Skipping Stones

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Twin Leaves 400

Last year’s cherry leaves still clinging to the branches

After seven days of insomnia, the last three of which I got no more than three hours of sleep, I finally put my foot down and forced myself to reset my biological clock. Two nights ago I struggled to keep my mind from spinning out of control in the darkness, but to no avail, and so the snowshoeing day trip I had planned for myself fell through. I was just too exhausted to attempt walking in the mountains… Probably not even a good idea. So yesterday I forced myself to stay awake all day, no matter how woozy I got, so that by the evening I could be exhausted enough to make it through the night.

It worked, sort of. It was a fitful slumber: I kept waking to the pellmell rotating of my miind as it slid over various sticking points like the tines of a mucis box. During the week before my mind was an amorphous mass, all the anxieties and self-doubts bristing with urgency, so that none of it made any sense, but sifted through with a kind of red alert alarm: “I have to get all this stuff done now! I have to make the big changes *now*! It can’t wait till morning. I’ve put things off for far too long!”

Of course, by morning the troubles had accumulated to the point of mild insanity. My heart and head throbbed and just trying to accomplish daily responsibilities served to nudge me into irate outbursts. I couldn’t think straight.

Waking last night, though, I waded into the pools of anxiety and just stood there, taking deep breaths. Calming the wild-eyed horse inside me. Whispering to myself as if I were a skittish wild animal. Being gentle to myself and telling myself that everything was okay. That the morning would come and I could take a first step. The poinding heartbeats slowed, the fingers of cold air that seemed to have slipped under my quilt drew back, and the odd shadows around the room relaxed into familiar forms… a jacket, a bed post, a slipper, a book…

It reminded me of what one of my oldest friends, my first girlfriend, A., from Germany, a treasured friend since I was fourteen, said to me when I last saw her just after my wedding: “I think you don’t feel safe in the world and that is why you can’t sleep at night.”

Howright she was. I rarely have trouble taking naps during the day. Perhaps it is the free rein of my imagination that partners with the darkness and the wind outside the bedroom window.

And then there is the silent presence of my wife beside me in the bed, to whom I cannot turn for reassurance or conversation. Too often the solution is to roll out of bed and tiptoe into the living room where I turn on the light so as to banish the wraiths floating about. Or occasionally to huddle in the darkness there, while my pet turtle eyes me from his rock, whispering to myself all the mistakes I have made, or all the wrongs I have commited, or confirming my cowardice over taking a stance and changing my life. Sometimes I switch on the late night TV and begin weeping with the sentimental movies. A stupid, weak, inadequate, pupper of a man for not holding up to the expectations and wishes of the women in my life. Or so I sometimes keep telling myself. What is it they want? Why do I have to continually fight to remain myself around them? Why is it that my sense of identity and joy has come to revolving around some other person’s whims? What happened to that adventurous and world-delighted boy who always knew what he wanted and the way he wanted to live?

Perhaps, and more likely, it is the sheer grip I have on my own expectations of myself and no one else can live up to those standards. Not even myself. I look over my shoulder and recall all the times my wife, my family, and my friends have told me that I am a difficult man, someone whom it is hard to like. An accusation that feels like arrows every time.

But I never willed myself to be this way. I never set out to cause others to find me difficult. It is like sitting in a tree and watching my shell perfrom some other person’s play. From up here all I can confirm is that I feel as vulnerable as anyone, as human as all of you out there. It doesn’t matter that I am a man. Or that some of you are women. Or that the way I perceive the world or act within it is any less strange or difficult or incomprehensible than that of anyone else.

I feel sad all the time these days, 24 hours a day. Even when I am laughing with my students or with my wife it is surrounded by sadness. I just cannot shake it. I read other people’s blogs, record the onward flow of their lives, listen to the range of activities and relationships and interests, and I get more and more down. I am jealous. I feel that I am trapped and haven’t a clue how to get out. I try to think my way out of it, but the logical arguments cancel one another out. I try to adopt a “postive” attitude as so many people (who always seem to be in an upward swing of their life at the time) keep harping for me to do, forcing myself to joke around and laugh, being silly when I don’t feel silly, or switching to intellectual argument mode, so as to keep from feeling anything. From people who don’t know me, haven’t taken the time or had the inclination to know and spend time with me over the years and see the whole, instead focusing on one little incident or stray comment that sums up, to them, who I am and what I am like.

And it seems it has been this way a long time now. Few people have watched me struggle with these past few years, at least not intimately. Almost no one has spent physical time with me, sat with me, shared times of quiet or laughter or eating together or just walking together. Not even my wife. And so I’ve been breaking down, slowly but surely. Loneliness and silence can softly rip you apart.

My inentions are good, but I never mention the leaks in the hull. I haven’t opened up about my breakdown on this blog so as to protect others and keep them from worrying. I kept repeating over and over that keeping quiet was a good thing, a strong and mature thing. That there was nothing to be done about it any way.

but I am not doing well. talking about my anxiety over the demise of the natural world, while just as true, is partly a cover up. The truth is that I have tramped into the age of 44 and I look around and find myself almost completely alone. I am not happy with the work I do for a livelihood. My marriage has stalled and I can’t even find professional help, here in Japan, to see how to save something of it. I spend most days speaking not a word to anyone, until I head off to teach English to students and colleagues who see me as no more than a resource, something so ironic that I have to laugh. Those people who I know are my close friends and with whom these years apart have no effect on the bond of our friendship, seem shores away, almost like dreams from another time.

So the forced resetting of my biological clock was a necessary first step. Taking first things first. It is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on those things that I *can* affect. Like caring for my diabetes. Like paring away all those cobwebs of ambitions and distilling a few skills and potentials that would culminate in work that I would find fulfilling. Like thinking about my own needs for now and getting them right. Like being honest and forthwith about what is really important and discarding anything that wastes time or feels unworthy. Like slowly rekindling the old friendships, looking for those whom I have lost, and finding new ones. Like stopping just talking and actually doing. Like starting life again at 40.

I’m not sure wh I needed to write this post at this particular moment. Just needed to get the load off my chest, I guess. For anyone reading it, please tkae the self-recrimination with a grain of salt. It is a casting of one stone to skip across the lake’s surface. I have many more to follow, some of which might skip a little better, others worse. But just wanted to let you know that upon writing it I feel a lot better. The steam is letting off the coffee and I can heave a big sigh. And the sun outside already looks just a tad bit brighter. this dark cloud will also pass.

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