I’ve been thinking about making this post for awhile, but religion is always a touchy subject for me and my beliefs are difficult to articulate. I have, at various times, identified by many different labels — Christian, atheist, deist and pantheist. None of them have been fully accurate, but I lack for other, more accurate terminology and the whole of the story is long in telling. This is, according to WordPress, my sixth attempt to put words to it without saying too much.
As a youth, I identified as Christian because I assumed that’s what most people were. I never went to church (I considered it excruciatingly boring and begrudged the few times I was taken there by relatives) and my interpretation of God was limited to “a masculine supernatural presence who controls everything that happens, good and bad.” I had almost no thought for Jesus, much less the Holy Spirit. I had a Bible, which I considered a bad gift from a religious relative. I read quite a bit of it, but it largely went in one ear and out the other.
Consequently, my faith didn’t hold up to the problem of suffering. The hurt and frustration I felt poisoned my relationship with Christianity for over a decade and I only started to heal when I found the Slacktivist community. I wrestled with the broken pieces of my faith and finally assembled them into a hodgepodge of mysticism and religious naturalism. It still doesn’t sit entirely well with me, but then again, not much would after having had someone make an excellent case for why I might be a reincarnated angel (but let’s save that thought for another time).
My beliefs afford me little comfort for suffering. They aren’t really intended to, but I still feel that lack of reassurance that there’s something after death besides oblivion and the transformation of electricity and chemical energy into new forms through decomposition. I feel no shame in admitting that I don’t want to die and I fear an end to my current existence. In recent months, this discomfort has manifested in two ways.
In an update from a previous post, I have been confirmed to have PTSD. How long I’ve had it is anybody’s guess, but what triggered the onset of visible symptoms appears to have been the fire that occurred at the house I was staying at on my vacation in Michigan. I know this only because the sight of fire now makes me deeply uncomfortable, and the sight of a burning or burned house now induces a panic attack complete with hallucinations of heat and smoke.
The interaction of PTSD and depression has been devastating. Events no longer feel like they have proper cause and effect, thanks to a haze of dissociation that follows me everywhere. I find myself unable to remember what day it is without a firmly established routine. I leave rooms uncertain if I accomplished what I wanted to there or if I was just thinking about doing it. Depression threatened to steal away my ability to feel things emotionally, but PTSD floods my system with so much stress that I find myself too tired to care about the things I still enjoy.
After most normal shocks–a near collision, an unexpected fall, waking up from a bad dream–there’s a minute of readjustment to the fact that you’re no longer in danger. PTSD, to me, feels like being trapped in that cycle of contradictory messages, as if I’ve only just ducked out of the room the fire was in. I feel that if I pressed my hand against the wall, I’d feel heat from the flames starting to eat through. If I see something that triggers a panic attack, I do feel that heat and smell smoke in the air. Even though I consciously know that the fire was months ago, it still feels like I’ve only just gained a reprieve from it. A temporary reprieve.
It’s hard not to feel that if I had more confidence in a continuation of existence (much less in Paradise), a brush with death wouldn’t have affected me as strongly.
Lacking that reassurance has also made grieving for our cat, Bob, even more painful. The thought that I will never see him again is difficult to accept. He lived twenty years, four of which I was able to share, and I loved him as much as I know how. I hope that if there is something after death that he and other cats I lag behind will be there, waiting for me. To believe this is entirely a matter of optimism. I have no evidence, only hope.
One of the coolest cats I’ve ever known, so laid-back, so casually loving, always purring, always happiest when hanging with his people. An old cat who still loved playing with a shoestring, who would swat after a laser at the slightest provocation. He will be cremated and his ashes interned with his human mother’s, as they both would have wanted.