Today I was painting. Finishing the “Assumption” that will be the top part of this diptych I have envisioned. The bottom panel is “The Dormition,” but even that vision diminishes as other possibilities reveal themselves. I took a break and began to read FB. Something led me down a rabbit hole landing me in readings about some horror or another perpetrated by someone/someones against people. Looking back, I can’t remember where the entry point was to the rabbit hole. Nor could I remember which of the many atrocities that I read or hear about every single day. I became so curious that I began scrolling through FB, looking to find exactly what it was. Sometimes knowing exactly what it was helps me remember. Remember what?
I spent an hour and found nothing. Note that my sense of time hear is flippity-flopped. Where am I? When am I?
The point was that I felt sad and depressed after this experience. The desire for sleep was overwhelming. I pushed on, and kept painting for a while. Then I started feeling a little anxious. And then I did something that I am trying to do on a more regular basis: I stayed right there with the anxiety and tried to figure that out.
I realized the trigger–and it is so obvious in hindsight–the devestating tragedy about which I had read, was the Russian front before, during and after WWII. Might as well get one’s anxiety from the annals of epic historical change and destruction. And then I remembered that this tragedy was embodied by the life-story of Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet whom I once read often and had recently pulled out to read again, for a reason I cannot remember. In her words and through her experience one version of twentieth-century European history speaks, a history so violent and so filled with despair that it crushes and obliterates hope at the same time that it inspires awe at just how tenacious a human organism can be.
No wonder, then, I felt anxious. But differently prepared than I have been at any point in my life, I laid down and started doing EMDR on myself. The negative belief was clear: I was bad, deeply and unforgiveably bad. Soul bad. Cascades of shame and blame as I questioned whether I identified with the perpetrators or victims of such inhuman acts. I stayed. I tapped. I breathed. I choked out tears as my throat tightened. I tapped. I breathed. I stayed. More angry, grievous, frightened tears. I wondered about the positive reframing of that thought. Was it “I am not bad”? I tapped. I breathed. I stayed. I longed to phrase this positively. I tried: “I am good.” More tapping. Not a good fit. Then it arrived. It was more simple. More primal. It was just this: “I am.”
In the mixed up world of my pre-cognitive memory there is a small child who not only feels like she is bad, but may even feel like she doesn’t exist at all. Like she was in the Siege of Leningrad or the deathcamps or something. Like these atrocities compel me because I relate to the victims. And their survival, basic human survival. It is scary to think that at some level I must reclaim my right to exist. But such it is. I am.