes; but something to make me notice the feeling, not something to cause it for the first time. I was fed up with his questions. I was afraid of addressing the question: I would talk about my childhood, and believed he would find nothing wrong with it. As I was psyching myself up to start, he filled the silence with distracting questions. So I rang off.

The second wanted to explain his role to me in great detail. He listens because he makes mistakes himself, he said, though he should not have told me that, he said. Everyone suffers with depression and anxiety, he said. If you’ve locked your door then gone back to check it’s locked that’s obsessive-compulsive, he said. There’s no stigma here.

The third wanted to explore the fact that I might get help anywhere else? Have you had counselling? he demanded. Yes. “Has it helped with strategies?” Oh, you mean like cognitive behavioural therapy. No, I am trying to get to the root of the problem, why I feel the feeling so I can lay it to rest, not how I can tell it it’s stupid and drag it around with me. “Are you on any meds?” No. “Have you spoken with your doctor?” Erm. “How are you feeling today?” “Is it an especially bad day?”

-You’ve just asked two questions, I said. Which do you think is the most important?
-Is it an especially bad day today, he said. No.
-How do you think we can help?
-I am frightened of you, and I want to face my fear.
-Why?
-Because I am projecting judgment on to you. Does that make sense to you?
-No. We don’t judge.

I rang off again. I find women Samaritans more useful, so when the fourth to answer was the fourth man in a row, I rang off immediately. (Hello! Any Samaritans reading this?)

The fifth was a woman, called Samantha, who thought we had spoken before. I felt mild embarrassment at that, but when you phone them as often as I do it’s possible, I suppose. She said they try not to remember calls. In a brief moment, facing my fear, I thought, I want to convince them it was unbearable, but not by showing pain or distress in my voice. I want to talk rationally, as if communicating my feeling by tone of voice would not be an acceptable way of convincing them. That is, I devalue my emotions, at least for this purpose. I want to persuade by rational argument, and as I am projecting judgment it is that I need to persuade myself. As I faced my fear, she interrupted to tell me to get on with it. They have lots of callers to speak to. Have you had help?

Yes. Counselling over decades. Sorry to trouble you.

I ring off again.

With the sixth I realised I did not just fear judgment, which I was quite clear I was projecting, but also incomprehension, which was only partially projected. I needed to convince myself of the difficulties of my childhood leading to my ongoing feeling of worthlessness.

I am not just calling to confuse Samaritan volunteers. I am in need, and have nowhere else to go. My seventh call was to another Liz. I said I needed to make a declaration to another human being. I started by saying good things people have said of me, and that I believe them: in fact when someone pays me a compliment I write it down in order to squeeze every last drop of affirmation from it. Friends have called me “bold and brave and honest and open”, and see kindness, gentleness, tenderness and tenacity, courage, authenticity, insight, integrity, and concern for others in me. I do too. And I felt worthless, because of the difficulties of my childhood.

We discussed my childhood for a bit.
-Your feelings were not appreciated, she said.
-No.
-That must have been tough.

The relief I feel hearing that is great. I am understood. She sympathises. Perhaps in her eyes I am not worthless.

-How do you get on with your parents now?
-They are both dead.
-How did you feel about that?
-Relief. (That’s not the whole of it, but a large part of it. I can love them now they can’t hurt me any more.)

-Are there people now who make you feel worthless?
Enough to keep my old conviction simmering.

We also establish that my desires were not appreciated, such that I did not know what I wanted. I had no particular friends, and was not given choices. We ate meals together, and talked of current affairs: there was one right way to see current affairs, that Thatcher was Britain’s saviour, which is not an opinion I cleave to now. I say how devoted my father was to self-improvement, reading and treating high culture as work, which he must concentrate on to gain appreciation. I say my mother wore the trousers, and this was something we could not discuss.

Liz wants me to look in the mirror and affirm myself. She keeps mentioning this. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘I am not worthless’.” I want to say it to her, and I want to say it with my whole being, with all of me accepting and believing it. I am not there yet. However, in continuing conversation I say with a part of me, in a soft voice, “I am not worthless”. Then with a rational, conversational part of me I say “I am not worthless”.

I have faced a lot of challenges. I tell her of Dr Patel. I did not just want to be invisible, not to be noticed because it was a threat. Nor did my father. I wanted what I saw to be right. This comes from integrity.

I called the Samaritans this afternoon, and eventually had the healing conversation I had wanted. And this evening, I am not saying “I am not worthless” but, sometimes calmly and confidently, sometimes repeatedly,

I have value.

Smiling, and even believing it!

I had a dreadful childhood. I was kept warm and well-fed, and pushed to academic success, and my feelings, desires and even my very nature were so systematically devalued by my parents especially my mother that I could not value, or even perceive them. I was taught to hide my nature in terror and pretend to be normal, and not even to realise that was what I was doing. I could not have typed this paragraph yesterday, and even now it starts with the positives, reducing the weight of that word “dreadful”. The positives are there and they do not begin to mitigate the depth of the trauma. Acknowledging it is a step to healing it.