Fight Despair Together: What Does Life on Your Terms Look Like?

You see the well-trodden paths in your life. You learn ways to stop getting stuck there. You go, killer! The next question is, “Where do we go from here?”

We have to forge new paths, create new ways of relating to people around us. If we are doing our inner work well, this should be obvious to us. We recognize familiar situations and remember how we would have reacted in the past.

Late Night

My coping mechanisms work fine…. Until they don’t!

Take Responsibility for Your Reactions

Personal example, a weird thing I have is I hate waking up alone. Like, if I went to bed alone, okay. But in that half-awake haze of the Night Owl at 8am, I seek out the comfort of my beloved.

And if he’s up early playing a game, it takes me to this weird, awful thing where each of my parents preferred a screen to my company.

Please keep in mind, I’m still barely half-awake.

There have been days when I was well into a spiral of lashing out and self-loathing by the time I really became conscious.

My new favorite YouTube shrink is Abdul Saad. In one video he says that stability is necessary before self-development can begin. This is so true! I’m so grateful to my husband for putting up with all my drama and being a consistent presence in my life.

Saying ‘No’

Sometimes I’m sad when I think of my old family and how none of my efforts made any difference. But without those people around, my dust is finally settling. I can begin to see myself as I truly am, without being drained by people who don’t know how to give.

So, when you see the old reaction – In my case, freaking the fuck out – but the instinct behind it is muted because you have been working through the blockage that triggers it – My fear of abandonment – you begin to see new ways to handle things.

Mostly these days I can stay calm long enough to remind myself who I’m talking to. Why I got up in the first place. Maybe I help deal with something bothering him. And, more often than not, I simply go back to bed.

Yawn

I love you guys, but I need my rest!

You might call this a ‘soft no.’

Another thing Dr. Sahd said is that suffering is a necessary prerequisite for personal growth. Not to throw a pity party but, dear readers, I have been suffering.

I have been tired before. I ran myself ragged in my 20s because I didn’t know any better.

And I thought pushing myself would make me harder. It just makes me numb.

Since I married my husband I have pushed myself harder than ever, in love instead of fear. I hoped this would carry me through. I hoped I would adjust to this complicated life.

I’m doing okay. But I have had to start saying no, as an act of desperation. It’s not easy! My impulse to prove myself and my enthusiasm for giving made me turn away from my own inconvenient needs a few too many times.

My family is a wonderful source of love, cuddles and companionship. But I need to be alone.

I have described it to my husband as a house – I am happy to have guests but I need time to clean up and take out the garbage. It’s starting to pile up.

Despite all my explanations, he is very extroverted and just doesn’t quite get it. He is getting better at anticipating my needs, but I can’t expect him to be my emotional babysitter.

I have to let go of needing to always please others and always feel included, because I have to find a way to include solitude in my life.

This is a must. I’m starting to lose my inner thread more and more. Even when rested I’m irritable and distracted.

Reading By The Window

I know I wrote it down somewhere!

Life on My Terms…. Who am I?

I bring it up because life on our terms isn’t just about deciding what we want and pursuing it. I reshaped my life a few years ago because I reached a crossroads. But Happily Ever After is always more complicated than we might wish.

We will always hit walls. Sometimes our goals don’t align with our abilities and we have to re-evaluate.

Most of all, remember you are a work in progress. Life on your terms requires a strong understanding of yourself.

My first dream was to be a musician. I pursued this dream for years and with various methods. At 20, life on my terms would have looked like playing out with my band every week. Travel, drugs and alcohol, all that stuff.

Now I understand that, if I had succeeded, that lifestyle would have fried me. And quite possibly killed me. The crippling anxiety that stopped me makes sense in retrospect. I still hope to communicate with the masses, but I don’t even like watching other people play stadiums!

A big part of actually accomplishing growth is letting go of how you thought things would be. The Buddha said the root of all suffering is wanting and, although asceticism mostly pisses me off, I think this is where that wisdom applies.

The Only Constant in Life is Change

It’s important to keep trying to be a little better, day after day. And while our goal vision is a great motivator, remember that it’s just a vision. It’s an idea. The only thing that’s real is what’s in front of you right now.

Life on our terms is not about bullheadedly pursuing an ideal. And you will find that your terms, your boundaries, your needs change as you change.

Unbalanced

I had it balanced there for a second!

My mother once cautioned me against using psychedelics because “it changes your brain chemistry. It changes who you are, forever!” Later I learned that, yeah, that’s kinda the point.

And anyone who wants to stay exactly the way they are is not someone I want to spend a lot of time with.

Once again I’m going to urge you to keep a journal. Just a notebook to write down your thoughts as they come up. It’s an invaluable tool for organization and reflection. Plus, you will be amazed how much you plain old forget.

What you want is only half the picture. Who you are will assert itself in sneaky ways.

Radical Acceptance is the Cure for What Ails Ya

I could easily have gotten some pills for the anxiety and blamed the world for whatever level of failure I attained in the sexist music business. And I can only imagine what a miserable fuck I would be at 35.

Don’t imagine for a second that this tomboy thought she would have four kids and just want to stay home to clean and write. Hell, no.

There is what you want, and there is who you are. You have to radically accept who you are, otherwise you will be running in brambly circles forever.

**We’re coming up on the last push in our Fight Despair Together series. I hope I have helped a few of you gain some insight and get a little grounded for the hard work in the coming year. Heal yourself, come together.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Fight Despair Together: How Do I Know It’s Working?

When we are going inward and doing personal work, the most important thing is to stay on-task.

How Do I Choose Which Path to Take?

Raking Leaves

This is harder than it looks!

Stay focused on a simple goal, don’t be distracted by side paths that may pop up. If you are working on expressing yourself more clearly and you realize that you are experiencing social anxiety, it’s tempting to run off and treat the anxiety.

But why? Who’s to say the communication issue didn’t cause the anxiety? Or they could both have origins in a single, forgotten event from childhood.

But you know they are related. Focusing on one will help the other.

Pick one.

Keep notes of your discoveries so you can go back over what you run into. Focusing on one thing at a time is harder than it sounds, but it’s vitally important.

I like to think of my mental landscape as a forest, some paths well-worn and easy to follow. Some are new and tentative, others old and overgrown.

But I try to follow one simple course at a time, because it’s easy to get distracted and end up going in circles.

I’ve done it. So many times.

But how do you know when to switch it up? Building new habits can get boring and frustrating. How do you know if you should stick with it?

How Do I Measure Progress?

You know that feeling when you’re out and about and the self-consciousness is just weighing on you? You realize you feel like a weirdo.

You second guess every little thing, stressing about how you’re standing or the shirt you chose or whatever never-ending minutiae. That feeling of being 13 on the first day of school, forever.

Wigs

I obsess over superficial things to avoid my own lack of definition!

Maybe you’re dealing with a negative person. Maybe these feelings are coming from your own mental habits.

Regardless of origin, the less often you feel like this, the more you know you are on the right track.

I think the end goal of personal work is to never feel this ever again. Not just because it sucks but because it’s the manifestation of so many different mental misalignments.

The world at large is not judging you. And if they are, they need to get a life.

War is Over, if You Want It

There are (mostly) two kinds of people out there – Friendlies, who are willing to engage on the field of social commerce, and Unfriendlies who aren’t.

This classification system is good for every bank teller, store clerk, customer, playground parent and most co-workers.

If they are not interested in engaging with you, feel free to decline in return. This will free you up even more to pursue your goals.

The negativity of others should roll right off of you because you choose not to engage with it. You are too busy with your important business.

This mindset is a machete for slicing through the brambles. As a sensitive person, it’s very helpful to have a method of steadying myself against constant bombardment from the world.

And that self-conscious feeling makes the machete mindset almost impossible. When you notice it’s been a while since you had to remind yourself that no one is staring at you, you’re making real progress.

Is Fear of Abandonment the Root of Narcissism?

The similarity is unmistakable – Narcissistic people, who appear grandiose but are actually cripplingly insecure, tend to follow a cycle in relationships.

Haystack Captive

I could use a little more control in this situation!

While reading about the Fear of Abandonment I was struck by how they are essentially the same reaction. The main difference is that the Narcissistic Cycle dominates a person’s relationships.

Idealize – The beginning is beautiful, often called ‘Love-Bombing.’ Their partner is the most perfect person to ever live.

This is a hard one because it mimics normal infatuation. In the early stages of romantic love, people are notoriously rose-colored in their estimation of their crush. Much ink has been spilled, thousands of songs written and enough films for a weeklong festival. It’s cruel because this phase can actually be terrifying for people who have been involved with emotional vampires before.

“By being in a relationship with such a nurturing, loving person, the person with narcissism is able to consume that person’s authentic love and extract narcissistic supply.”

Terrifying because the downturn is insidious:

Devalue – When their partner is inevitably revealed to not be perfect, the dysfunctional person begins magnifying and imagining flaws. Small things like a tone of voice or canceled plans with little explanation sow seeds of doubt in their once-beloved. Slowly, the partner can begin to doubt their own perspective.

Tactics can include “intermittently lacking emotional or physical intimacy, withdrawing affection, seductive withholding, inexplicably disappearing from contact, or blaming the target for the narcissistic person’s issues (projection).”

Kiss On The Couch

There’s no escape…. from the love!

It’s all a setup for the final phase:

Discard – Now that the target is all jumbled and insecure, the Narcissist is on his merry way. He has drained his victim and will use his charm (and possibly the sob story about this break-up) to find another.

Asking for better treatment can precipitate this phase. Demands for empathy or reciprocity are met with temper tantrums. “Inevitably, the discarding occurs when the person with narcissism either disappears or orchestrates his or her own abandonment by engaging in some form of egregious emotional abuse.”

My ex and I went through this whole thing three or four times over seven years.

How do you do it more than once?  I hear you asking. Well, part of it was my unwillingness to walk away, and part of it was his unwillingness to actually be alone. Put this together, and you slip easily into the last phase of the cycle:

Hoovering – This is not always officially included but, in my experience, it might be the most important. Because it’s where real confusion can set in.

So you’ve been devalued, rejected, abandoned. But then the minute you start to get your head together, he’s back. Apologizing and saying everything you want to hear. This phase is named after the brand of vacuum cleaner because he is sucking you back in. The moment you begin to play along, the whole cycle starts over.

But Narcissism is usually created by abuse. Narcissists beget narcissists. They are emotionally stunted and wounded people.

The Fear of Abandonment can mimic this cycle.

Impatient

You know, the older you get, the more you remind me of my father!

Verywellmind.com lists the steps created by a Fear of Abandonment as

  • Getting to Know One Another
  • The Honeymoon 
  • The Real Relationship
  • The Slight – Where they reveal imperfections
  • The Reaction“If you have this fear, you are probably completely convinced that the slight is a sign that your partner no longer loves you…. Some people handle this by becoming clingy and demanding, insisting that their partner prove her love by jumping through hoops. Others run away, rejecting their partners before they are rejected.”

Seems to me that it’s usually one, then the other. It’s a lot like the Narcissistic Cycle, but that doesn’t mean someone who behaves this way is narcissistic. It’s like a phobia, and can be self-contained in an otherwise reasonable person.

A person who is able to look at their own behavior and see where they could improve. Narcissists are incapable of this. They may be able to talk the talk, but they will never walk the walk. They talk themselves out of things just as quickly.

They will never really take responsibility for anything, this is the purpose of their emotional jig. Eventually, even the most loving and patient person will be exhausted and unable to take any more.

But the reason they can’t take any responsibility is they are extremely insecure. I wonder if it’s what happens when the Fear of Abandonment runs amok.

Swinging Sixties

Do you love me now?

The way Narcissists pass on the disorder is by teaching their children not to rely on them and, thus, anyone. They are not even reliably unreliable. Sometimes, they love you.

And then they emotionally abandon you over and over.

Maybe it’s the Fear of Abandonment grown so big it makes it impossible for them to open up, even to themselves.

I don’t really know but I see the role it plays in my life and it’s got to go. I do have a knee jerk paranoia that every little argument is the beginning of the end.

Because people have abandoned me totally unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. Aside from my emotionally unavailable parents’ divorce when I was five, we moved around a lot. My entire grade in school rejected me when I was nine, then again three years later in a different district.

After a while, you start assuming there’s something wrong with you.

You begin to treat everyone as if they are temporary and, most of the time, they are. Just because of the transient nature of this modern life. And maybe because sometimes you sense a relationship growing stale and the downslide feels like being nauseous before vomiting so you just get it over with and move on.

My first serious boyfriend spectacularly dumped me. My first son’s father was uninterested in both of us. My third major relationship was that ex I mentioned.

He does make for excellent learning material, though.

All Red

I really am trying my best!

My dad went crazy and my mom took the opportunity of her own near-death to treat me with all the grace of a petty child. And now, naturally, my sister has decided she’d rather not actually talk about any of the bullshit she accused me of.

So, yeah, it’s a thing. Learning about it helps a lot. Solidifies the concepts and helps me feel less insane. And I realize that this, plus totally unrespected overstimulation problems, are responsible for basically all the weird shit I do.

Eventually you get a little old and a little wistful wondering where people are now. Hindsight shows you what a shithead you were, things you totally misunderstood.

Psych Alive offers some hope: “Fortunately, a person’s style of attachment is not fixed. We can develop earned secure attachment as adults in several ways…. experiencing a secure attachment can offer someone a new model for relationships and how people behave in them.

This is what I have been instinctively trying to do. I want to fill my life with functional people, and not drive them crazy with my antics.

Lots of people are gone. But so is lots and lots of awful bullshit. Maybe most of the time, when someone leaves, they are doing you a favor.

What is Family? What is Love?

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

I was doing alright ignoring them until a few days ago. My sister Quinn, my only sibling from childhood, sent me a novella about why she didn’t want to talk to me anymore. She immediately blocked me.

Friendly Fire

Woa! Friendly fire!

Was there some kind of argument?

I sent her a link to my post about Donald Trump’s mental problems, because she doesn’t like him either and I thought she might appreciate it. She said it was terrifying, and she was “tired of being afraid all the time.”

Afraid of what?

She said Trump and all his supporters want her dead.

I told her that seemed like a bit of an overstatement. That I thought being unnecessarily incendiary weakened a position that I basically agree with.

She insisted, so I let it go with “Okay, I can’t convince you otherwise.” And I have neither the energy nor the conviction to try. But I wish she weren’t afraid all the time, too.

She called that passive-aggressive. Called me “gaslighty.” Okay, nice chatting with you, too, you ray of sunshine.

Hours later I received that long message telling me how emotionally abusive I was to her as a child and how I goaded our mother into her petty behavior last year.

How my not wanting my younger sister following me around gave her abandonment issues. Forget that she was annoying on purpose, and was very open about it. She was four years younger and drove my friends crazy.

But I’m not going to argue here. Anything I have ever tried to say is beside the point: “And since I have little faith that you’ll read all of this and not have a LOT to say about it, I am temporarily blocking you on this account.”

Gin And Tonic In Blue

Sometimes, the only thing to do is drink!

Of course I have things to say! For one thing, that’s what I do. Also, I’m expected to let her completely mischaracterize our lives and not comment. Let her stew in half-remembered unhappiness just like our mother. Let her push me away.

But she has never wanted my help. Nothing I do is ever right. She has been trying to make something out of our rough childhood for years, and it reminds me of the abandonment issues I have been working on lately.

It mirrors the Narcissistic Cycle and I think its extreme form is at the root of that. It involves devaluing someone until you feel like you are better off without them. Then you can leave them before they leave you. It’s an unconscious thing that keeps you stuck in the early stages of relationships because, as soon as they slip up and fail to meet expectations, you are spooked and the devaluation begins.

I have been supportive of my sister’s choices. I have told her I usually don’t understand them, but I don’t need to.

But I’m not allowed to have an opinion. She’s always been the kind of person to take disagreement personally, so I just stopped expressing myself on a lot of things. Both face to face and in public places where she might see.

And for what? Peacemaking with someone who can’t be bothered to stop for lunch when her trip takes her an easy 20 minutes from my house. Who has tapped my skills but was never interested in being an ear. Who would rather blame me for her issues than see me as a co-victim.

Gloves Off

Time for the gloves to come off!

I can defend myself forever and people will see it however they see it. But I feel robbed of so much, not least of which is the opportunity to have a real conversation about any of this.

What my mother showed me last year was that everything we had built between us since I became an adult was fake. If you have grown as a person, you don’t revert right back like 20 years never happened. No matter what is going on. That’s what growth is, it holds up under pressure. It helps you hold up under pressure.

I didn’t care that the furniture arrangement was a sore spot then, and I don’t care now. We’re talking life and death stuff here, and Quinn accuses me of “starting a pissing contest.” 

If that’s how she perceives me, I wonder why I waste my time. She overheard a panicked call home where I said something about not feeling comfortable “talking to my family” which she made all about her and then neglected to consider why I might feel that way.

Hubs was actually impatient with me for being upset by this whole thing. He was arguably being insensitive but he has a point – “She’s crazy, anyway.”

He’s biased but he has seen how I tiptoe around her despite her being hundreds of miles away.

What really upsets me is now I have to accept that my family is dead. 30 years ago next month, more than three times what their marriage lasted. For many of those years I was the only one in contact with everyone. So I could look around and say, ‘I have a family! See?’

“You lost her a long time ago.” Hubs does have his moments of wisdom.

I guess I’m not gonna get away with not really looking at the roots of my abandonment fears. I have been dealing with individual symptoms, but they share a common cause. Now that I’ve been paying attention, I begin to see how vast the issue is.

And somewhere on the other side are my sisters. I hope they can figure out how to be happy.

But get ready for some Brazen commentary on previously-untouched subjects. I don’t have anyone to tiptoe around anymore.

Fight Despair Together: Healing Through Self-Compassion

What is stopping you from working through your problems and becoming who you want to be?

Redhead With Pistol

I’m not defensive! Just stay away from me!

Depression and anxiety are both subsumed anger over how we have been treated. 

Over and over, researchers have shown that those who suffer from such things are overwhelmingly victims of abuse as children. 

Of course you would be angry if those who were supposed to care for you instead treated you like crap. Or otherwise made you feel lesser. And there’s a good chance you don’t even realize it. Or the depths to which it shapes your experiences to this day.

The most important thing is to have compassion for yourself. This sounds a little weird but we all know what compassion looks like. We just usually reserve it for other people. 

Our expectations of ourselves run unreasonably high and we chastise ourselves for small mistakes. Dammit, that was stupid.  If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself. 

This is something I’m struggling with right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not presenting myself as some kind of self-healing guru. I’m just determined to figure this out and share my discoveries with you.

You are human, with flaws, like everyone. A lot of attention is given to forgiving others but forgiving yourself can be more difficult. Admitting someone else made a mistake is easy! But it’s absolutely vital, because turning compassion on yourself has been shown to soothe the Fight/Flight/Freeze mechanism.

Often referred to as Fight or Flight, this is an ancient brain system that is triggered by stressful situations. But when you are a child, and you can’t fight or flee, this stress response can go unresolved. If this happens many times over a period of years, years when your brain is growing, the overload of stress gets baked in and becomes part of the system. This is why, sometimes, you feel like crap for no reason.

Sad On The Porch

I’m just not feeling these shoes!

Plenty of people are dipshits to their kids. I suspect some common parenting practices are worse for little ones than most of us know. Chances are, the things or situations that throw you off-balance are related to bad experiences in your formative years.

Maybe you rare painfully aware of this but aren’t sure what to do about it. Traditional therapy can feel like endlessly rehashing trauma. Happily, the best treatment for these things is something anyone can do at home for free.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works by helping change the way you think about things. Unlike most forms of therapy, there’s quite a bit of evidence that CBT actually works.

According to the American Psychological Association“CBT is based on several core principles, including:

Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.

Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.”

CBT is all about learning to see things differently. 

First, you have to admit, really understand, that you are not infallible. What you experience is not reality. You see your mind’s representation of reality. It’s impossible to get away from because you can’t get out of your mind.

But you can change it. The brain is flexible and always thirsty for new knowledge, until the day we die. 

The APA continues, “CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns. These strategies might include:

Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in the light of reality.”

Peak Behind The Lace

I see plenty! And those kids over there are up to something!

Experience can condition us to anticipate certain behavior from those around us. We may even misinterpret what they say and do, following our customary script.

That’s right, I’m suggesting you could be wrong.

Maybe you are just totally jangly, too jumpy to think straight. Admit that the issue lies with you, rather than the world being unfair or unwelcoming. The world at large isn’t watching you. The world at large doesn’t care.

This may sound harsh but, when you realize the pressure is off, you can start living your life however you want …. Whatever that means.

In the words of the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists“If we are upset about our problems, we have two problems – The problem and our upset about it.”

The power lies in putting some breathing room between yourself and the issue.

feel angry

instead of

am angry

Then we can see more clearly, “Often, we upset ourselves about things when, in fact, the situation isn’t like we think it is. If we knew that, we would not waste time upsetting ourselves.”

CBT calls this the Inductive Method. It’s the simple act of checking yourself before you wreck yourself.

Indtruder

You’re not sneaking up on me!

“The Inductive Method encourages us to look at our thoughts as being hypotheses or guesses that can be questioned and tested. If we find that our hypotheses are incorrect (because we have new information) then we can change our thinking to be in line with how the situation really is.”

Mental flexibility is the key to what we’re doing – Facing our fears and putting them to rest.

Top of the APA’s list of unhealthy behaviors CBT addresses is denial. They stress, “Facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them.”  This is the #1 most important thing!

You must be willing to do this or you are wasting your time.

By the time you get to be in your 30s, you will have noticed that certain scenarios – or situations that feel similar – keep cropping up. You don’t need to be a mystic to see that if you learn to handle these things better, you can stop going in circles. 

You can guarantee that your emotions are messing you up, keeping you from putting your best foot forward. This is why we often struggle with things related to our history. It’s not anything supernatural, and it’s within our power to make changes.

Take a moment, either during the situation or after, and ask yourself why it brings out the feelings in you that it does. How are you approaching or conceptualizing things in ways that come from thoughts that cause you pain? From ideas you know are probably unhealthy?

It’s not complicated stuff, but it does involve dealing directly and honestly with things that make you uncomfortable. With things you’ve taken for granted. It’s easy to get defensive.

Television

We all got way too much of this!

Watch out for anger directed at people or things who don’t really deserve it or are not worth your time. That’s your defense mechanism kicking in to deflect attention from a sore spot.

Time after time, take that pause to step back. Understand that your feelings are like a flowing river – You may be soaking wet, but you are not the water. 

By applying Self-Compassion and Check Before You Wreck, over time you will begin to see patterns in your thoughts and behavior. Understanding will enable you to act more with purpose, instead of just reacting to the world as it comes at you.

You can’t go back in time and undo trauma, but you can fix the damage it caused. It takes time. If you get frustrated trying to understand yourself, imagine the most sympathetic character you can think of – A small child, a puppy, an old lady – and imagine they are having your difficulty. Take how you would feel for them and apply it to yourself. 

Yes, it takes that much patience.

Coming soon: Part 2 – What Does Life on Your Terms Mean, Anyway?

Summer Series: Fight Despair Together

Summer Series 2019 is all about finally moving forward.

Tea By The Tub

I could use some self-care!

Last year I did my Tripping the Fright Craptastic series, where I told you all about my struggle dealing with my parents. I was attempting to show some of the crap that comes with being in the middle of life while supporting either end.

This year’s Summer Series is about all of us.

The Middle Class Never Existed

Reality is sinking in for the 90s kids. The reality that we may never own a house. That the endless ascension toward a blissful, shining future full of robots is not going according to plan.

We hear a lot about the Middle Class – That fabled land of mowed lawns and street lights. Most of us probably know someone we would consider Middle Class. But the Middle Class doesn’t exist.

It never did! In a strange twist, our parents and grandparents just happened to live in an historical vortex. A unique combination of events conspired to create a freakish period of prosperity.

Writing for Medium, Jonathan Peter Schwartz quotes economist Robert J Gordon on the different phases of the Industrial Revolution (IR):

“In particular, the period following IR#2 (1920 – 1970) saw incredible annual productivity growth (1.89%). Gordon argues that…. IR#2 impacted ‘virtually the entire span of human wants and needs. 

“‘Given how impoverished the human condition had been, and the vast array of technologies that intervened, it should come as no surprise that productivity skyrocketed and tremendous amounts of wealth, economic growth and improvements in living standards were observed during this period.'”

Haircut

So, I’m gonna be cutting my own hair for a while?

The Nothing is Spreading

Those of us who grew up listening to the stories about this great party are having to accept that we will never attend.

And on top of that, they trashed the place.

We are left with the same old story, a chosen few living high on the efforts of everyone else. The Middle Class was a technology-induced fever dream.

Fight Despair Together

As we slip into middle age it gets harder to talk about someday. That better job might not be coming. Prices just keep going up. All the rules have changed and many of us are floundering. Most of us know someone who OD’ed.

I covered the spreading despair in my last post. We are a big group and we are very diverse, but we can’t let stress cause us to focus on divisions.

We need one another. The antidote to despair is fellowship. Camaraderie. Talking about what’s going on is the first step to fixing it.

But First….

Each of us has to be in the right frame of mind to ensure our focus stays on unity. In order to listen, we have to calm the panicked voice telling us we’re drowning.

Before we can clean up the world, we have to clean house.

Originally, this was going to be a single post but I decided it needs more space than that.

This year’s Summer Series is about soothing the anger and beginning to heal from the journey so far. By Fall we will be centered and equipped with new tools to build a better future.

Part 1 coming soon: Self-Compassion Promotes Healing

The Nothing is Spreading: Millennials’ Company in Misery

 

By now, everyone has heard about the depressed blue-collar White Guy. His jobs have dried up, the mainstream is leaving him behind, and he’s paranoid about signs he’s becoming a minority.

Sad Cafe

I don’t even know if I’m depressed or just tired!

People have blamed this demographic for the Alt-Right, electing Trump, and for generally being a cesspool of simmering privilege. The consensus seems to be they are upset because they are entitled. The world doesn’t revolve around old white men anymore, and they need to adjust.

New data challenges this stereotype. The American Journal of Public Health released analysis of a longitudinal study they started in 1995. Visiting with the participants five times over 20 years, they interviewed them about things like drinking and drug use.

“We examined changes in measures of despair across the early adult life course from adolescence to adulthood from 1994 to 2017…. Whether increases in indicators of despair have been particularly acute among White, low-educated, rural members” like had been found 10 years earlier. “We documented racial/ethnic, educational, and geographic-specific trends in 4 indicators of despair among US adults.”

Their nationally-representative group didn’t show Poor Whites as being especially unhappy at all: ” By contrast to this narrative, our findings demonstrated a generalized increase in multiple indicators of despair among all White, Black, and Hispanic adults in their 30s.”

“[This group] is distinct from earlier cohorts reflected in the rising midlife mortality of low-educated Whites with more highly educated parents, different perceptions of racial and ethnic diversity, and labor market entry following globalization. Nonetheless, the generalized increases in despair indicators we documented are worrisome for forthcoming midlife mortality trends.”

So, these people aren’t entitled racists. They aren’t hicks afraid of modern life. They are everyone.

In The Jungle

It’s a jungle out there!

“Despite a lack of scientific consensus regarding the cause of elevated midlife mortality among Whites, There is some evidence that opioid disorders and declines in mental health are concentrated among low socioeconomic status Whites….”

This is a whole post unto itself!

“….This pattern of rising despair is not isolated to rural America but is heterogeneous across geographic locales…. [The] patterns of despair potentially underlying increased midlife mortality are not restricted to low-educated Whites and [we] caution against an overemphasis on this single demographic group.”

Recently I read a comment in my little corner of the internet written by a Black woman. She said she wants to be called a Black woman because she finds the term Person of Color insulting; As if a Latina, a Black woman and an Indian woman are all in one giant category: Non-White.

Maybe some of the focus on White people is backlash from the way Europeans treated the rest of the world for so long. I have made my personal feelings on old white men clear elsewhere, but the Poor Whites are being screwed over by the same wealthy few as everyone else.

Aside from being exactly my age, this group was interesting because “[it] is nearing the age range of elevated midlife mortality (45–54 years) and is beyond the age range of highest opioid mortality risk from opioids (25–34 years).” In this group born between 1974 and 1983 they found that “suicidal ideation, depressive symptoms, marijuana use, and heavy drinking increased as the cohort aged into their late 30s.”

The older you get, the more you understand just how fucked you were from the beginning.Lbj Meme

“We found no evidence that increases in despair were limited to low-educated Whites. Furthermore, levels of despair increased across the 30s in all geographic locales.” Our generation grew up in the glow of the Boomers burning bright. We are left with smoke and ash. And thousands of great songs about how much fun it was.

“If rising despair was indeed responsible for the increases in mortality among earlier cohorts of low-educated Whites, then the generalized increases in despair we documented among a younger and more recent cohort could presage increases in midlife mortality in the coming decade for all population subgroups.”

There probably is something to the notion that working-class whites are mourning a cultural privilege. But, as Lyndon Johnson famously explained, that was an illusion anyway.

Sad Karen

I know the doctor betrayed you, Karen, but you’ve got to pull it together!

The whites may have been at the top of the working-class heap, and so felt the deprivation first. But as the middle class evaporates like a mirage, no amount of Affirmative Action or increasing numbers is going to make much difference.

The Boomers are just the latest hideous iteration of a story that’s been the same forever – A few live lives of comfort on the backs of many others who don’t. This is the story they told us was over. Modern technology was turning the world into a middle-class playscape. Fascist countries were called “backwards.” Castles that once housed despots became museums.

Today’s despots have a different style, they are more collegiate and behave like they are not members of the ruling class. But you will know them by how they are beholden to power, and follow it over principle.

It’s easy to shit on white people and make scapegoats of hillbillies, but the reality is sinking in everywhere that we’ve been duped. The twentieth century was one long con game. Now the wheels are coming off and we are left with the same old problems to solve. Piled on top is the mess made in maniacally skipping into the “Post-Modern” era as if Better Living Through Chemistry were Happily Ever After.

Millennials are more diverse and numerous than any group before us. It feels like an abdication of responsibility to blame the system for the struggle. Work hard, we are told. Get good grades, a good degree, and you will be rewarded. Personal responsibility is empowering except that it fails to support those who stumble. And everyone stumbles. The culture of every-man-for-himself is the ultimate divide and conquer strategy.Katie Porter

California Congresswoman Katie Porter handed it to Jamie Dimon the head of JP Morgan Bank, breaking down for him exactly how impossible his employees’ budgets are. 

After detailing his employee’s bottom rung budget and how it doesn’t add up, she asked him, “She’s short $567, what would you suggest she do?”

“I don’t know,” He replied. “I’d have to think about that.” 

Many of us find ourselves in positions that seem increasingly impossible. I don’t know how we’re going to fix it but we need to understand we are not alone.

 

 

Relationships Hurt, And That’s Okay

Cold snaps hit the South extra hard, because we are not expecting them. Our bodies react like a corrected teenager.

Our bedroom is behind the kitchen, across from the back door. So when my husband started to come in, then decided to let the dog in from the yard, he opened a wind tunnel directly onto our bed.

Big Blue Teddy Bear And A Gun

I’m not trying to attack you, I swear!

Instead of indulging the flash of anger I felt, or squelching it and adding it to the pile, I chose a middle ground of saying something I thought was non-confrontational.

I got zero response.

I tried again, but I could see the steel door behind his eyes had closed.

Most of the time, my man is good at communication. When he becomes stoic it’s because he’s tired, or upset, or feels attacked. Specifically by me. He has this infuriating habit of seeing the best in people who don’t deserve it, then playing dumb when I’m upset about something.

The first few times scared me silly. My passionate, articulate husband turns on a dime and becomes the embodiment of his shadow self. He is abruptly distant and unresponsive. My normally attentive and caring friend has sat staring blankly at me while I cried.

I felt like I was taking crazy pills.

I have a low tolerance for crazy-making malarkey because I have dealt with it for far too long in the past. I specifically chose this man because everything about his life told me that he was as fed up with that crap as I was.

Turns out, maybe even more so.

After the first few times seeing this transformation I couldn’t reconcile how at odds these spells seemed with who I know him to be, with how he wants to be. How later on he would say things like, “I understood what you were saying and I wanted to talk to you, I just couldn’t.”

And in a flash I saw it was a defense mechanism. All his life he’s had someone close to him jerking him around mercilessly. Authority figures, girlfriends, an ex-wife who saw arguing as a sign of affection. That steel door slams down as protection from a world that has been almost unbearably cruel to one who feels it all so deeply.

Sidehug

It’s okay, your distracted half-hug makes it all better!

I know not everyone subscribes to personality classifications, but reading about my Meyers-Briggs type has brought me a lot of solace. To think that the way my mind works is a recognized method, rather than something I need to struggle against.

That my habit of trying other people’s perspectives on for size doesn’t necessarily indicate a weakness in my own. That maybe being tuned into other people is a feature, not a bug.

This is helpful to remember when I feel compelled to address something with someone and they agree but don’t do anything about it. Or attack me for poking a soft spot. Or when I’m having a moment of my own and there’s no one to walk me through it.

Or when I do my best to be cool and he shuts down anyway.

I spent years tiptoeing around another man’s feelings, a man who I’m pretty sure had undiagnosed mental health issues and whose mood I could not help. By comparison, my husband appreciates me almost more than I can take.

But in those few moments when he’s flawed and hurt in his own right, his icy moodiness rubs me just exactly the wrong way.

So my immediate reaction is righteous indignation. Followed quickly by epic despair as my parental-induced terror of emotional abandonment kicks in. At this point, it’s just embarrassing how quickly I spin out. I run and hide if I can. Usually, there’s not much to do but ride it out.

And sometimes, a flash of inspiration sparks between the clouds.

“I don’t want to be hurt like this. Isn’t there a way to avoid this?” I had to admit that only if he did some serious work, and I can’t make him do that.

Ship Gun

I saw something in the water, really!

“So should I keep my distance?” The idea of pushing him away is very painful. And anyway, aren’t I supposed to accept him for who he is? Isn’t that how this is supposed to work?

“So, I just have to accept that this is going to happen sometimes??” Well yeah, relationships hurt sometimes. Welcome to the world.

Oh shit, I am wallowing in nothing.

I’m pretty convinced this man honestly loves me. That’s impressive because I don’t really believe most people even genuinely like me. Sometimes I get some weird mixed signals from him but, when I can glimpse beyond my own insecurities, I’m noticing a pattern. He has some indirect communication habits that sometimes border on misdirection.

Habits developed from decades of dealing with, living with and relying on people who were just as likely to screw him over.

I’m not the only bright spot, but we are outnumbered by the shitheads. The best thing for me to do is to use my insight to control what I can (myself) and maintain my balance better in these moments.

But sometimes it’s extremely hard. My mother isn’t talking to me at all anymore. I’m pushing against a boulder of rage and regret that’s going to take a while to break down. Hubs is having a hard time lately too, but it’s sinking in just how unfair it might be for me to expect others to think like I do.

And sometimes even good people are hurt and lash out. Or shut down. People are mercurial and it’s not my fault. Sometimes, relationships hurt. And that’s okay.

I’m Not Scenery, Dammit!

Working late at McDonald’s and someone had decided to spray the wall behind the soda machine with ketchup.

Waitress

Cut me a break, these shoes are killing me!

To reach it I was given a sponge on a long handle. I leaned across the bar, scrubbing away at 11:45 on a Sunday night and cursing the idiot who didn’t understand that ketchup is one of the stickiest substances on Earth.

I stop to take a breath and glance over my shoulder to see the one person left in the place staring at me like I was the last 10 seconds of the football game he just had to tell me about on his way out.

I froze for a second, then dropped the squeegee and walked back over behind the counter to tell my supervisor about King Leer.

She threw her head back and laughed.

I tried to find other things to do in hopes he would leave when the dining room closed at midnight. That was also the end of my shift. I got tired of waiting and just climbed up on the damn counter. This creep was not going to keep me from going home.

Like every writer, I’m working on a novel. As I consider the tone of my tome I remember books and authors I have enjoyed. I feel the story has a thematic connection to the Beats, the Lost Generation of the 40s and 50s, so I tried to crack ‘On The Road’ again but I just don’t have the time to really sit and read.

Enter: audiobooks. Genius! I can read while I make dinner.

I have always sensed a kindred spirit in people who distill experience into a sharable item. I guess you’d call that Art. Kerouac talks about how he loves “the mad ones,” he tells how he finds himself following “the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing.”

Jeepers Peepers By Gil Elvgren

How long have you been standing there??

The whole thing sounds a bit manic to me but I feel what he’s saying. A theme of his is enthusiasm, how much he enjoys it in others and seeks to spark it in himself.

He’s making his frantic way Westward when, half an hour in, he mentions waiting a while at a bus station before leaving, having “watched a waitress for 30 minutes.”

The action moves on in Kerouac’s characteristically speedy way, this line a throwaway to give the (admittedly dull) passage some texture.

With him watching a woman’s body while she works.

This is the part where someone will say I am making something out of nothing. There is no harm in looking. Everyone has enjoyed the scenery now and then.

But I think we all know there’s a difference between appreciating someone rocking a tight pair of jeans and treating some working stiff as a private show.

And it took me right out of the damn book! I don’t give a shit that he described Dean’s wife as “a beautiful sharp little chick.” Getting upset over slang is silly. I don’t care about the hookup scenes or the casual examples of sexism (it was the 40s, what do you want?) It was more the fact that this was part of a description of time at a bus station along with what the pie tasted like.

Before too long the whole notion of him as some kind of starry-eyed witness to Life Itself started to wear on me. I love the idea of all-night talks but I would not have been invited to these.

Solitaire

Solitaire is a fun game too, I guess!

Where are the philosophical eddys of women writers who pioneered new frontiers of verbiage, aesthetics and drug use?

What have women been doing around kitchen tables for the last 5,000 years? Is it really nothing but homemaking and childcare?

Too often the voices saying interesting things are men’s voices. And then, with a flick of a wrist, he reminds me that I am not really invited to the party.

The weather was nice the other day, so I walked from the power company to the library. Literally next door. Waiting near the curb was a twenty-something guy with long black hair and a crutch.

He smiled. I smiled.

“I’m a sucker for a redhead!”

Good for you.

Want to see objectification in action? How about I’m not a fucking shrubbery? I was not placed here to beautify your view.

And as for Captain Creep, taking pleasure at someone else’s indignity is a violation of the social contract. No person has any dignity but what others give her.

How about I want to do my job without being scrutinized by perverts?

He hung around until I was done, making conversation on his way out the door like being nice to me made it okay. Typical self-rationalizing behavior.

I guess I will just have to create a pioneering community of intelligent women…. In between orders.

Mad Woman

For reasons lost to the meanderings of my mind, it recently dawned on me that my anxiety isn’t really anxiety at all.

I am filled with submerged rage. I didn’t ask to be born to a bunch of emotional idiots. I struggle daily with the effects of their bullshit. To some degree, I’m still angry for every pointlessly mean thing, for every clueless utterance.

Hammer

The difference between a tool and weapon is how you use it!

Because I never found a way to express my anger. I have been afraid of it, afraid of losing control of it. I don’t want to hurt myself or anyone else.

So I tamp it down. I keep it contained as best I can but it rattles its cage and howls at night. It vibrates my nerves and keeps me agitated.

When you can’t fight and you can’t flee, and the danger is also what you rely on, emotional static builds up and sparks fly.

My anger is so big I can’t even really see it, it’s impossible to consider it all at once. Most of my negative experiences have become lessons or just forgotten. But my family dysfunction is so stupid and pernicious, my thoughts unconsciously shaped by it, and all because a couple of jerks couldn’t hold a relationship together.

I’m angry over the wasted potential – to be told I was “gifted” at eight, then moved around every year for six years and allowed to totally fall through the cracks. I literally was never taught to multiply. I was expected to understand long division without ever seeing a times table.

So now I have a shitty education and a shitty job, I’m just trying not to pass the shitty behavior on to my own children.

I have been using the manifest anxiety as a sort of buffer for the world. It’s a goddam defense mechanism just like so many others in my gene pool. Fortunately, I seem to be pretty smart. It’s basically fake, and now I’m furious with myself for perpetrating such cowardly garbage.

For a moment. Then my vision comes into focus and I raise my head with a steady gaze. I mostly even had myself convinced and, as horrible as it is to see this, I know shining a light on it is the only way to eradicate it. It’s a habit of thought, and I have to remind myself over and over but it’s kind of amazing. If you can’t be honest with yourself, what do you have?

Bus Stop

Eventually, the pebble in your shoe becomes a boulder!

I am angry and I have reason to be. I’m done abdicating my feelings and driving myself half crazy. I’m ready to take ownership of my energy.

Not meaning that I want to, that I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. It’s something that I can’t unsee. And as I let myself feel my anger, accept that the anxiety is a dodge, the relief is intense.

I am a whole person, free from searching for validation. My mind buzzes with ideas but I feel less distracted.

Sometimes anger is exactly the right way to feel.

But I am afraid. What I’m afraid of is myself. 

When a feeling is so intense that it forces its way to the surface no matter what you do, there is a sense you don’t have control over yourself. If your emotions rule you, you lose your free will. But in avoiding dealing with it, that is exactly what has happened. It manifests as freak-outs and crying jags.

When I’m angry I don’t know how to express it so I just become upset. (Perversely, when I’m sad I will become angry as a defense mechanism. But that’s a different post. Emotional growth, yay!)

Lately I have started isolating myself and letting myself be angry. It works! I recover faster and figure out what is really going on and what to do about it. A lot of times, there’s nothing to do. But it feels amazing to step outside the loop I have been stuck in for 30 years. 

And I look forward to bringing it to bear on bigger things. Anger is a powerful motivator and there are many corners of the world that could benefit from the intervention of a mad woman.