Discover more from Senses and Symbols with Justice Bartlett
Sitting in the Sun by the Roadside, Crying.
I tend to take to the road whenever something significant in my life is happening. And not just for me, for anyone I care about.
Most recently it was a health-scare from my best friend that drove me to brave the winter-conditioned asphalt, but it seems that is often the way. The weather is never “good” in times of semi-crisis, and certainly not when shit really hits the fan. When I drove from Seattle to be by my mother’s side after she had a heart attack it was, inevitably, over iced mountain passes and blinding snow storms with a quick sleep at a Super 8 just to keep me grounded.
My urgency to get to my mother was off the charts. She had a fucking heart attack! In good weather that is a 10-11 hour drive, in bad weather that stretch of I-90 has taken me over 16 hours to traverse (and that is without stopping). It was the term “necrotizing pancreatitis” that sent my system into a panic 2 weeks ago. For anyone who does not know: necro (Latin) means dead. Necronomicon- the book of the dead. Necrophilia- love of he dead. Necrotizing- the aggressive spread of dead tissue (resulting from an acutely inflamed pancreas, in this case).
This was a don’t fuck around! health condition and I was scared shitless.
My bestie had already been in the hospital for a week by that time, and I had been sitting on my increasing anxiety as he endured one hit to his health after another. A system can only take so much, and with the introduction of the term necrotizing—I officially lost my shit.
And when I say panicked, I mean that I am prone to panic attacks, and that seemed like a perfectly justifiable cause for one to my nervous system.
Fortunately, after years of dealing with a hyper-sensitive nervous system, I have learned a few things about myself. I can’t regulate through one ( a panic attack) alone. I can’t. It doesn’t take a lot of contact or communication for me to feel that cuddled comfort of co-regulation. A text or phone call will do the trick. It just lets me know that I am not alone and, after years of exploring the “root” of my anxiety, I am pretty sure the core wound is abandonment. I used to try to go through them alone. I think, like a lot people, there was also shame and guilt wrapped up in my anxiety.
“How can you be so overly-sensitive? Why can’t you get a grip?”
I am not “overly-sensitive” I am sensitive and I care. And those are two of my best qualities. I’m not sure if one precedes the other, or if they co-arise in relation with, and response to internal and external events and stimuli. What I do know that is that my system tends to register other’s distress as if it were its own. One might interject that I need better boundaries. I won’t argue. However, this is also what empathy is: to feel the state and plight of another as if it were your own.
I do not identify as an “empath”. I believe we are all empathic; it is how our nervous and social systems are wired, innately. However, certain people seem to be predisposed to towards connectivity with others. This can be a boon and detriment all at once and it can also be a result of childhood trauma. When we are exposed to prolonged states of excitation or find ourselves in a role of parentification, we may over-identify with the needs and feelings of others. I witnessed (as well as experienced), some significant abuse as a child, and I would say that it helped to prime me for excessive empathy.
The truth is: our nervous systems can’t tell the difference if they are witnessing suffering or directly experiencing it—but the same goes with love and joy! We are biologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually wired for connection.
It was hard for me to leave my friend after less than a week of being part of his recovery. It was like leaving a part of myself behind—a limb or a gallbladder, perhaps. He is scheduled to have his gallbladder removed. I am still afraid for him as well as my own potential loss. He is not out of the woods (so to speak), yet. He has a lot of recovery left in this process. I left him with a fridge full of food, and freezer full of leftovers, too. I drove him around and cooked for him and I don’t know anymore genuine way to express my care for someone I love.
They talk about the 5 love languages, but I speak love fluently and in many dialects. Food, however, is a significant one. Nurturance and cooking are primary tenants of magic, as well. We sew our lives with seeds of love by the works of our hands. Magic is nothing more and nothing less than pouring our life-force into things that matter—not by virtue of our beliefs, but by the acts that we take in service of their care and protection.
A belief is an empty thing compared to a practice.
I practice love and care. I practice tending to things that matter to me. I practice soothing my nervous system, alone and with others. I believe that a well-tended nervous system is the foundation for a healthy life—mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. A well-tended nervous system allows us to root deeply into the soul-soaked-soil of our Mamma, while reaching towards the heavens held in the ephemeral embrace of our Father.
Our nervous system is the sacred tree of life!
And just like trees, we are interdependent on the roots of our community. We need the decompositive functions of our fungal brothers and sisters. We need the soil enriching presence of our earthworm kin. We need pillbugs and roley poleys, centipedes and millipedes, creepy crawlies and spiders. We need other roots and other systems. We are inexorably interconnected.
I cannot deny the interconnectedness I have with my family, friends, lovers, and clients, but also with all things! To deny this connection is to deny my own life’s blood. I am connection. I breathe a deep sigh of relief with this admission. It is a denial of life for me to deny this about myself.
Is it any wonder that it brought me to my knees to leave my friend before he was completely recovered? It’s no wonder to me, but it still floored me. It still drove me to near-disassociation, not a safe state to entertain while driving.
Just as I was loading the car my puppy, Freckles, bolted. This was the second time she's done this; the first ensued a 2 hour chase. This time when she ran I sat and called to her and she returned! This is evidence of our growing bond, but it still shot my adrenaline through the roof.
I had to pull over about 2 hours north of Albuquerque. The road was swimming in front of my eyes. I was numb and tingly, and though I was reaching out to my people to talk me through it, I was still floating, flailing, and falling. I had to call my mom just to get out of my buddy'sneighborhood. We talked as I floated down I 25 heading north. I made several other calls to people who could not, at that time, pick up the phone. Then I saw this exit up ahead through the crystalline, clear, blue-sky, and I knew I needed to stop.
After positioning the fuel pump to refill my tanks, I popped into the gas station to use the restroom. Positioned beautifully in the display case in front of the register were a plethora of a rosaries created by the owner. As tempting as it was to purchase one, I withheld my money and, instead, extended my appreciation. The rosaries were gorgeous, but they were not for me. Instead I found myself outside parked in front of the seasonally under-used picnic tables, and looking at the “Caution! Watch out for snakes!” sign. And there I cried. Not polite tears rolling down my cheeks, but body-racking sobs, gasps shaking my silver Subaru that I have named Syrena—cried.
In the sun I sat and cried.
I sent texts in an attempt to ease the build up of feelings that could not seem to make their way out of my body. I talked to Freckles and I found the fortitude to fucking eat something (always a good idea when one is utterly overwhelmed). I rolled deli ham in slices of smoked provolone and slowly chewed, swallowed, and repeated until I was more grounded. Then I pulled away from this little oasis and continued my drive.
I am not quite yet where I think I should be, but I am where I am meant to.
Road closures along the major highways I would be traveling, between my home and here (where I am now, in my friend’s cottage, contentedly day-drinking), have slowed my sense of urgency once again. I cannot hurry home, though I feel I should be doing just that. I need to slow down and let the weather unfold as the season dictates. I need to pause in my own self-determined destinations and enjoy the journey.
You bet your ass it made me anxious to see all the red indications of road closures on my travel apps this morning, but I actually know it is for the best. I am meant to be where I am—not where I think I “should” be.
Grace can only be found in the here and now, not in the past or present or if only. Here and now is where we meet grace. Here and now is the bittersweet beginning of all our journeys.
Image: author's own
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