This title comes from something my friend Candace put atop the notice that a well-known Buddhist teacher had just died from a fentanyl overdose - a drug he got himself from a street dealer when having a manic episode. He had been diagnosed as bipolar but apparently was having a hard time being open about it. He had talked about battling depression and other things, but not that. In other words, he - who had done everything a person can do 'right' in terms of good living - vis-a-vis food, lifestyle, spiritual practice, etc. - could not believe or accept that this was part of who he was. I can understand that. If I was bipolar, I would likely feel the same way. I hope I would have the courage to be open about it, but I have not had that particular cross to bear, so do not judge.
But here's the fact: it was that shame that killed him in the end, that made it impossible to open up and get all the help he needed. He is not alone. This happens to so many people. I can see this happening to me, which is why I am writing about this phenomenon.
Especially if you have spent any time in so-called recovery or spiritual communities and you rack up some time in said communities, it can be dangerously easy to think you're all that, even if you don't say that, because that would appear arrogant, etc., etc. But also a creeping shame comes in, that isn't actually about arrogance precisely, but is about the pressure you begin to feel, some internal, some external to live up to a certain standard of behavior or even worse standard of essence.
The second this happens, you are on a slippery slope, because it's death. Ultimately. Because no one is perfect, no one is all that, and the more you believe you should be, when you are not (because No One Is), the further and further you will go in increasingly subtle and baffling ways, to appear to live up to your press.
This appearance is the killer. I think it's killing off my generation with a certain zeal that is making me feel rather vertiginous at times. I know this happens to all generations in some way, but I am aware of mine.
There are certain famous actors and singers that have flamed out spectacularly in this way in the past few years and for some reason a lot of other people are popping off by suicide and overdose around my age, and these are all people that have lived 'exemplary lives' - which I posit - the 'exemplariness' that is - is what fucking killed them dead.
I also think - though will not venture too far here because many will yell and jump up and down and accuse me of nasty things - that some physical deaths are caused by this, too, because the mind-body duality is not a binary, as I think we all know by now. I say this with hesitation, though, because I don't want this to be conflated with the 'you got cancer because you are stressed out or not living your dream' school of nonsense, with which it can easily be linked, so I will leave it here: I posit that some ways in which you may attempt to be perfect and live an exemplary life can make you sick. Make of that what you will. Also, diseases just fucking happen because of genetics and nuclear waste and poisonous air and food and all kinds of bullshit, too, so...make of this what you will...
But for sure, attempting to live an 'exemplary' life can kill you if you have an illness (so called mental or so called physical) that makes you feel shame, enough shame that you don't feel you can ask for the help you need because it is in fact shameful to be who you are, which is a real, fallible human being. (This of course leaves out the whole issue of access to health care and the lack of meaningful mental health care aside from drugging people to within an inch of their lives - which is another horrifying component of all this. But for now, I'm focusing on one aspect of this particular clusterfuck - the one over which we have potentially some control.)
I am in a type of recovery for a certain kind of illness that somehow manages to be a melange of all these things, and part of that recovery involves a so-called spiritual component. This is what has saved my life, but this is also what could kill me. Like all 'cures' it can sometimes be worse than the disease, if I (or anyone) takes the spiritual component to mean in any way that we are supposed to somehow miraculously be rendered better than anyone else or have to act in some way that rises above the 'common herd' or whatever bullshit thing.
I fear that on perhaps a less dramatic but perhaps more insidious level things like Facebook and social media in general can amplify the tendency of everyone to want to put a 'positive spin' on things. To some degree this is harmless and who cares, but if it causes a pressure to live up to one's own press, or to compare one's actual life with others' performed lives, I think this can cause real damage. There has been a lot written on this, and it's not new information, but in relation to the fact that shame can equal death. I do think it merits serious consideration as to why for example there is such a rise in opioid addictions and suchlike.
That has as much to do with economic conditions deteriorating as anything else, and in fact that is probably one of the primary drivers, but the ultimate driver behind any addiction to any substance is self-hatred and self-hatred driven by shame of who one is is deadly. I know of many people who have been sober or abstinent from whatever was killing them for a while that end up committing suicide.
I also know many people who have been sober and abstinent from whatever substances for decades and started using them again.
In most all these instances, the person has not been able to share their vulnerability or pain or shame with someone, anyone, or anyone who can listen and help. Sometimes these people even try to do so, and it still doesn't help.
I can't solve this mystery. I don't pretend to have all the answers here, but I do beg anyone out there who is feeling trapped in their own holographic image of themselves to try to let it go, to try to break the cycle of shame and stigma around whatever you feel you can't share, and allow yourself out of the image that either you or those around you have erected that is untrue and is strangling you.
We need you, we don't need your beautiful corpse.
We need you, your imperfect, vibrant, sad, excited, joyful, grief-stricken, selfless, selfish, weak, strong, celebrating, vulnerable, masked, angry, hurt, scared, freaked out, ashamed, lustful, loving, shy, hating, over the top, hiding, showing off, laughing, crying, dancing, standing, sitting, frozen, sleeping, awake, embarrassed, proud, lazy, ambitious, desirous, revolted, hungry, tired, ravenous, lonely, extroverted, introverted, anxiety stricken, depressed, manic, calm, centered, flaky, gorgeous self.
Please don't give into the voices that tell you you are better off dead or other than you are, that you have failed as a person or that you are a broken toy. Those voices are liars. They are the dead. We are the living. We want you here. I want you here. Please stay with us, the imperfect ones. We are alive. Another day. Here we are.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.