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Listening Between the Raindrops

Finding purpose and meaning in life from a different perspective.

Second Chances

I have a situation that has me filled with anxiety, anger and fear. Several months ago, someone with a mental illness,  “ripped me a new one,” but has now decided they want to put the past behind and start fresh. Sounds nice, right? We all know someone who has gone through tough times, or have moments in their lives where they acted out of character and burnt some bridges. We have a choice to give them a second chance.

I know I have hurt people unintentionally. I know I could do it again. I would hope that those who know and love me would forgive the transgression; some do and some don’t. But what happens when that second chance is now the third or fourth and so on? What happens when you realize that instead of forgiving that person you are actually enabling them? I am very familiar with this place too. I tend to be forgiving, maybe to a fault, and in the end, I find myself feeling resentful and used. I find I haven’t respected myself and failed to enforce my boundaries.

When dealing with someone with a mental disability there are exceptions to be made. We allow the person a little bit extra space to screw up because they can’t help the issues they were either born with or developed because of a shitty childhood or poor choices they made as adults. This, however, does not mean we need to allow them in our lives if we are constantly feeling abused or taken for granted. It does not mean we should give them yet another chance to hurt us.

I know myself well enough at this point to realize that once I have forgiven I also forget. It is too much work to try to maintain vigilance and to hold up my guard when around the offending person. I just want to live a happy peaceful life and as they say, “live and let live,” yet when dealing with individuals as the one mentioned above, I cannot be around them because I will likely get sucked in and hurt… again.

Perhaps I am a weak individual but I like to think that it is far better to be open to possible pain rather than always keeping others at a distance so I don’t get hurt. I prefer to allow second chances and sometimes third chances for those who generally are good people and have done the same for me. The ability to see past the external rebuffing and look at the person’s heart is a talent that requires patience and love. Most of the people I have in my life fall into this category, we screw up, we have drama, we are mean, nasty and cruel… yet we also act out this way because we are suffering somehow. I know this. I understand this. I want to see the beautiful person that is inside everyone.

Sometimes that beautiful person is so smothered by psychological issues or a rock-solid wall of defensiveness we are never allowed entry to their soul. It is then that we must walk away. It is then, I must walk away. And this is the choice I have made with the person I mentioned earlier.

The outcome of this situation will likely take one or more directions due to my refusal to accept reconciliation:

  • This person will be offended and strike out again.
  • This person will be on the best behavior to prove me wrong.
  • This person will attempt to manipulate others to exclude me.
  • This person will attack someone else.
  • This person will resort to harsher attacks on me or others.

Although the person’s reaction is actually outside of my ability to speculate; what I do know is that by maintaining my boundaries I am respecting myself. I will have gained the approval of my own soul. I will have confidence in my choices. Is it possible I am wrong? Yes of course. It is just as likely I am right. That person does not have the right to abuse me or anyone else just because they are mentally unstable and/or in a bad place. Paraphrasing the popular quote, “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose,” comes to mind. No one has the right to be abusive to you… ever. And if they do, we have the right to protect ourselves.

I would be interested to hear from you. How do you handle people who are consistently abusive? What was the outcome? Did you listen to your gut?

Keep listening,

T

Photography and photo quote by Tanya K. Ehlert all rights reserved.

The “someone” in this post is a real person I do not wish to identify in any way thus please forgive the awkwardness of using gender neutral terms such as “this person.” I may not like how they have treated me but I do not wish to slander them in any way.

 

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Tenacious failure

Ok, let’s have a moment of complete honesty. I am not a patient person. Nothing irritates me more than, let’s say, my cell phone or computer suddenly taking a second or two longer of “thinking” time, which is always way more than I think it should be. INSTANTANEOUS is much better. I berate my computer or phone until they comply. COME ON you STUPID THING…. STOP SPINNING AT ME!!!

Now, I am also intelligent enough to realize that it is an inanimate object, it doesn’t actually hear me or care that I am yelling at it. My $500 phone, or $1500 laptop or the $50 desktop computer at the office (only slightly kidding on that) SHOULD BE ABLE TO move from one web page to another in a seamless fashion and without the apparently necessary insults spewing from my mouth. Yet, it happens nearly every day, especially on my work computer.

I think everyone has had these momentary irritations from our now constant electronic companions. As soon as “it” works the serotonin floods my brain soothing the irritation as the gratification of my need/want now being satisfied (shhhhh….now now… all better isn’t it? Ahhhhhh). I immediately forget the transgression… until the next time.

But what happens when I am faced with a less yielding situation such as my need to leave my job? I currently work nearly an hour from home; during off-peak hours this same drive is about half the time. I lose 10 hours a week to driving a tedious annoying drive. Ten hours that I could be doing something else. Ten hours each week that I cannot get back. Ten hours that I have spent the last two years trying to get back and keep losing the battle every stinkin’ time I try… and my patience level is in the negative since, as I said, I do not have much to begin with anyhow!

Imagine a large hill. You know at the top of this hill is the most spectacular view you have ever seen. You know this because you have heard stories of this hill. You have dreamt of this hill. You just KNOW that if you get to the top of the hill the scene will take your breath away. So… you start climbing. It’s not a big hill so you don’t need hard core hiking or climbing equipment. You start climbing and climbing. Your excitement is bubbling all over the place! “YES here is the hill I have been waiting for!!!”

Half-way through the day you realize you are flat out exhausted, you feel good because of all the climbing you have been doing. Sweaty and thirsty, you take a few quick gulps of water and then pull out your map (or GPS assuming your phone is working today) and you realize you have not moved. Well, no that isn’t entirely true, you have moved… backwards and downwards. You stare at your feet as the likely culprits, “WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING ALL DAY????” They don’t answer so instead you look around wondering what the heck happened. You now notice you are in a hole made of sand. You methodically attempt to get past the sand, but each time you reach what appears to be solid ground… it dissolves into sand. Whaaaaa?

Ok, so this is obviously the wrong place to try to climb your hill. Instead, you reverse direction- this ground is very solid, and you find another location on the hill to ascend to that glorious view up top. Yet each time you attempt this climb there is another issue. Boots break, floods, storms that never end… and oh I don’t know… massive dragons that want to eat you all block your path. It looks hopeless and feels hopeless and worse yet… you feel helpless because you now have no way to get to the top. Your heart breaks and you give up. Or do you?

I know for me, I do give up for a while. I pull back and regroup, double check my desires, motives and tools. This is where I am at right now. I am in the pulling back part. I am frustrated that my previous efforts have failed. I am frustrated that I cannot leave this job NOW. I am frustrated that I don’t have an alternate source of immediate income that would allow me to say “f this job!” I am frustrated that I am here at all.

Yet, in addition to my massive levels of impatience… I am also wildly tenacious. I guess it’s kind of a contradiction but maybe that’s my duplicitious Gemini nature. Simply said, I don’t give up on people or things very quickly. Some think I hang on too long. I have faith that something will either give me a huge clue to leave or let go, or things will work out the best way possible. I have had both happen and for now it is a plan that works. I stay with someone or something until I am 100% certain there is nothing more for me to do or it becomes something so awesome, leaving isn’t even a consideration.

That is where I am right now. I know I will be leaving the job but do not have my “out” yet. I am sticking with it for now. My loved ones have been unbelievably supportive. My desire for an entrepreneurial adventure is not squashed… just feels a bit far away at the moment. In the words of my amazing man, “We will get through this.” My parents cheer me on saying, “We know you can do this!”

I am not alone, I just need to go back to the drawing board and find a way around the sand. Oh and yes… the picture reference to a new hat is a pun. I do love hats though.

Keep listening,

T

Get Selfish

Selfishness is defined as: “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.” We see selfish people as bad individuals being concerned only with themselves. “You,” are no concern of theirs. But is this image actually realistic? Are selfish people always selfish or are they just better at taking care of themselves than the rest of us? Are self-sacrifice and sharing always the right thing to do? Maybe being selfish is simply getting a bad rap and the term needs to be reconsidered.

On one hand, I can think of countless times that I needed someone to be there for me. In some cases, they were, other times they were not. Occasional instances don’t bother me so much… it’s when there is a symptomatic consistency that I start to feel used and abused. The biggest problem is when someone assumes the gift of my time, money, space or energy never considering that I may want something different. That isn’t really selfishness on their part though, is it? It is a lack of “caring for oneself” that is being completely disregarded… by me! In fact, I have become a doormat, and that is not ok.

Most are familiar with the Golden Rule – generally understood (in the U.S.) as a Christian tenant, but it can actually be found in many other religions and would be considered the ideal human behavior. We are told that if we treat others as we wish to be treated then the world would be a better place. Yet, what if we flip this rule on its head and think about it in another way and teach others how to treat us by treating ourselves with the kindness we give to others? Being kind to others means nothing if we don’t also treat ourselves the same way.

If this thought process feels uncomfortable, think of a child. When they are little and unable to make decisions for themselves parents plan their birthday parties, choose the gifts, decorations and the flavor of the cake. As the child matures he gets to pick these things for himself and parents love giving them what they want.

What would it look like if a 10-year-old when asked what kind of theme party he wanted responded with, “Oh, I don’t need a birthday party it is always so much work for you.” Yeah, pretty unrealistic.

But this is exactly what we do if we are not selfish.

When my son was born, many wise women told me to sleep when he slept, that I had to take care of myself in order to take good care of my baby. This sage advice was easy when he was an immobile infant. It became a lost battle when he got older and naps were discarded. Society told me that in order to be a good mother self-sacrifice was the best direction.

Later, enmeshed in my faith, that self-sacrifice extended to everyone else as well. I lost the right to self-care and self-love. I lost the right to be selfish because it was an unspoken taboo. What I was left with was a shadow; a broken, tired, angry shell of my former self. I did not have a purpose or a life to live if it wasn’t wrapped up in someone else. It was extremely unhealthy.

I eventually learned, that I needed to speak up for myself and that I had the right to have what I gave to others. By placing boundaries on what or how much I would do slowly taught others how I wanted and deserved to be treated. If I wanted a party for my birthday I would ask. Unfortunately, changing your behavior will have consequences.

When you stand up and say what you want backlash is inevitable. There will be people in your life who are comfortable with your self-sacrifice and will complain. I had several loved ones turn away because I started choosing things that benefited me; upset because I didn’t place their cares or concerns above my needs. My new behavior was seen as an insult and considered offensive even though they were not harmed just inconvenienced.

I am not perfect at being selfish, the bad habit of giving beyond what I am able to give still haunts me. I love someone so I want them to be happy. I give up some small thing so that they can have something that will make them glow with gratitude and this is ok as I am not neglecting myself. I am learning to know the danger signs.

I know I have given too much when I start to resent others requests. This means I need to pull back a bit and consider the situation. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with them asking, but it’s not ok if I am unable or unwilling to give what they want or if their request places an undue burden on me – but recognizing that I can choose to give at these times or not is key. (As in the case of an emergency.) I am learning to gauge my feelings about the request before saying yes and paying attention to my own body’s signals to let me know how I feel.

A good gauge would be to focus on the request and decide the pros and cons of the situation. If you feel motivated to say, “yes” out of a sense of guilt or obligation, it may not be the best choice. If negative emotions are your only motivating factors you are not offering that person your best and not giving from a place of lovingkindness. I wouldn’t want someone to give in to my requests if it only served to build a wall of resentment.

Learning to be selfish is a balancing act. Give yourself permission to lean on the side of self-care if you are feeling worn-out or used. Remember too that healthy selfish behavior is not an excuse to be uncaring or unloving towards others, but one stepping stone on the path towards loving yourself as you love others.

If you struggle with boundaries, saying “No” or don’t even know where to start in this process there is an excellent book on this subject by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No,” I receive no compensation if you follow the link. 

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A Book for Mother’s Day

Appetites: Why Women Want, by Caroline Knapp (2003)

Shortly after I got this book I read through the first few pages and placed it on my “read later” pile. I assumed I had nothing in common with a woman who nearly starved herself to death. I come from hearty Sicilian and German stock, too much food, and not daring to reject this form of love was more of my problem than self-denial. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This book was published posthumously. Caroline Knapp died at age 42 of lung cancer in 2002. An author and columnist, she is one of the best writers I have read. Her words are a sword, as finely crafted and precise as a samurai’s deadly weapon. Her meticulous words and excellent prose slice through the denial that one woman’s eating disorder is not directly related to another woman’s shopping addiction. Her parry is deadly. Be prepared to be dismembered from your most treasured belief system(s).

Much of the book details her love affair with anorexia. Unlike the stereotypical image of this disorder, she did not undertake this adventure because she felt she was fat/overweight or hated her body per se. She starved herself because she wanted control. She wanted power over her body… over something. At one point, she describes standing in front of the mirror meticulously counting her protruding ribs; satisfied that she had somehow proven a point. She later admits that food gained the upper hand; planned binges took on the pomp and circumstance of holiday gatherings, afterwards leaving her feeling helpless, hopeless and wrought with guilt. Yet, to say this book is only about one woman’s battle with anorexia is akin to saying the titanic was sunk by an ice cube.

Appetites is about women’s wants. Women often abnegate their own desires for the good of the other. Think about a fantastic Mom you know; likely she is best at self-neglect and places her priorities in the order of who needs her most… excluding herself. Husband, children, community, church and aging parents all take precedence over a woman’s time, energy and personal aspirations. To do less is to be less of a woman. Why is that?

I look at my own life and I realize I too followed the pre-set female formula. As a teen, I quickly fell in step with the feminine stereotype. I chose to participate in the pom-pom squad although I was a strong runner. I dropped woodshop because I was the only female in the class and was horribly intimidated even though the teacher was very encouraging and uber-excited that I was in his class. I loved creating things out of wood yet, shyness, teenage insecurity and the very real awareness that I didn’t belong there made me drop that class and join choir, (I can’t sing except in my car or shower.) Both decisions I regret to this day.

I always loved climbing trees, riding my bike, reading books and creating stories yet in high school having friends became more important than my satisfying solitary adventures. One could argue that I was simply following the normal arc of a teenage girl but hindsight tells me I sold out to fit in. The girls who were athletic were “dykes.” The girls who had no friends were freaks or outcasts. If the majority of your friends were guys, you were a slut. Somewhere along the road to adulthood I lost the courage to be myself and once lost it was very difficult to get back. For most of my life I followed the path of least resistance the one that would allow me to blend in and not rock the boat. I lived my life denying my true self (see my post “It’s Her Again”) all the while feeling the inner boiling anger of resentment towards those who suppressed me. In some respect, I should have been mad at myself. But maybe it wasn’t entirely my fault.

Knapp helps explain our common plight as modern women. One foot in the past and one in her future; the average woman unconsciously and guiltily competes with her mother’s legacy. Only a generation ago women were still expected to be in the home, June Cleaver being the model of perfection. Even the career woman was expected to work full time and then come home to clean, cook and care for the children. The tiresome images of what a woman should be still endure and those who break the mold pay dearly. Those who fall in step fare no better.

Knapp, in chapter two, tells of the many cocktail parties hosted by her parents; something her mother hated. “And I remember how tired she’d be the next morning, exhausted in the bone-deep way I now recognize as almost entirely emotional: it’s the rage-laced fatigue you feel after you’ve given and given and taken next to nothing for yourself.” I know that feeling all too well.

Appetites is not simply a call for equality, but a call for recognition. Recognizing ourselves as beings who have wants. We are beings who have desires no less important or powerful than our beloved male counterparts, yet we somehow fail to give ourselves permission to be who we are in our souls. No one is going to grant women consent to grab what they want, it needs to be taken by women and that is a terrifying prospect.

 

If you are interested in Knapp’s book it is available on Amazon. I will not receive any compensation if you use this link.

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Active Adulting

I don’t remember becoming an adult. When I say “becoming an adult,” I don’t mean turning 18; but rather the point in my life when I realized that the responsibility for managing my life belongs to no one else. The benefits and consequences of daily decisions that fall on me alone. Maturity is knowing when to accept advice and when to disregard well-meaning opinions. Discerning the difference is where it gets tricky.

There will always be someone who thinks they know you or your situation better than you.  I think as we mature it is easier to appreciate when someone has solid recommendations, but also realize we don’t need to follow this instruction without consideration. Autonomous adults glean what is relevant and discard what is not. I sometimes need to remind myself that tweaking an idea is not disrespectful; adaptation makes it more personal, useful and meaningful to me.

Trials, trauma and health issues can debilitate self-trust making it easier to ignore our gut instinct. Dependency might be okay for a short while but ultimately these phases should be about gaining introspection and knowledge rather than relinquishing control. Recognizing that you do not have all the answers does not make you weak, it means you are willing to push beyond your own understanding. Realizing that experts don’t always know what is best for you is paramount to proper self-care. I learned this lesson first hand and will never again relinquish control of my health (or any other area of my life) simply because someone else is supposed to be an authority.

Six years ago, I was having some serious health issues. I was extremely overweight, tired all the time and my emotions were closer to that of a 14-year-old hormonal female. I struggled with exercise because of full body joint pain. Prevalent brain fog, exacerbated by insomnia and a poor diet, made any decision challenging. Hell, my whole life was challenging! I was too tired to try to figure things out and although my multiple physical issues terrified me, I didn’t care. It was too overwhelming.

I went to my doctor in complete desperation. Initially, they prescribed Prozac, which leveled out my moods, but the brain fog and joint pain persisted plus I gained more weight. Eventually I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and prescribed a synthetic medication that alleviated some of the brain fog yet I was still overweight, exhausted and lacked vitality. I was in my early 40’s but felt 90. At one point the doctor told me I had arthritis. I didn’t realize it at the time but you need to have x-rays to accurately diagnose regular arthritis and he had never ordered x-rays. This is when my gut kicked in… “Something is not right about this.”

I didn’t care about anything I used to love; it was too hard to write, read or hike. Spending time with my son and enjoying his company took every ounce of my willpower since I preferred spending every day in bed hiding from the world. Thankfully the synthetic thyroid medication gave me just enough mental boost to be able to start researching my symptoms and eventually find a way out of my illness.

The first resource I found was a community of individuals who all dealt with thyroid issues. The website Stop the Thyroid Madness was my yellow brick road to health. This site started me on a pathway that became a battle with the narrow-minded medical professionals I had been trusting. I started educating myself on hypothyroidism. Once upon a time individuals who suffered from thyroid dysfunction used a natural full spectrum medication; but Big Pharma pushed it out for the more profitable synthetic version. Some people do well on the synthetic, but not everyone, and I was not getting better so I wanted to try the natural thyroid prescription.

I went to my doctor’s office armed with a book and loads of information. I expected to be allowed (Yes, allowed!) to try this new/old medication. I remember sitting in the examining room both excited and scared. I felt like a child asking for permission to go to the prom. But, instead of them celebrating my proactive self-care, I was met with hostility and anger. The physician’s assistant reluctantly agreed to let me try a natural thyroid medication, but not without the condescending remark that, this medication was out of date and only used by “83-year-old women who refused to switch to the synthetic brand.” I had to go for more blood tests first, which would take several days.  I was out of the synthetic prescription and was feeling worse than ever. The anxiety about my decision, going against the PA’s suggestion and my inability to function led to a complete melt-down.

In the midst of this conflict a co-worker had recommended a nurse practitioner, Rana. Her private medical practice New Beginnings Healthcare for Women did not take any insurance, so was not restricted by the usual limitations that apply to most doctors. I was worried about the out-of-pocket cost but when I calculated how much I had paid in co-pays, useless prescriptions and bad diagnoses over the years the price was about the same.

Within a week of my first visit to Rana’s office armed with a natural thyroid medication and adrenal supporting vitamin’s most of my symptoms were gone, including the joint pain. Within two years I had dropped the weight and gained abundant energy. I am still able to maintain a healthy weight and energy to participate in all the activities I love because I found a practitioner who understood that I needed a partner in my healthcare, not a dictator.

Adult accountability is the moral of this story. I made a choice to assume responsibility for my health. I questioned the professionals. I did my own research. I got a second opinion. I listened to my gut. Had I not made the choice to fight for my health I might still be 80 lbs (or more!) overweight and in an eternal fog. Had I maintained the idea that the medical professionals knew best I might still be very sick.

A strong word of caution: This is my story and not yours. I am not suggesting that your doctor is giving you wrong information or that if you follow my steps you will obtain the same results. I strongly believe that many of diets and “cures” available may work for some but they won’t work for all. You need to do the work and discover what is best for you, your health and your symptoms. You need to be responsible for your own life and discover the path that leads to your best health.

Note: I am not and will not receive any compensation for the links provided in this article. 

Dragons

I have had a story in my head. More of a passing thought or concept actually. The basic idea is that there are dragons in our lives. Not the real kind, no fire breathing dragons exist in our world. But dragons exist… the people kind of dragons. Those individuals who seem to take great joy in inflicting harm or pain on others. Some dragons do it unintentionally. Either way we feel toasty and burnt after an interaction with these aggressive individuals.

 

The story goes like this: A young woman living her life notices there are an awful lot of dragons about. These fire breathing dragons are always hurting people. They storm through towns and wreak havoc. Destruction and mayhem; people burnt crispy, fair maidens sacrificed, and of course knights cooked alive in their shiny armor like that aluminum pan style popcorn you cook on the stove … you know typical dragon stuff.

 

Well the heroine, being quite smart and observant, notices that these dragons are actually each harboring an injury, a large thorn embedded deeply and painfully into the flesh. The thorns are in different places of course and the dragon acts out depending on the location of their particular wound. For example, a dragon with a thorn in his foot will go out of his way to step on people. Another dragon has a large prickly barb under the scales that protect her heart and so likes to break up young lovers by gobbling up one or the other.

 

The thing is, this young woman learns to avoid the dragons, she understands them in some ways, so can feel a miniscule amount of sympathy, yet she doesn’t feel the need to rescue anyone. Imagine that! A woman not hell bent on rescuing others at the risk of her own life. Well, I did say she was intelligent, didn’t I?  No, instead of trying to protect her fellow townsfolk or sacrifice herself and her life for their benefit, she simply starts pointing out the thorns. She knows it is not her job to save others or even to advocate for the beasts. Nope. She simply points out the problem. That is her job. End of story.

 

There isn’t a “happily ever after” because there will always be dragons. There will always be people who are consumed by dragons. I have had many dragons in my life. Until I started noticing their thorns though I often felt compelled to do more than I should. Protect the dragons, sacrifice myself for the dragons or others. Until I realized, that is not my job. I am an observer and a storyteller.

 

The thorns of course are the wounds that have been inflicted on individuals (dragons) who then attempt to remove the thorn by inflicting the same kind of pain on others. It doesn’t make sense, but that is generally how unevolved individuals resolve their psychological issues.

 

An obvious thorn is one that most people can easily recognize. A man who as a child witnessed his mother being beat might have lived in fear for his mother or himself. He grows up and buries that fear by becoming a perpetrator himself. Until he evolves and does the real work to remove this thorn, he will continue to be a dragon.

 

Less obvious thorns may be accepted in certain situations. Take for example a woman rejected by her husband because she pursued her work with passion (not unlike many men but less socially acceptable). She might later resent a talented subordinate female with a supportive family. The first woman could make life hell for the second. If the first woman doesn’t realize that her resentment towards her spouse is causing her to abuse the second woman, she will continue to be a dragon.

 

The other part of this story is that we are not all meant to be dragon-slayers. We don’t all have the ability to approach a dragon, point at the thorn and then coax the dragon to let it be removed. Some of us are meant to protect those injured by dragons, but not all of us. Everyone knows that person who imposes their unwanted opinions into a situation or upon your life. It leaves you feeling wounded or attacked, right?  If you attempt to be something you are not, you could be a dragon too.

 

How about you? In what ways have you been injured by dragons in your life? Are there any ways you have been a dragon to others?

 

 

 

 

It’s Her Again…

I have been having trouble writing lately. I find that even if I have a great idea, I sit down in front of my laptop and go blank. So, I pulled out the old-fashioned paper and pen and found the words flowed. Maybe it’s just one of those days, maybe I am tired, maybe it’s writer’s block.

Some of the things that have flowed through my brain lately are about the mummification* process my Dad always talks about, likely spurred on after reading Into the Wild. Going for a hike yesterday certainly resurfaced some longings, missing hikes and the outdoors. My own fault really, and life I guess, much of my life is spent working a “grown-up” job, battered by my ongoing whining mantra, “I hate my job, I hate my job” and trying to find outlets for creativity moving me in violent unfulfilling circles. I discover the fun of one thing, try it, then find another and try that and so on. I always return to writing though, that is where my most creative moments flow, when I don’t have brain constipation that is…

Other days the words flow through my brain like sand through an hourglass, I attempt to hold onto the thoughts, to keep them close until I can write them down, yet they slip away, never to return. I kick myself and wonder how to fix this. When I remember I record my thoughts on my phone. Siri translates the words using autocorrect. The incorrect corrections throw me off so terribly I can no longer remember the feeling or original train of thought.

I do have moments of quiet brilliance. I find my composition flowers and blossoms, erupts like a volcano or gallops wildly across my written page ferocious and free determined to be exactly what is meant to be; expressive, lovely, powerful and insightful. I love these days. During these moments, I adore writing, the paper or screen, I love how prose simply drips off of my fingers and fills pages and pages with no more effort than raindrops falling on the ground. Delicious and loving, the words are my friends, happy to celebrate my imagination and creativity with me instead of being sullen little brats that won’t share the toys. Snots!

I also notice that when I am trying too hard or thinking too much; my words become most stubborn and are least likely to cooperate. But when I write whatever comes to mind; when I am relaxed and unhurried, it isn’t always Shakespearean eloquence, but the words do come, they allow me to express rather than just stare blankly at a sheet of paper or a blinking curser. Those times are good too, it’s as if I am channeling some other force; a magical beautiful beast from beyond. I think if I just keep writing, even if it’s nonsense (although it often feels like a masterpiece until I re-read), something comes out of it and some nuggets of gold emerge, not all of it is useable but perhaps I just need to keep writing and writing until the flow becomes unplugged, more natural, like learning to mountain climb. Practice makes perfect! (I hate that phrase!)

So, last night I wrote in one of my notebooks, not on the computer because it was being a narcissistic goblin, I started with a thought and it morphed. My creativity as a trapped woman. A trapped alter-self. That part of me that I have neglected, the part of me that is generally unacceptable to the stoic, “do as I say not as I do” types. The part of me that I have buried or mummified under social expectations or the desire to be accepted and acceptable.             

I don’t think of “her” as my inner child, she is simply my inner self, the one who has been denied entry to this world for so long. It is her energy that sent me to Europe for three years, it is her willpower that helped me leave an abusive ex, it is her creativity that gives my words substance. I see this inner-self as my soul. She is powerful and strong and undeterred by my denial of her voice. When finally released she will be loving and forgiving, not angry because I kept her locked up for so long. She understands. But the fear comes when I wonder what life will look like if I really let her loose. What will she do? What chaos will she bring? My orderly life will be upended, be sure of that, and she will do just whatever the hell she wants to do… it is her turn, you know?

I wonder if she has been out and about for a while now, but I don’t think so. Maybe just once in a while until I trick her back into captivity. That internal stretching and pulling, rebelling against the suffocation and causing me unending agita means she is still trapped and impatient to be released. I comfort her with soothing sounds and, “Not yet, not just yet, just a little longer,” because I know if I let her out now… oh holy hell… I won’t stand a chance to finish out the next 10 months of responsible employment. Nope she has had it with that circus. As my friend Gayle says, “Not my monkeys- not my circus!” She won’t stand for it at all.

*The mummification process is the socialization we all endure as children and young adults as we attempt to conform to norms. As we get older, we realize this is an unwanted container of our souls and we spend the latter half of our lives (well some of us!) attempting to unwrap ourselves in an attempt to discover our true selves.

Beasts of Emotions

Fear has moved in with me, although I don’t remember even inviting the little bastard for a visit. He is a loud clamorous pasty-faced imp that stands on chairs and shouts his admonitions constantly in a whiney nasally voice. I am really too polite to shove his annoying ass out of my brain. He knows this and has now taken over most of the space.

Comfort is Fear’s fat lethargic cousin sitting on the couch with a beer and three-day stubble. It is much easier to ignore the fact that he occasionally belches a reminder that I have so much to lose were I to do something I truly love. It’s not worth the risk, he grunts, just not worth it. He always returns to watching endless reruns of “Gilligan’s Island,” as if to passively make the point of what can happen if you are so stupid as to attempt adventure.

Each day I wake up to make the long drive to work. Each day I leave slightly more dead inside. Each day is just another day. Last week was so challenging for me, I was exhausted and spent any down time, staring listlessly into space. “You can’t do it,” Doubt reminds me. That bitch is smoother and more polished than the other two; she is well dressed and sharp as a tack. When the others are preoccupied with other things such as car repairs she saunters over in feigned concern. Her chiding wit goads me to back away from anything preposterous such as taking a chance at life.

Doubt looks a bit like Cruella de Vil. She condescendingly points out that I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none; zero expertise. She takes a long drag on her cigarette and looks down at me in contemptuous pity. “Silly girl, who would pay you to do something worthwhile?” She shakes her head sadly and my head droops. The boys come scampering back, and they pat my head and remind me it’s for the best. Better to just stay put, don’t try, that way you won’t fail.

Failure, of course, doesn’t ever show up. I won’t let that one in the door. It is neither male nor female, but a large hairy monster of indescribable ferocity. I know that meeting with this creature means certain death. It is without question the one being I dread most. The squatters Doubt, Fear and Comfort are mild in comparison and they assure me that as long as I listen to their wisdom, Failure will never rear its terrifying head. It is out there and one wrong move, I know it will come and that will be, the end, of that. Life will end.

I have heard stories of its visitations. It walks slowly and deliberately. The muffled heavy step of Failure is most audible when things stop going as you had planned. Running away is the only option available to avoid smelling the demise of hope on it’s breath, the meaty bloody remains of its former victims hang in it’s teeth like partially burnt curtains after a house fire.

I do remember being nearly consumed by this beast. I could smell it’s putrid body odor and I ran. I ran and ran and ran. I honestly don’t know how I escaped with my life. The experience was so painful and humiliating, I don’t know how I was able to walk into a new job. So now I am here, too petrified to make a move towards something real.

When I read something encouraging, well, I develop selective hearing loss. The voices of the obnoxious trio fade into the background replace by the melodic voice of Hope. Hope is a dragonfly; she flutters about with purpose although you are never quite certain what she is up to. Will she land on me today? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, I am afraid she has been badly abused. So she is hesitant and reluctant to settle too close.

Hope has experienced what Failure can do to her. It crushes her wings in a vice-like grip reducing her to pulverized dust. But, like a phoenix she is resurrected; usually at the most inconvenient moments. Her voice is a vibrant song silencing the grounded reasoning of Fear, Doubt and Comfort. She can hush them for a time but she needs to be fed in order to grow. Sadly Hope needs an elixir I don’t own made of Strength and Courage. A dash of Daring makes the elixir especially potent.

Photography by Tanya K. Ehlert Copyright © 2015

Bugs, Roller Coasters and “Me”

Many years ago when I was a lowly grad student I was assigned the task of developing a collaborative program that would enhance my college and the organizations involved. I attempted to pair the university’s environmental center and it’s decrepit, low funded, largely unknown entomology museum.

My idea was to intertwine the two facilities and get some of those bugs on display! It would add an additional educational dimension to the environmental center and would bring some much-needed attention to the entomology museum, possibly increasing their funding prospects! Perfect right?

Nope.

Although the environmental center was very excited about a new display for their facility the volunteer groups that ran the entomology museum were unable to get past the first meeting. Why? They couldn’t decide which volunteer group would be “first” or what to name the new group. After listening to them bicker for 45 minutes I excused myself from the meeting. They were not interested in the common good only their own groups promotion.

I mention this story because in about 3 weeks our new President will be sworn in to office. We don’t know what our country will look like under President Trump and some of us are fearful that his campaign promises will come to pass. Like the museum folks we have been so busy trying to be right or “first” that we have somehow elected a man into this prestigious office who seems to have only his own best interests at heart.

I’ll admit I have not been paying close attention to politics since the election. My eyes have been decisively shut because opening them reveals only heart-dropping terrors. I can’t look; it’s just too awful! I feel I have been forcibly placed on a roller coaster from hell, locked in tight and the carnie is grinning at me with bright malicious eyes, “Have fun!” he says in gleeful mocking tones.

I am scared.

The worst part is that this roller coaster does not have a traditional track; politics as usual are long, long gone. Unlike every previous POTUS, this one does not follow rules and doesn’t care who doesn’t like it. Even his own party has no weight to pull him gently to one side or the other. It remains to be seen what a man with politically sociopathic tendencies will do*. He will surprise us, no matter our political leanings; it just depends on whether he can keep his followers in their obedient trance. I think he will.

I see a number of groups that are claiming they will fight any injustice, but they are still separate entities, individuals in groups that are not thinking collectively. We need to find a way to rediscover what true community looks like, placing the needs of others above ourselves. We need to think about what it is that will be most beneficial to our country and not just the small space that we inhabit. We need to find a collectivist perspective and find some way to unite everyone.

You may think I am exaggerating, but all you have to do is look at how people reacted to Black Lives Matter. Even the open-minded had a hard time with the semantics. It was a call for relevance and most of us ignored it or criticized the movement. We should have been making this a clarion call, a shout to anyone who was bigoted, racist or separatist. Black Lives Matter was not about being black; it was about being a part of this town, community, state, and country. It turned out to be a missed opportunity that we only barely recognized as paramount to the unity of our nation. We are only as great as our weakest link.

I remind myself that the majority of our country did not vote for Trump. This would be a hopeful thought if it weren’t already obvious that most of us (all of us?) can only think about what is in it for ourselves. We are an individualistic society, which may be why we now have the poster child of individualism as our next president.

A simple way to explain the difference between an individualistic and a collectivist society is to think about the entomology museum situation I mentioned above. If the entomology groups had a collectivist bent the collaboration could have been developed. The obvious need for funding and recognition in a fast paced world should have outweighed the need for individual respect (even if it was the group that wanted the respect). The potential partnership offered benefits for the university, the nature center, the students, and the museum (!) far outweighing the myopic need to be the prevalent identity that supervised the bug collection.

Although I am always hopeful, my optimism is tentative, I don’t know if we are able to join together and put our differences aside, specifically those of us who didn’t vote for Trump. This isn’t only a liberal versus conservative chasm that needs to be forded. I think that as a country we have become completely individualistic and are unable to unite against a common enemy and thus will be defeated.

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* I am not calling the president-elect a sociopath. I am referring to the term coined by the Atlantic when describing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. “Trump, Sanders, and Ted Cruz have in common that they are political sociopaths—meaning not that they are crazy, but that they don’t care what other politicians think about their behavior and they don’t need to care.”
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/how-american-politics-went-insane/485570/

For a good definition of Individualistic versus Collectivistic:
http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/pub/1.2.4-_activity_-_individual.htm
Additional perspective on I vs. C.
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Avner_Greif/publication/24103849_Cultural_Beliefs_and_the_Organization_Of_Society_A_Historical_and_Theoretical_Reflection_on_Collectivist_and_Individualist_Societies/links/0ef3abd9ca316ff3554b8df7.pdf

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