The Milk Of Human Kindness

When I say I’m allergic to milk, people ask if I’m lactose intolerant. It’s much worse. If I eat anything with milk in it, I can go into anaphylactic shock. You know how bee stings kill innocent children at amusement parks or Fourth of July barbeques? That could be me but with pizza, frozen yogurt, French silk pie, or bite size Milky Ways.

I can’t eat cake and ice cream at birthday parties unless my mom made the cake from a dairy-free mix and topped it with soy ice cream. Cross-contamination is my kryptonite. Every time I go out to eat, even at my favorite restaurant, where I always order a chopped steak and plain baked potato, I’m tempting fate.

In fifth grade I almost died while working on a science project at my friend Paul’s house. We were building a Styrofoam model of the solar system in his basement. Back then Pluto was still a planet.

I rarely ate at friends’ houses, but Paul’s mom made tomato soup for lunch and insisted I try some. My mom had made me tomato soup before, so this seemed like a safe bet.

After my first spoonful, I felt a slight tingle in the back of my throat. This happens when I start to eat sometimes, but then I’m fine, I thought. I wanted to be a good guest, so I took another spoonful. Then another. More tingling. I told Paul’s mom the soup was great, but I had a big breakfast and wasn’t that hungry. When I took my bowl to the sink, she asked why I hadn’t touched my glass of milk.

“Oh, I’m allergic to milk,” I said.

“But I put milk in the soup,” she said.

Apparently, cream of tomato soup is not the same as plain old tomato soup.

Stunned, I reached for my backpack, where I kept tissues, my inhaler, and a small bottle of Benadryl. For some reason I thought two teaspoons of Benadryl would counteract the cup of poison Paul’s mom had unwittingly given me. Denying the gravity of the situation, I told Paul the medicine would kick in and I’d be fine. I didn’t want to alarm anyone, even though my body had already gone into attack mode.

First, there was the uncontrollable sneezing. Then, as if stuck in a vice, my chest began to tighten. My lips swelled. Hives formed around every part of my body that bends—under my arms, between my fingers, behind my knees.

Rather than calling my parents or asking Paul’s mom to drive me home, I decided to walk the two blocks from Paul’s house to mine. This decision wasn’t out of character for me. I didn’t want to bother people or feel like a burden. That day, not asking for help almost killed me.

Out the door I went. It was January and the sidewalks were covered in snow, so I stayed in the street, sneezing my head off. Half a block from home, I started running and almost collapsed. Somehow I made it to my front door, barely able to speak. My mom called 9-1-1. The paramedics brought me to the emergency room where a dedicated team of doctors and nurses saved my life.

Thirteen years after the tomato soup incident, I almost died again. Struggling to find a path in life after college, I fell into a deep depression. After months of feeling sad, anxious, and hopeless, I swallowed a bunch of pills and called my mom at work to tell her I was in trouble. She rushed home, as did my father, who drove us to the emergency room where another dedicated team of doctors and nurses saved my life.

In the psych ward the next morning, I was surprised to find a carton of milk on my breakfast tray. Convinced the universe was playing a cruel joke on me, I gave it to a nurse.

“This could kill me,” I said.

The staff probably thought I was paranoid, but I was thinking clearly. Kind words from an ER nurse who cared for me the day before had struck a chord.

“You’re so young,” she said. “You have so much to look forward to.”

I did have a lot to look forward to, and thanks to her, I still do.

I know I’m a sensitive person. I haven’t outgrown my milk allergy and I’m still in treatment for depression. Sometimes I think I’m weak or damaged. In truth, I’m a survivor of two potentially life-threatening medical conditions.

My mom taught me to be kind towards others. With the love and support of family, friends, doctors, nurses, and therapists, I’m learning how to show myself kindness. Dare I say, the milk of human kindness.

An Other-Fulfilling Prophecy

After just two months of going it alone, I’ve decided to return to therapy at my old clinic. I might have to wait six to eight weeks for a spot, so I’m glad I called and got my name on a list.

Not long after my last session with my former therapist, who left for a new job, I started feeling down and disconnected. Questions arose. Should I tough it out and manage my symptoms on my own? Should I go back to my old clinic or choose a different one closer to home? My mind went into hyper-obsessive mode. Knowing that I couldn’t make a “wrong” decision, I nevertheless struggled to make the “right” decision.

Perhaps I should’ve listened to Jean Baudrillard, who writes in Cool Memories V:

One cannot reasonably trust in the will, that rational strategy that works only one time in ten. One has, rather, to clear the decks around a decision, leave it hanging, then let oneself slide into it, as though being sucked in, with no thought for causes and effects. To be willed by the decision itself; in a sense, to give in to it. The decision then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (66)

From Baudrillard’s mystical perspective, my decision to return to therapy made itself for me ahead of time. It called me, seduced me. I simply had to give in to it.

The moment I told my former therapist I wanted to take time off from treatment, I knew in the back of my mind I’d be a client again somewhere soon. Two months later, here I am confirming what I suspected all along: I still need help for my depression and anxiety, and probably will for the rest of my life.

Therapy, of course, doesn’t benefit me alone. In treatment I can seek a happier, healthier me, or any me yet to be. I can challenge my impulse to isolate when I’m depressed, thus creating more opportunities to build new friendships and share my gift of writing with the world.

A socially conscious philosopher, Jacques Derrida writes in For What Tomorrow, “My decision is and ought to be the decision of the other in me, a ‘passive’ decision, a decision of the other that does not exonerate me from responsibility” (53).

Synthesizing Baudrillard’s and Derrida’s novel approaches, I see that my decision to return to therapy has already become an other-fulfilling prophecy.

Double Vision

Below is the introduction to my 2018 book, Double Meaning.

Being Human

This is a brief introduction to a short book. I would’ve written more, but I strained my eyes searching for inspiration.

Three chapters follow this introduction. They contain revised posts (originally written between September 2016 and August 2018) from my blog, Sharp Left Turns.

To maintain flow, I made every word count. No throwaway lines or bloated paragraphs. Still, being human, I’ve made mistakes. Please forgive me for retaining here or there unnecessary words. Or adding dashes—sometimes mid-sentence—to impress you.

Double Reading

We can read “double meaning” two ways. First, “double” as an adjective. Second, “double” as a verb. A statement of purpose: I doubled meanings in Double Meaning to undermine Meaning itself—to fight the (t)error of systematic reason and question (my own) authority. This wasn’t a license to peddle nonsense. I wrote a book full of non-answers in which I tried very hard to make certain words mean something profound.

Vulnerable Position

This book puts me in a vulnerable position.

I wrote in my first book, The Intimacy of Communication, about enduring years of physical and psychological abuse, but I didn’t reveal the whole truth.

I’m ready now to share that I was sexually abused as a child. I’ve hesitated for years to share my story outside of therapy, but the #MeToo movement inspired me to come forward.

Without minimizing the experience of female survivors, I can say that male survivors of sexual trauma who tell their stories risk looking weak in the eyes of other men—and women.

We’re taught that a real man protects himself, defends his manhood, and hides his insecurities. There’s no hiding, though, from this fact: according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one out of every ten rape victims is male.

Loving Touch

Sexual abuse is a violation of touch. Adults abused as children often fear intimacy, which adds to their suffering. Survivors—compared to people without a history of trauma—need more touch in their lives.

I was blessed in high school to fall in love with a smart, caring, beautiful girl named Jenny. She provided the loving touch I needed in a moment of crisis.

I remember our walks together in the summer of 1995—the scent of her perfume on my shirt after a long hug goodnight.

In the midst of a winter I feared would never end, I found within Jenny an invincible summer I’ll never forget.

The Otherness of Me

My favorite thinker, Jean Baudrillard, writes in Cool Memories V: “There is reason to be jealous at being seen by others from the outside and having only that distorting mirror of oneself that is self-knowledge.”

I recognize myself in Baudrillard’s description of “that distorting mirror.” Despite the love and support of family and friends, I struggle to show myself compassion. I beat myself up for minor mistakes, discount my accomplishments, and blame myself for being abused.

Healing hurts. I can’t move on without acknowledging the shadow within me—the Otherness of me that, long before the birth of Consciousness, sprang from Nothingness to be me.

Dark fantasies, violent dreams, death wishes: I’m incomplete without my shadow, imperfect without my flaws, unoriginal without my sins.

The Spirit of Mystery

The search for meaning ends when we think we know ourselves, when everything is crystal clear, when every word speaks (only) for itself.

To keep the spirit of mystery alive, I need my shadow to mislead me, my double to deceive me. If I ever found myself, how could I go on living?

Blank Sage

“When you gaze for a long time into an abyss,” Nietzsche proclaims in Beyond Good and Evil, “the abyss also gazes into you.”

When I stare too long at a blank page, the blank page stares back at me.

I had an outline for this book, a series of visions and re-visions, but the book wrote itself with little help from me.

I’m nothing more than a blank sage.

Post-Traumatic Yes

Post-trauma, my body lost its sense of direction. I’m working in therapy to reconnect with my body, to feel what I feel without judgement.

Post-trauma, my soul lost Direction. I’m learning to identify and verbalize my values—lofty goals I’ve pursued in Double Meaning.

After years of saying no to life, I see this book as the start of my post-traumatic yes.

Going forward, I must accept that I will remain conflicted—that I will suffer but endure the burden of being a deep (over)thinker.

Going forward, I must accept that I will remain afflicted—that I will suffer but endure the burden of being human.

Insight: a glimpse into the mirror of one’s shadow inducing double vision.

My Life Goes On Without Me

At some point I lost my life but didn’t die. My life walked out on me in the middle of the night.

If there were a term for my condition, it would be a combination of the phrases here and there and neither here nor there. In the end, I’m left without my life, yet “alive” enough to watch my life go on without me.

At some point either my life will fall back to me or I will catch up to my life. At some point I will question my life. Is my life happier without me? Who’s in charge of my life?

This infernal monologue, this self-inflicted doom: this is depression. This is me.

Trauma And Creation

In Power of Gentleness: Meditations on the Risk of Living, Anne Dufourmantelle tells depressed people looking for a quick fix that “medication only patches up the desire to live, or the heartache, or the professional failure, or the feeling of inadequacy; for nothing can sew up such a wound. Nothing except creation, what reopens the wound elsewhere and differently, but on less shifting ground” (86).

Three months ago, I published my third book, once again creating and re-creating myself through words. In the introduction I recall the pain of childhood traumas, (re)opening—in the pages of my book—old wounds that refuse to close for good.

Confessional writing is cathartic, but sharing my story reminds me how vulnerable I am, how lonely I still feel. I crave connection but worry that people outside my family won’t understand my depression. After years of living in protect mode, letting my guard down takes time.

Aware that trauma survivors—especially those abused as children—deal with trust issues, Dufourmantelle offers encouragement and hope. “When we are seized,” she writes, “by the feeling that nobody will ever come to us, that this solitude will not loosen its grip on us, ever, we must still find the strength to extend our arms, to kiss, to love” (98).

People live with pain in different ways. Some become artists. I am one of them. My books are an extension of me, a reaching out, a kiss. My writing is an expression of loneliness that challenges but never defeats loneliness.