Hold out your hand, palm up. Now curl your fingers over to touch your palm. I’m not even asking you to make a fist. There came a morning when I could not stand upright. Seeing me bent, and the wretched look on my face, she became somehow offended: “What’s wrong?” she asked, with a tone of annoyance. I was stunned. “I’m in pain,” I said. “My back.” It is a familiar discussion. I should get a massage. With what money? I should see a chiropractor; my insurance will definitely pay for that. Really? Okay, where is my policy packet? Where did we put it? We don’t know? Because I can’t look online; there is a technical problem and Molina has already told me they cannot help. And this is already known, already said many times before. And it is a handy little circle for anyone not me: Did you know people’s eyesight stops degrading after they get glasses? One prescription is all anyone ever needs. No, really, it’s not like people suddenly forgot something. But, yes, when I say I need new glasses, I’m asked why. And then the same people who doubt my eyesight degrades, such that they are puzzled by the idea that I might, after seven or eight years, need new glasses, suddenly think my health insurance will pay one hundred percent of the cost for this something that I don’t need. What it comes down to is that I need the family Costco card, and maybe a ride, and the answer is that nobody wants to outright say no, but I really should have learned to stop asking by now. A chiropractor? I don’t know if my policy covers that; we already know I don’t know. Which is the point of pretending we don’t know I don’t know. Because what I’m asking for is not exotic, or deep tissue. It’s a little bit of human contact, something I have done for other people many times over the course of these same years, and the answer is simply that nobody wants to come right out and tell me so explicitly, “No, I want you to be in pain.” Let’s not start on relationships; long before we utterly fell apart, my last partner simply refused because it was too stressful to help. For a little while, my daughter would walk on my back for me, but then my mother decided to start telling her, “Don’t do that. You’re too big. You’re too heavy.” So it has been over years since an adult has tried to help me with back pain. Oh, wait, there was the gift certificate for a massage, and while a scandal would later bring down the parlor chain, what was actually discouraging was the stress of pissing off the people who ran the place by using a gift certificate already paid for when I was too poor to afford the regular service subscription they wanted to sell me. There really isn’t anything to wreck a massage quite like upsetting your masseur by being having to repeatedly explain you are poor. Nor is there anything quite like trying to explain to those close to you that this sort of thing is discouraging; I don’t know why, but people around me think it’s a thrilling thing to have to tell people you don’t have enough money to buy what they want to sell you. But it’s been fifteen years since even loved ones have been willing to help. It’s just a little bit of touch, a little bit of pressure, just the slightest bit of relief. But it’s been over fifteen years since an adult human being has been willing to do anything to help other than tell me how to spend money that I don’t have. Hold out your hand, palm up. Now curl your fingers over to touch your palm. I’m not even asking you to make a fist. I’m not asking you to drive deep into my flesh, nor even to touch the skin. What I am asking is that you please help me. And for whatever reason, the answer remains, no. So, unable to stand erect, confronted as if I am committing some offense for not looking bright and chipper enough for not having slept as a result of writhing agony, there was nothing left to say, except, “I’m in pain!” And I cracked, faltered, and begged: Hold out your hand, palm up. Curl your fingers. There’s this thing people do. I’ve seen them do it, before. And you put your hand on their back and move it around lightly. Really, I’ve done it for other people, before, too. My God, it’s just a little relief, please, I don’t understand why nobody will help. It’s been over ten years, and nobody will help. Please. I’m … in … pain. And for all the humiliation of that plaintive, desperate tone, the answer left no room for doubt: “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Of course they will help. You just need to ask.” And then she turned her back and walked away. And I honestly do not know what combination of words will work. I mean, if all I need do is ask, then what kind of idiot am I that in fifteen years I have been unable to get anyone, friend, family, intimate partner, to help me with this pain. Really. I just don’t understand.
It is important to observe, when enduring depression, the overlap between those who want to help but say they simply do not understand, and those who will, when you’re telling someone precisely how it feels, pick up their phone in order to interrupt and show you the latest New Yorker cover.It’s probably for the best that you did not only yesterday discuss with this person the concept of timing in relation to when they choose to laugh out loud.Unless, of course, you did.Good luck.
A reflection on anatomical impossibility:
“I gave it the ol’ college try—well, you know, everything short of binging to blackout so someone else could cram it in for me—but, no, it ain’t happening.”
There is no specific answer . . . .
Conversations go wherever they will, but it also feels really, really stupid to actually stand there and say the words, “And if it kills me?” Honestly, I just don’t understand why the discussion really would need to go that far.
It may well have taken two and a half years to recover from the last time. And that’s presuming such repair and recovery is actually finished, which is itself a problematic definition.
Still, though, why not? I mean, I get it. Here, instead of just blindly telling you to try buying this and if that doesn’t work maybe in a year we’ll try buying something else, now we have a test to tell you what to buy, and if it doesn’t work, it only takes a couple years to recover, at least, but, hey, why do that, because you can just take the new, improved, updated test again and try buying something else, and at some point, being wrong can kill people.
But never ask the question, because we already know the answer:
“And if it kills me?”― Don’t be silly.
This is not some simple thing, like switching mouthwash. That we might achieve a need to ask the question explicitly would seem significant.
Paula M. Fitzgibbons explains:
It’s possible my daughter’s condition is unavoidable—that she was born with a fear of death imprinted on her genes. There is plenty of precedent in my family, with an unbroken line of anxiety-ridden women stretching back to my great-great grandmother, who made a harrowing journey from Ireland to the United States. Researchers do believe there’s a genetic component to anxiety, but for a time, I believed my daughter was additionally cursed by epigenetics, or the idea that our experiences can write themselves into our children’s DNA. I’ve since abandoned the idea—the science of epigenetics is still sketchy, and I don’t have the time or mental energy to devote to an unproven concept when our problem is more immediate. My daughter’s anxiety is interrupting her daily life and nightly sleep.”
It seems almost petty to point out, but given the stakes I think it very important to acknowledge we witness, in this passage, the temptation of pseudoscience, and the practical gravity drawing one away from such shiny and dangerous notions. While the epigenetics of fear are, indeed, mind-boggling, the point is that virtually nothing about the concept is sound, yet. Or, as Lisa Simpson once said, “You don’t control the birds. You will, someday, but not now.” That mice verge on the Lamarckian when conditioned in a context of mortal fear and the torture to inspire it is a far cry from what’s going on with human beings; and while it’s true I haven’t followed this question so closely over the last few years, it’s also one of those subjects we would have heard something about if someone achieved any sort of definitive answer about anything. There are myriad reasons to be tempted by epigenetics in these aspects, but behavioral epigenetics does not at this time a sound science make.
Fitzgibbons, Paula M. “Watching My Daughter Develop the Same Anxiety I Struggle With”. The Cut. 12 September 2017.
As much as people complain about the media, it is occasionally worth attending the self-inflicted wounds. To wit, Huffington Post readers:
• “7 Signs Of A Nervous Breakdown”
• “7 Reasons Your Pee Smells Weird”
• “‘Girls’ Is Now Officially Unwatchable”
• “These Will Be The Best Places To Live In America In 2100 A.D.”
So, yeah. Trending. According to HuffPo’s metrics, this is what people are reading and promoting.
Image note: “Trending” sidebar widget noting popular articles at the Huffington Post, 17 March 2017.
The point is to not notice that I have not noticed I am not noticing something that I would prefer to not notice in order that I might forget or, at the very least, not remember. Because it is possible, if one does not remember the process afoot, one might properly forget why the process should proceed, persist, or progress.
Nor can one be any more specific. After all, the point is to forget.
Image note: Robin wards off a spell. (Detail of Witch Hunter Robin, ep. 9, “Sign of the Craft”.)