All that cannot be said.

“Christ with Red Thorns,” Odilon Redon

This is a story about why I am not quite like you. Why it can be very hard to understand me.

Today I tried to write something for this blog. Struggled to respond to the wide reach my essay on mental illness has suddenly seen. I fussed with words and emerged with very little. Just an essay – briefly posted – that came off wary and standoffish. It wasn’t how I wanted to sound. I didn’t know how to sound. What to say.

“Thank you,” perhaps. Or maybe…”Please don’t hurt me.”

Please don’t. It isn’t easy being me.

I’m good with words, and I am aware that I am good. I can turn a phrase. Beautifully. Deliberately. Carefully. But – God damn – the most important and painful things completely escape my power. And – God damn – how much that hurts.

I sat with my failed essay, frustrated. Jaw tight. I began to walk back home, and I felt the tightness building. Crawling down my spine and spreading through my chest. Burning and sharp. Rage – hot rage, at everything I could not say. I could only stutter some pathetic and evasive version of please don’t hurt me.

Memories, cracked into tiny shards, flickered through my mind. All the other times I couldn’t speak. The strained and unnoticed silence that felt like screaming, that came out all noiseless and unheard. I kept walking and gritted my teeth, fighting it. The grown adult shaking with blood all over my neck, knife held tightly in one hand. The adolescent quivering without a sound, trying not to remember before math class began. The shivering little kid unable to say please don’t hurt me. Memories ricocheting all out of order – senseless and flickering and repeating – and gathered around the same feeling. The feel of horrible silence. Blood and flesh and touch and hands – and sharp, sharp objects. Sharp memories.

I shook on the transit line back to my place. Couldn’t sit down. Stood there grinding my teeth and rubbing my arms, trying to soothe away some of the coiled pain in my muscles. Anger coated my veins like slick fire.

I texted my therapist – I try not to do that too much – about how I felt caught. Something was happening. He suggested attending one of these meetings I’ve started going to – time with people and stories. I complained that my chest hurt. Said I’d try.

It felt hard to stay present. I mean, in the present. Aware of here and now. It’s hard to describe. I was there and not there.

Then something snapped somewhere deep inside, something about seeing my own blood. Something like that. I can’t remember, now, with the feeling gone. I snapped apart somewhere deep down.

I snapped, and I thought I somehow wouldn’t survive another break.

I complained again. My chest hurt. I didn’t want to listen to more horror stories. I didn’t want faces I had to keep track of, wary and watchful. I didn’t want to say how sad I feel. I couldn’t take it. My brittle strength threatened collapse – into what, I didn’t know, and I never know. What does it matter anyway, when all you taste in your mouth is blood that isn’t there?

We agreed on a walk or run or something. I started to get ready, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t eaten much at all. I’m on some new medicine that has been hell on my appetite. So I ate a little and sat down. Shivered all over, trying to distract myself. Trying to think of anything that wasn’t some version of a bloody memory or angry self-destruction. I’m not the PTSD sufferer who goes postal. I’m the one who quietly self-annihilates.

Then, suddenly, the tightness released just a little, and I practically gasped for air. Collapsed backward against my couch, exhausted. Still burning, but more or less in the present. I felt like I had run eight miles, though I hadn’t even found my running shoes. I am still tense and exhausted now as I write this, though it doesn’t feel so threatening. It’ll ease with a bit more time. Probably. Or it won’t. I’m trying not to guess, so I don’t feel upset if it doesn’t happen.

I don’t know how to make sense of these things. The blood and silence and terror. The iron conviction, underneath it all, that the world is neither safe nor welcoming. That it leers and waits with more violence. And am I wrong? Can anyone tell me I’m wrong?

I know eight fucking languages. I’m smart as hell.

There aren’t words for this.

For being broken somewhere deep inside that “smart as hell” mind of mine.

Please don’t tell me you understand. Don’t tell me how it’s even possible to pray like this. Please. Don’t hurt me. I’ve had enough of that – at the hands of others, and my own.


5 thoughts on “All that cannot be said.

  1. danielimburgia says:

    Thank you for your words. I kee[ wondering though if it might hurt more if I (or everyone) just passed by without commenting? I can’t possibly know but that’s the question I keep asking myself. The other challenge is that I don’t really have anything significant to say so I am hoping that even a comment like this would at least let you know that folks experienced some of the depth of feeling in your post. I thought to write a poem and I tried but I am not a good poet like that. So I looked through all my old poetry and I found 3 that I thought had some affinity with what you wrote, and then I chose this one. I wrote it after receiving extreme unction in the hospital (but obviously I didn’t die). I pray my words will do no harm and that you find all sufficient grace and healing. Obliged.

    Extreme Unction

    I won’t tell people what to believe anymore
    From now on any light that we find
    We will have to find together
    And when the darkness comes
    We must fall together
    And break together

    This is a cross worth bearing
    One another
    All those crosses that we build for ourselves
    Are a colossal dead weight that
    Not even a Super-man could shoulder

    It is late in the day
    And the damage done
    I can not undo
    I am completely surrounded by love
    But utterly alone
    I am helpless
    And I despise being a cross
    That others must bear

    This is my breaking
    This is my shame
    And my gift

    • Dear Daniel,

      I am grateful and deeply moved that you stopped on the roadside and spent some time with me. It is significant to me that you found an “old” poem for me rather than a new one – it helps connect us more strongly, I think. If you don’t mind, I will be printing your poem and putting it up in my office, to remind me.

      Thank you, again.

      • danielimburgia says:

        I am so pleased that I haven’t made things more difficult! And I am honored that you found some succor in my poem. Blessings and obliged.

  2. Roger says:

    I don’t usually answer on blogs, but this one post hit me and I must.. say something. I cannot be silent. Yet… what to say?

    I’ve felt like that. Not that intensely. Not nearly. Yet I have felt like that. Scared to death of what will happen, trying to forget the threats, the brutality. Yes. You are not alone.

    And my prayers when I’ve felt like that were simple ones. “God help me,” mostly. I was not able to pray much more than that. Too scared to pray, as I recall. The terror is real, even though the threats are past.

    And you ask a question that I hesitate to answer, yet I must:

    “I don’t know how to make sense of these things. The blood and silence and terror. The iron conviction, underneath it all, that the world is neither safe nor welcoming. That it leers and waits with more violence. And am I wrong? Can anyone tell me I’m wrong?”

    There is evil in the world. And evil does dominate at times. Yet, there is good in the world, too, going about its business quietly. “You are the light of the world… you are the salt of the world…”

    You’re not wrong. Yet — many refuse to participate in that evil you sense. And we (I number myself among them) would not harm you or hurt you, not for all the gold in the world. If we knew our words would hurt, we would not speak them. If we could, we would intervene to prevent such violence as you have mentioned, because we have experienced it, or things like it, ourselves.

    I’m not sure that helps. I hope it does. And I’d like to say more; there’s this urge to keep writing, yet… I think I’ve said enough.

    Be at peace.

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