Category Archives: decisions

In Defense of Me

I had a little text exchange earlier today.

My sister sent me a picture and two videos of the kitten she is giving me in the fall.  I did not want a new cat as I have three and that is enough.  But my sister cleverly sent a picture first and then asked me if I would like to have a new kitten.  She would pay for all the shots, the spaying, and bring her to me from N. Carolina since they were coming up anyway.  It was a cute cat, and my sister always gets her way, and one of my cats is 19, so how long would I have to wait to be back down to three cats anyway.  So, I said yes.

Now my sister sends regular updates via text, which is considerate, I suppose.

Today I felt compelled to thank her for her efforts which are allowing me to see my kitten grow up even though she is hundreds of miles away.

Instead of responding with a “you’re welcome” she texted back with “You’re welcome to come down and see her and bring her back with you.”

Gahhhhhhh!

Why would I want to drive myself all the way down to Asheville, NC to pick up a cat (that I probably shouldn’t have said yes to) when you’re coming up to New York anyway in September???  In fact, all of this was your idea to begin with.  In fact, about a hundred whyshouldI’s raced through my mind when she responded the way she did.

The safest answer I could come up with was, it wasn’t in the budget to make a big trip this year.

Her answer:  Budget?  It’s a couple of tanks of gas!  We have plenty of room for you.

Gahhhhhhhh!

This convo was exactly like nearly every exchange with my mother.  No matter what I say in answer to any question, large or small, my answer is up for grabs, correction, improvement.  How did these people get so far into my brain?  Why do I have to defend everything all the time????

It’s the boundaries again.  I never learned good boundaries.  Neither did they.  But they are okay with it and I am not.

I can not be okay with poor boundaries.  I will never get better if I don’t firm up the boundaries.

And why am I still thinking about it and turning it over and over in my mind an hour later?

I get so stuck sometimes.

I probably should have sucked it up weeks ago and turned down the kitten even though she is super cute.  But I didn’t and now I am entangled.

My answer that shut down the exchange: I would have to fly.  That’s a hell of a drive and I’m not up to it these days.

She had nothing but an “oh, okay” for that one.

Score!

Such small successes in this journey, but I’ll take it.

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Progress? Who knows….

Tonight I learned how to make Christmas cards with two friends of mine and about ten other women at our local library.

While checking out one of the card-making stations set up by the instructor, I recognized a woman carrying a cane who came in along with two other younger women.  She was the mother of one of the girls who, in junior high school, made my life a living hell for several months.

At the end of eighth grade and beginning of ninth grade, I was the main character in one of those two-against-one-best-friends-betray-a-weaker-friend-mean-girls-scenarios that you see portrayed in so many movies, TV shows, commercials and… cold-blooded crime shows.

Of course, since it is my story, there is so much more to it than that.  But for now I’d rather just write about tonight.

When I saw the mother walk in, I quickly assessed if her daughter was with her and I didn’t see her at first.  So I thought, good.

It turned out, however, that I was wrong.  As everyone seated themselves for the class and got comfortable, it turned out that indeed, the “evil one” was going to make Christmas cards, too.

It did not occur to me to leave, so we’ll call that progress.  And I did not have an anxiety attack, also progress.  I did decide to avoid being near her, which meant a certain amount of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not too sure how to grade that one.  Maybe it was just some good, old-fashioned self-care.

If I had never met this person before, and knew nothing about her, I’d be under the impression that she was a nice woman who was close to her mother and enjoyed some of the same things I do.  All that might even be true to a certain extent.  I mean, we were actually friends for a time way back when, so there must be something in common.

At any rate, I do know about her.  I know what she is capable of.  I know what I carry around with me to this day because of her and the other girl involved.

People like her are the reason that people like me leave their hometown and never come back.  I did leave for ten years but circumstances brought me back here and now it looks as if I am here to stay.

I actually had her as a customer once at the Terrible Job.  At the time I had no way to avoid waiting on her.  She seemed nervous and hyper and like she was trying to please me.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “Ha!  Your son is in prison.  You raised a violent criminal!  Why am I not surprised?  Your violence led to a second generation of violence.  Ha!”

I expected to see some sign of this tragedy in her face, but there was nothing there for me to see.  I also wanted to see some sign of sorrow or shame for what she did to me way back when.  But again, there was nothing to see.

No, people like her do not carry their own shame.  They carry no sense of responsibility for the effects of their actions on others.  Instead, they give their shame over to their victims.

Over forty years later and I’m still having to deal with such things.

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True Story!

In fifth grade, ecology was a big topic.  So that year, the downtown merchants association held a poster contest.

I was so excited.  My idea was to draw an example of road-making using recycled glass bottles.  It was something I had seen in one of the ecology films they showed us.

It was tricky artwork.  I had to draw a steam roller which was very difficult.  I planned to use colored cellophane for the broken glass in the blacktop.  And of course, there was a human figure sitting on the steam roller running the thing.

The girl drawing next to me admired my work but I was highly critical of it.  It wasn’t coming out as perfect as I wanted and I said I would probably draw something different for the contest.

She asked if she could copy my idea for her poster and I kind of scoffed.  Then she offered to split the prize with me if it won.  I didn’t really think it would win, but I agreed.  We made a deal.

She copied my work down to the very last detail.  It couldn’t have been more identical if she’d used tracing paper.

I went on to draw a very perfect and very ordinary picture of bottles being washed out in a sink.

Amazingly enough, when the prizes were announced, my “partner” had won second prize!  It was $5.00!  So, $2.50 for me!!  Not a huge prize, but woo hoo, it was money!!

When I noticed how proud and happy she was acting, as if the whole thing had been her idea alone, I reminded her that she had said we would split the prize if she won.  My expectation was that she would acknowledge our deal and let me know how I would get my money.

What she actually said was, “I did NOT!  You’re just JEALOUS!”

I wish I could go back in time just to see the expression on my face.  It must have been comical.

I did feel a little stupid as I realized what I had done to myself.  I guess I should have gotten it in writing!!  But I was not jealous and I was the opposite of a liar.  She was the liar.

So here we are in the year 2016.  How has each of us fared since grade five?

I am an unemployed civil servant who had a nervous breakdown and will likely never work again.

She is a nurse with a masters degree who was hired a few years ago to set up a brand new cancer center with all the decision-making powers to go with that job.  She hired a head-hunting agency who found this job for her.

On Facebook she likes to post heart-warming memes to boost morale.  She posts every time she gets a manicure or massage or goes on a cruise or meets someone famous.  She looks very happy and I imagine she is.

Maybe I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to worry about the impact I might be having on others.

We are both married, she for a second time, and have children and grandchildren.

I don’t want the same things she wants or has.  Except maybe for her supreme sense of self.

I can’t be the only person she has treated that way.  I think most people will take advantage of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves.  They might even tell a little white lie to soothe away any tiny bit of guilt they might feel for taking advantage.  It appears she does far more good in this world than harm.

For me the most shocking thing about that story is that a ten-year-old girl was able to come up with such an ugly lie so quickly and naturally:  I did not, you’re just jealous.

At least she got $5.00 and her picture in the paper.  And I got the first of many, many life’s lessons.  And I still don’t know what to make of most of them.

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Out to Lunch

Today I took myself out to lunch at our local Wendy’s.  It has been three and a half years since the last time I ate there.

Wendy’s was the nearest place for lunch when I was still working at the Terrible Job.  Back then, I went there most days for lunch.  The last few weeks before I quit, I’d sit at my table furiously eating my spicy chicken sandwich and fries and looking at Facebook on my phone.  I mean that I was actually furious.  By the time my lunch break happened, I would have already had a lousy day and it would have been about six hours since last eating anything.  As hungry as I was, I never finished my meal either.  It was during the time period that I was restricting my food intake–sort of an act of aggression but directed at myself.  I’d eat about half my food and then angrily throw away the rest of it and drag myself back to work.

Yes, I was quite a mental mess by then.

Since today is Sunday, I knew I would not run into any former customers or former co-workers.  It would be safe for me to eat there.

Growing up I was of the mindset that I had to go where I likely would be treated badly.  I didn’t really have a policy of avoiding troublesome people.  Well, often enough there was no other option.  I was a kid, I had to go to school.  Going to school involved walking on public streets.  I was just a kid.  What else was I going to do?

Some unhappy kids skipped school, did drugs, got into fights.  Those did not seem like good options for me.

As an adult, I kept up that habit of staying in bad situations.  Often I volunteered for such.  Then came the day when I was at the end of my rope and I decided to go home from the Terrible Job.  I promised myself I would no longer do things that were sure to end in trouble or unhappiness for me.  No longer do I tolerate toxic people or situations.  Sure, it limits where I can go at certain times of the day in this small, crappy town.  But this is my little gift to myself.  I no longer participate in my own victimization.

Today it is Sunday.  I can go to Wendy’s if I want.

I ordered my spicy chicken and fries.  I ate until I was full.  I people-watched.  It felt so normal and safe.  It felt like taking back a little bit of my life, but on my terms.  No self-judgment or self-criticism.  Nobody prying into my personal life.  No having to explain anything to anyone.

It’s really hard to basically start life all over again but not moving away to do it.  Old habits and old distractions and old dangers are everywhere.  I am new, or at least I want to be, and I am surrounded by old.  It has been a very good exercise in letting go and learning how to be detached in a healthy way.

I can do this thing.

 

 

 

 

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Graceful Exit

I have belly dance tonight and I don’t want to go.  It has not been fun for me in quite some time.

As usually happens in my life, either I have outgrown them or they have outgrown me.  Usually when that happens, there is a sudden break.  Something ugly happens or I have to just quit and people end up being shocked and hurt.  Bridges get burned.

The graceful exit is something I have had to teach myself.  It’s hard being a bridge burner in a small town!!!  But I didn’t really think I would have to do it with the belly dancing.  Belly dancing,  and this troupe, has meant a lot to me and I just didn’t foresee things evolving the way they have.

There are factions now.  Roughly split between younger and older.  One group wants big venues and recognition.  One group likes the learning and fellowship and exercise.  One group seems able to successfully do both with little stress.  Our teacher wants to be the good guy and try to please all and offend none.  But she really, really is drawn to the big venue and recognition group.  And everybody brings to it personal issues that are as individual as can be.

Then there is me.  I really thought that if I explained myself (and what I need because of my anxiety and what I will try to do to support the group) that it would work.  I imagined that they in turn would help me find my way.

That did not happen.

I am disappointed.  While I am certainly not quitting, I am now on something of a break while I wait for the opportunity that will welcome me within my limitations and help me to thrive in some way.

Tonight I’m going to rehearsal as moral support for my friend who has been left in charge while the teacher is overseas.  Also, I have a finished sewing project to bring in for another dancer.  So, there is that.

One big reason that I have declined to participate in an upcoming big performance, in a very large venue, is that I remembered the incredible stress from last year when much of the troupe made little effort to come to rehearsals, etc.  I vividly remember having to perform a dance that was not polished and it actually flopped.  It was a pretty big venue where we wanted to do really well.  We older ones had begged and begged ahead of time, and warned and warned, but nobody listened.  Everybody acted like it was no big deal, like we were being unreasonable.

When we started up again in the fall, I made several suggestions to fix a couple of the big problems and got dismissed each time.  I shut-up about it.

So, imagine my surprise this year when someone else made the same suggestions and they were embraced!   Of course, now there is much less time to work with.  Those very same dancers are now soooo nervous and verrrry eager to have extra rehearsals.

Oh, at first they said the same old things–it’ll be fine, it’ll all come together, it always does…. Then suddenly they got high standards.  There’s only a few weeks until the gig!!!  And they are starting to be critical of the weaker dancers to the point they don’t want to include them.  Hmmm.  We have always been inclusive before and supportive.  But now that they are calling all the shots, things have changed.

It’s insulting and disappointing.  But I am taking it as a valuable learning experience.  I don’t think I have burned any bridges, though I feel certain that I am being misunderstood.

The graceful exit is not the simple solution I thought it would be.  There is still a lot on my mind and a lot of work to do to salvage something out of this.  I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

 

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Anxiety is a Bear

There are occasions when I doubt my decision to do this emotional illness journey without medication or therapy.

Like at 3:43 this morning.

My anxiety was so all encompassing that I felt nauseous and heavy and claustrophobic.  Untethered.

My usual tricks didn’t help a lot.  I was determined to stay in bed rather than go downstairs and surf the internet.  This left me with changing my sleep position, welcoming a cat into bed, getting some water, holding onto my piece of obsidian as a sort of shield and chanting to myself, “It’ll be alright, you’ll be fine, you are fine, it’s just anxiety…”

I don’t know what worked, but I eventually got back to sleep and dreamed a bit.

I woke up feeling unhappy and overwhelmed but more clear-headed than I felt during the dark before the dawn.

It occurred to me that I had let life get a little out of control lately.  For the past few weeks I have said to myself, ooh this week is a little busier than I like, but it will be okay.  Before I knew it, I was back to promising away my time and my space to my own detriment.  Such a long-standing habit!  So easy to fall back into.

Maybe the anxiety bear is now my friend because it is my own red flag for lack of self-care. Or maybe it’s a white flag.  Surrender, Gale. Stop fighting.  Start listening to your too quiet self.  Start valuing your own voice.

So, I texted my friend to say that today would not be a good one for dance practice.  That made me feel a bit lighter.  So, then I was motivated to catch up on paperwork.  One of my quirks is that I enjoy doing paperwork and getting it in order.  I made a really good civil servant in my day.  Too bad the bosses of this era do not appreciate such things….

I remembered to hydrate and eat a little something.  Soaked in the tub and got dressed.  Accomplishments!

The soak in the tub alerted me to a plumbing mishap from the big job we had done yesterday.  I didn’t panic and go into despair.  I was able to figure it out and get it taken care of.  And now that is all in order too.

What I am doing is letting my illness be its own medication.  What are my symptoms telling me?  What bad habits and decisions may have contributed?  Is this behavior the same thing I have been doing for decades hoping for a different result each time?  What can my madness teach me about doing things differently?

This is a slow method, but I think it is leading to genuine change.

 

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Triggers

I have come a long way in the past three years, just about, since I walked off the Terrible Job.  At that time I was a shadow of myself.  Clinical depression, anxiety, incredible work-related stress from a toxic job environment, PTSD, unresolved grief issues…. all that and more! left me in a very fragile condition.  The moment I walked out that door was the first moment of real self-care that I had ever attempted in my life.  And that is what I have been doing ever since.

Lately, I have been able to exercise a certain amount of detachment when it comes to what is going on with symptoms of my mental and emotional illnesses.

For example, this past week I learned that other people had been invited to events that I might have expected we would also be invited to.  However, we were not invited.  Both times it bothered me but for different reasons.  And one of the “slights” hurt a whole lot more than the other one, even though that one was not actually personal in nature and was completely understandable.

That’s how triggers work.  Crap from the past that was stuffed way, way down gets unexpectedly dredged up, and the emotions are just as painful now, even out of context, as they might have been back in the day.  If only there had been a safe way to express them at the time of the original hurt.  But there wasn’t a safe way or even a known way to express the emotions.  So someone like me will place them into something like suspended animation forever and just carry them around for years and years without realizing that those emotions are just biding their time.  In an unguarded moment, they come back to life and once again you have to decide what to do with them.

Decisions about emotions sounds strange.  But that is what I did subconsciously in the past and that is what I must now do deliberately in the present.  In the past I had to stuff things down because I was overwhelmed and because I was mainly on my own to figure out these things in the trenches.  It was a way to go.  I don’t have to stuff things down now.  I have space to work in and I even have some skills.  These skills are very new but they are there.

This detachment that I am able to feel these days is a very useful skill for now.  It allowed me to sit with some very, very uncomfortable feelings for a couple of days.  Then I felt able to look at the situation and see other possible scenarios to explain why we were left out.  I acknowledged that maybe we were actually left out because nothing had actually been planned ahead of time.  Other personalities were thrown into the mix and nothing could be done about it at the last minute.

Once I got that far, I was able to talk about what happened.  That was not very satisfying but it was another chance to organize my ideas about being left out.

A day or two after that, I wrote out what happened and how it made me feel.  That was hard because I still want to judge myself.  There is still that voice which wants to tell me, you are not worthy of being included therefore you are foolish to be hurt when you’re not included.  Not a good or accurate message at all but that voice is so persistant!!!

After I wrote it all out, I felt quite a bit better the next day.  A couple days later we got an unexpected invitation from the same source and there it was:  the physical, visible, undeniable proof that my voice is a liar.  We are worthy, we are loved, we mean something, we matter.

What an awful lot of hard work it is to heal and grow in spite of the burden of mental and emotional illness.  This is why it is a priority for me.  It is very hard work and I do not have the stamina to do this while also working and being out there in the world at the level I used to be able to be.

As frustrating as it is to be working on the triggers, I am seeing progress.  I used to just get lost in my stronger emotions.  Now  I am seeing a fairly clear way through them, which gives me reason to hope.

 

 

 

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