No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I Write Comics About Hard Things

I'm not sure I can truly answer this question. It seems I've begun to call more and more often on the inexplicability of things in this last year.

Several friends of mine suffer from PTSD, or one of its variants, as a result of previous trauma. I also have several friends with various forms of anxiety disorder. It is my belief that my knowing numerous people with one or both of these conditions is not actually uncommon. That is, from what I can tell a lot of us suffer with or from these things.

The truth is that each time I post one of the comics for my month-old series "Saying Goodbye to Mr. Circumstance: A Life with PTSD, For M" I have to spend part of the rest of the day in bed. The first two installments demanded most of the day. Some people believe that this is a sign I am somehow more fully healing what ails me--that needing to lay in bed means that I've allowed the feelings to come up, and in allowing them to come up that means I'm also letting them heal.

I'm going to be honest. I don't know if that is true. If I can tell anything from more than ten years now of living with nightmares, hallucinations all in the form of one person, fears that he will some how find me, a strong attachment to the use of my post office mail box, not my street address, and other things--it is that it is not clear to me that these things heal so much as shift in attention. That is, the symptoms do seem better. They are less debilitating. Though, I have always been deeply determined to not be stopped by what ails me so that even if I might have been grabbed by an anxiety induced hallucination I would just damn well keep going about my grocery shopping anyway, or whatever, while simultaneously having to coach myself through my breathing, and the fears that it really was him. I guess what has changed is that with myself I have to do less coaching.

Why in the mother fucking hell then would I bother with doing this kind of thing, this writing of a comics series that basically amounts to some sort of confessional? (Especially when there are all kinds of ways I have failed to admire confessional trends in art.)

I can only answer that question with the statement that every time I type out the final part of the title "For M" I feel a little jolt of happiness. That somehow I believe that in giving my various pains around this issue public airing I am doing something honestly for M, and for my other friends that have suffered from anxiety too. What it would be that I am giving them seems somehow inexplicable too. Except that what I hope is that, as a reader commented on last week's installment, it is the gift that somehow none of us are alone in any of this. That this gift is, unfortunately, a layering up of the pain with the thought that many of us do relive such hurts, and yet a softening of it simultaneously, in the idea that we can better understand ourselves, and each other by admitting to what we experience, and thus seeing better what it is, and what it isn't--that somehow by admitting to these experiences, and understanding them better, we learn that we're still mixed in inside of it all, and so, ultimately, as I do something for M, I get to do something for me too. I give me back to my self.

I was reflecting this morning on how my only truly valuable lesson in the last decade has been the lesson of gratefulness--that I really do feel better every time I give thanks for the incredible gifts of my life, and there are so many. I am so fortunate. I mention this because I feel gratefulness acts like what I said about healing and the shift in attention. It isn't that being grateful means what is hard goes away, it is instead that our attention turns towards what we have, and in that we (re)discover our riches. Riches that have been there all along. In being willing to admit to this story of my life that honestly does still pain me for having gone through, it isn't that I make it go away, instead it is that I turn my attention to the "For M" part of the story--the people that I love, with the hope that in my willingness to be honest and open my heart they will feel the love too.

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