Notice! Notice!

In graduate school, I studied the immune system for a couple of semesters because the work being done in our lab had been shown to have an effect on it. Writing about a traumatic experience gives your immune system a boost in all kinds of ways, lots of evidence about it even though there is no explanation for why, since we can’t randomly assign people to have a traumatic experience — so no causality in an explanation, but it’s a reliable relationship, and a significant one.

I remember my surprise at learning the “immune system” isn’t really a “system.” Not like the circulatory system — it’s more this loose amalgamation of processes and organs that kind of hang around together, but not like the heart/lung/arterial-venous collection. And I also remember my surprise when I learned that the way I’d been thinking about it had been kind of bassackwards. Like everyone else, I had the experience of getting sick after a prolonged period of stress, and my take on it had been that my immune system crashed, had failed, had let me down. But actually it had been brilliant! It had been soldiering on throughout the stress, and when finally the stress ended, and it had done its job to keep me going when I needed it most, like me it could collapse a bit. I felt kind of bad for having dissed it all those years. 🙂

Do you have the same experience I have, of hearing yourself say something and suddenly you know the absolute truth of it — and you didn’t know you knew it until you heard yourself say it? I’m sure you do. This happens all the time when I’m writing, but in recording my little daily creekside chats, I’ve surprised myself by those kinds of tiny but not-tiny truths that slip out, and I hadn’t known that I knew such a true thing. A week ago, more or less, in preparing to talk about two war documentaries I’d watched (WWII and Vietnam), I opened by saying hello to all of us, so full of life. I guess that came from a moment of gratitude that we are alive, when so many have died in the awfulness of war, but that’s not what I meant, and I knew it in the moment I said it. I meant something much more electric than that, and it was a similar kind of misunderstanding to the one I had about the immune system. I got this bassackwards, too.

At the moment, there are several people I care about a WHOLE LOT who are dealing with life-edge situations of illness and real grinding hardship. I haven’t yet been on the illness life-edge, but I’ve had so many experiences where my life might not have continued, whether because of a gun to my head, literally by my father’s or my own hand, or by the extreme difficulty of a life situation, and in those times I have felt not very much alive. I’ve felt like the life inside me was nearly gone.

But I have had it all wrong.  Bassackwards. In those dread and dire moments, my life was pounding in me. Friends who are being poisoned by chemotherapy to save their lives, friends who are grappling with the remnants of a brain scavenged by stroke, friends who are battling organs that have given up the ghost — life is screaming in them, too. Friends whose lives are in a crisis that feels impossible and overwhelming, life is screaming in them. In fact, life, the force of life, is screaming so loud it’s almost deafening. It’s a force, an electric charge, a phenomenon. It’s in us, pulsing blue, when we’re doing boring tasks like grocery shopping and putting away clean dishes. It’s in us, pulsing blue, when we are feeling despair, or loneliness, or emptiness. It’s easily recognizable in us, pulsing blue, when we are enjoying our lives, but what a mistake it is not to recognize the aliveness that’s always there. On July 29, 2013, I had a strange dream that was like a slideshow, and each slide was a very loud color. One tiny part was that the two scars on my arm from an earlier surgery were glowing with a brilliant blue LED light, and the blue light was all inside me, leaking out through my pores. For some reason I don’t know, this has always been blue, to me. What color is it for you?

Right there — in those old scars where the fixator had been screwed into my bones, blue light was shining out.

This is such a little gift some deep part of myself gave me. Ever since I said that, an unprepared sentence that emerged from my mouth, I have felt differently, thought differently, as I move around in my quiet little life. I walk to the creek, filled with electric blue life. I sit in my chair reading a manuscript, literally vibrating with blue life. I lock up the house at night to head upstairs in the silence, electric blue life shimmering all around me for any with eyes to see. Like me, for instance.

If it’s hard for you, if you’re fighting for your life, life is fighting for you too. None of us are going to win, ultimately, but it’s the only fight that matters, and we fight it every single day — some days it feels like a fight, some days it feels like a mountaintop joy, but it’s always there. Always. It’s the biggest gift, this awareness, and of course I can’t say anything with absolute certainty in this regard, as a person who has 8-year cycles of suicidality, but I hope this truth from deep inside me helps see me through. Hello you, so full of life. I see you there. I see that force of the universe animating you, vibrating you, affecting everything around you. How dearly I love you.

8 thoughts on “Notice! Notice!”

  1. My dear friend – My youngest beloved child has been dealing with autoimmune issues since she was in middle school and will be for life 🙁 Other than helping her through it, I can’t insert any “knowledge” about it. Regarding suicide, I can’t opine on that either as even in my deepest despair I have never considered it (too angry? too hard-headed?). I can say THIS, though: this world and my life (and so many others) would be so lacking without you in it. I know that’s a very simple statement on a very complex issue, but I CAN say that emphatically. I look up to you, you inspire me. I love you and love your influence in my daily life.
    p.s. – I’ve been awfully silent on FB because I posted an unflattering, but very true pic of Pumpkinstiltskein repeatedly and apparently one of his blind followers was offended and reported me. I’m proud of the 24 time-out imposed on me by FB, but this also means I can’t like or comment on your Creekside Chats or posts :(. But, never fear, Big Momma G will be back full force in about 20 mins! LOL.

    1. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!!!!!!!! Getting reported for such a thing, and getting a ban, you are my hero. I salute you darling Gracie. We have to keep steady in the fight. That made me grin, no kidding.

      I’m sorry about your youngest; it seems like autoimmune diseases are increasing, and they are increasingly awful. Something about our world is turning us against ourselves, I guess. It must be awful not to be able to just fix everything for your darling child. What heartbreak that would be.

      I’m grateful that suicide has never made any sense to you — I think I have just been soaked in it my whole life, since my earliest memory is of my father going in the bathroom to kill himself, and my sister and brother and I being pushed to the bathroom door to tell him not to do it. And then he did, finally, when I was 23, and there are four generations of suicide behind me — my dad, his dad, his dad, and his dad. It’s awful, and heavy, and I know better than to say that I’ll never go there again but oh how I love my life. My beloved children and their children. I want to die a dusty old bag of bones, barely making a dent in the pillow, so old, just not waking up one morning. That’s my dearest goal.

      I raise a fist in solidarity to you, Big Momma G. My hero. 🙂 xoxoxoxo

  2. Dearest Beautiful You,

    THIS – – -> “Writing about a traumatic experience gives your immune system a boost in all kinds of ways” is the greatest gift you could have given me. WOW.

    Don’t know if you know it, but I’m a HUGE FAN of your blog — every single blog post goes straight to my heart. I don’t comment often because I’m always knocked out by what you’ve been through. Though I’m billions of miles away from what you’ve had to endure, my pain recognizes your pain and I often have to move away from my laptop in order to keep on breathing. I get so overwhelmed at times that I can’t find the words to express what would probably flow out of me if I could write it in French.

    All this to say that years of trauma and stress and fighting to stay alive (not commit suicide) have taken a toll on my health. In 2011, when I couldn’t find the energy to fight… when I finally called out for (a bit of) help, my system broke down and I haven’t been the energetic person I used to be. Then again, maybe I wasn’t exactly “energetic” before, but more of a frantic crazy do-or-die kind of gal. HA!

    So now that I know that writing about a traumatic experience gives your immune system a boost, I’ll be picking a random trauma and writing about it till I’ve gone through the whole shebang… once and for all! Don’t know if I’ll be sharing it on my blog, but at least I’ll “rant” it out of my system and hopefully cure what’s left to cure in my body, my heart, my soul.

    Thank you, Lori, for this gift. I thank the Universe for YOU, the gift that keeps on giving.

    I LOVE YOU !

    P.S.: I’m not suicidal anymore. Haven’t been for close to four years. I know I’ll never feel the call of death again. Life is BEAUTIFUL.

    1. Dearest, beautiful Mudd. You and I could talk our way through a solid week, I have no doubt. I’m so glad you got something so very helpful from this post. So glad. The experimental writing paradigm is critical (we think) for the whole host of positive outcomes that include not just immune markers but also physical health and such things as getting a job more quickly, so I’m going to tell you what we believe are the important parts, in case you want to do it.

      In the lab, research participants wrote three times, 20 minutes each time. (Not all in the same day.) The instructions were to start writing AND NOT STOP. Just keep letting words come out, for the whole 20 minutes. If you can’t think of something to write, just say I can’t think of what to write (whatever) until something else comes out. The important part is that non-stop writing.

      It doesn’t matter if anyone sees the writing. (In some studies, participants wrote on those little boards that kids have, where you lift the plastic sheet and it’s all erased…..same effects!). It doesn’t matter if you keep the writing. What really matters is that you write for 20 minutes without stopping.

      Back when I was in graduate school, we wondered what would happen if we let participants come back after a period of time had passed and edit their pieces.

      I was the featured subject in an article in Newsweek Magazine because I did the writing paradigm myself. It’s so strange; I’d told some of the stories over and over already, by the time I wrote them, but I never could tell them without shaking so violently it was hard to understand what I was saying. After the writing, I never shook again. Another visiting student in our lab had been on a honeymoon trip and her new husband fell overboard and she saw him get chopped up by the boat’s engine….she was, of course, profoundly traumatized. She did the writing paradigm too. Students with nightmarish traumas wrote, students whose biggest trauma was that their dog died when they were 5 wrote; unemployed middle-aged men wrote; gay men whose partners had just been diagnosed with HIV (back when it was a guaranteed death sentence) wrote. SO many people, so many kinds of traumas, and the effects were consistent.

      I know a lot more about what separates the essays of people who did get better from those who didn’t, but even if I were to tell you, it’s not something you can try to make yourself do. We tried that, we tried giving explicit instructions to participants to do those things, and they simply couldn’t do it.

      So write! Write however you wish, of course. But I wanted to let you know this stuff just in case you wanted to give it a try. I’m going to email you about some of the other stuff you said in this comment, and how I thank you for it — because I know it was a repeated trial to get it posted. <3 <3 <3

  3. I love this. And I think I know what you mean. I remember sitting with my husband’s grandmother in her last days of life, and realizing for perhaps the first time just how hard bodies fight to stay alive. It is difficult to die – after 96 years (in her case) of ticking along, it was as if her body had to learn how to die. On the other end, during my last deep depression, when the voices in my head saying die die die seemed louder all the time, I found myself understanding that I really was in a fight for my life, and that I was strong – strong enough to beat back those voices.

    My morning walks on a small trail near my daughter’s high school are the place where I am most aware of the ticking of life around me – I watch the trees and plants, and the ants and snails across the trail, each going about its own business busily. In that context, I think I see life as green – but the energy is the same as the one that you describe!

    1. YES Jocelyn — YES, you get it, completely. I think life fights so hard, bodies fight. Maybe right until the final dying is happening, and some kind of experience is crossed, maybe just some biochemical line, I don’t know, but right to that point I do think life is fighting hard. Life is persistent. Stiff-necked. (And I could have an hours-long conversation with you about fighting against the voices of depression…those voices and our resistance are all our own voice, of course, and so maybe the voice that fights back is just life refusing to give in. I love to think about this stuff, even if I know too well the bleak despair of ending-it-all depression. And I wonder if my insight will make it with me into the dark, if/when that kind of depression returns. I will see, I guess.)

      I think it’s beautiful, this electric persistence of life. This way that bodies fight so hard to stay alive, as your husband’s grandmother endured (and sometimes it is an awful endurance, I know). The way weeds break concrete in order to get to light. I can’t believe I am still here! Something in me is bloody determined to be here, and luck and all kinds of things conspired too—my dad was always too drunk to aim straight, for example, my own gun simply failed to fire, I dissociated and laid down rifles and drove home, etc etc etc. I wish I had really understood this before, but I’m glad to understand it now. When I’ve been the lowest, life was fighting hard.

      Now I’m really curious about the ways people envision the life force, for want of a more original phrase. For me it’s electric blue, for you it’s green, I can easily imagine that some ‘see’ it as white. I wonder if it ever can be anything else.

      Anyway. Thanks for the comment, and I’m so glad that you fought back too.

  4. I wish I understood it more. I read about it (‘it’ being the immune system, or similar) and I try so very, very hard to understand it that the noise of trying becomes too loud for me to hear the thing I want to know more about. But I’ll keep trying…
    8yrs is a long cycle, how long did it take you to recognise the pattern that was being laid out before you?
    I was reading today about some insects that have prime number patterns of hibernation. It is a strange and beautiful thing to imagine an organism burrowed deep in the dark, damp earth counting down a life cycle that limits it’s encounters with peak predator populations. I’ve always loved cicadas but now I love them even more. What beautiful time pieces they are. I hope that, despite the affliction of regular suicidality, your 8 year cycle has afforded you some protections as well.
    With love, A.
    https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/the-cicadas-love-affair-with-prime-numbers

    1. ooh….I love hearing about the prime-number-hibernating creature. Wow. It makes me quiver to know that math is wired so deeply into the world, that a THING, “prime numbers,” isn’t just a thing but a THING, like light and sound. Wow. Now I want to read more about that.

      It was only after my most recent suicidal depression that I realized the pattern. Eight years is a long wave, you know? And each time I always thought it would be the last, so I didn’t ponder the pattern. But I was talking to my friend Nancy when the last one ended, and she asked me about other times so I calculated backwards….ah, that year so that’s 8 years ago. Ah, that year, 8 years before…hey that’s weird…. Ah, that year, EIGHT YEARS BEFORE. So I thought that was surely some kind of important information, and I started wondering what the number 8 meant to me and instantly I knew that my mother told me that when I was 8 I did something SO TERRIBLE it could never be forgiven. It was the worst thing anyone could do, and it could never ever be forgiven. She never would tell me what it was, and for three decades I just believed her, and kind of tormented myself trying to figure out what it was I’d done. It took me that long to figure out that I hadn’t done anything — certainly not at that scale — but I wonder if the 8 stayed with me, hibernating so very deeply. I don’t know, but it was my only association with the number 8.

      So in 2024 I will be a little more watchful of myself, but of course I’m always watchful where suicidal thoughts come in. With my history and my family’s history, I must. I want to see my grandkids have kids if at all possible. 🙂

      Thank you for mentioning the insect/prime number thing! I’m going to dig into that, it’s so fascinating. And I do know just what you mean about the noise of trying being too loud. That happens for me with understanding electricity. I keep trying, but it just gets too loud. xoxoxoxox

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