The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea. And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree.  But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything. Right?  I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.

Advertisements

More on (moron?) triggers.

I’ve been thinking a lot about triggers lately. Like, there are seemingly random, generally innocuous things that will send me into outer orbit, either angry or anxious or panicky or whatever, but basically my fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and with it comes tunnel vision and a complete inability to process the situation like a “normal” person.

An example: I live in a duplex. My 2-BR apartment only has one entrance, the front door, that opens out onto the front porch of the house, with steps that lead down to the driveway and two parking spots in front of the house. My neighbor’s 1-BR has a front door and a back door; the back door leads to the back yard, as well as 2+ parking spots, because the driveway goes all the way to the back. In the 3 years I’ve lived there, the front spots have always been for my apartment, the back spots for the other apartment, since they’re the only one with direct access to it. For some reason, though, my new neighbor sometimes feels the need to park in the front, either in one of my two spots (which, you know, whatever; unless C is coming over, my car only needs one spot, and I get that), or they’ll just park in the driveway blocking my car in, because they want to use the walkway to the front porch and their front door.

I should mention that when she moved in, we talked at length about the parking and she was totally fine with parking in the back, so it’s not like I’m expecting this without expressing the expectation.

Anyway. Every single time this happens – which I should mention isn’t THAT often – I am overcome with anxiety and being PISSED. Like I’m going to have to fight for my life over this stupid parking situation. You know, instead of just knocking on their door and asking them to move the car. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT AND WHY ARE YOU SO RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL AND FFS YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE BACK AND YOUR OWN DAMN ENTRANCE WHY YOU GOTTA TAKE MINE TOO.

Like that.

There are other things, too. One time I had the wrong appointment date/time with Noelle, and I sat in the waiting area as the minutes ticked by, getting more and more worked up, thinking either she’d disrespected me by not writing our appointment down, or that I obviously wasn’t worthy and she didn’t want to meet with me, or something equally NOT TRUE, but man. I had to talk myself off the ledge and do a lot of deep breathing, just so I could respond to it like a sane person. Which meant leaving instead of sitting there stewing, and then sending her an email asking if I’d written down the day/time wrong, which it turned out I HAD.

Sigh.

So, she and I talked about this a little bit during our last visit. She said something that struck a chord, and I believe there’s a whole lot of truth to it for me.

When you grow up feeling like you’re not enough and don’t really deserve space in the world, like you and your autonomy don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and then when you’re modeled that behavior and are never encouraged to be your own best self, to speak up and out, to have opinions and to value who you are and to be your own person, then you end up feeling like a victim of everyone else. At their mercy. Unable to stand up for yourself because you don’t really think you’re worth defending.

And that lends itself to finding yourself in relationships where you’re taken for granted and taken advantage of, where you allow yourself to be treated poorly because you don’t really trust that you deserve any better. You’re easily manipulated, easily abused, easily led astray, and then all the bad things you’re told and shown feed into the narrative you’re already telling yourself.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the poison that people feed each other. And that we only accept as much poison from others that we feel we deserve. But once we reach the point where we no longer feel like we deserve the levels of poison being injected into the interaction… that’s when we raise up, and we no longer accept what a person is trying to feed us. “Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make any assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best.”

I described it all to Noelle like I’ve had a lifetime of trying to make myself small enough to fit within the parameters of what other people thought and expected. Small enough to fit in THEIR existence, instead of exacting my own, and demanding my own space in the world. Backing myself further and further into a corner, until one day I no longer fit, and I finally stood the hell up and started pushing my way back out.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin

Last year, I think I just took on the last vestiges of toxicity and poison that I could handle before the cognitive dissonance of my own beliefs of my worth (and all the choices I made in keeping with that – relationships, jobs, friendships, etc.) came into direct opposition with what the world has been trying to show me all along: that I’m smart, competent, capable, and worthy of what’s good in the world.

I think starting school was the first big step in the right direction. I think severing ties with toxicity (people and work environments and social situations and that relationship) was the next huge multi-faceted step. Instead, I now have a great (albeit stressful) job where I am obviously valued and appreciated and we’re doing great work with the intention of helping MORE, as much as we can; I’m kicking ass in grad school and learning all about the things that matter most (and showing myself just how capable and smart I actually am); and I am dating a man who is honest, loving, kind, supportive, and good for me in every possible way.

Talk about blossoming.

Anyway. Back to the trigger thing… Noelle seemed to think that when I have this reaction, it’s because I am feeling threatened in some way, like my place in the world is being devalued, and my gut reaction is to raise up and defend what little I have. Which, of course, is that fight or flight mode going into overdrive, and I think THAT is likely due at least in part to genetic programming, because that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was modeled, certainly, but I also think there’s some epigenetic switch flipping going on there, too. And the only way I’ve learned to manage it is to 1) take a whole lot of deep breaths until the overreaction passes, 2) determine root causes and conditions, and then 3) stand up for myself in a reasonable way. That’s how I can learn to trust that I’ve got my own best interests at heart, and that I can, and should, and totally know how to defend myself if I need to.

It seems silly to get so worked up about such little, insignificant things, feeling like I have to fight for myself and what’s mine. But when it’s tied into the bigger picture, it all makes sense. All the little things add up. I’m just grateful I’ve got some insight, and that it usually doesn’t leave me – at least not completely – while I’m in the throes of a visceral response. So whether it’s about the parking, or missed appointments, or passive-aggressive comments and behaviors from people who don’t ultimately matter, or perceived slights or threats to my safety and security and livelihood and happiness… I don’t have to hop on that trigger and let it take me to a place I’d rather not be.

It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.

A Wise Person Once Said…

Friendship multiplies the good of life, and divides its evils. – Baltasar Gracian
Gratitude turns what we have into enough. – Melody Beattie
Live in freedom. – My CEO
Never again. – Me

I was talking to Noelle TWT yesterday about how, in many respects, I feel as though I’m walking on a bridge that’s exploding in fire behind me. Not that I set those fires, necessarily, but that this past year has been filled with toxic environments/people, growth opportunities, and lessons to be learned once and for all. It has felt really good to move on, forward, and away; to take a lesson from my niece and recognize those situations and people and just excuse myself from those reindeer games completely. Scorched and salted… just the way I like it.

Something else we talked about was my decision to deactivate (and potentially just delete forever) my Facebook profile. I understand there are people out there who can use those sites “normally” (whatever that means), but I’ve found that for me, it’s not healthy. As I put it yesterday, it’s like I’m trying to fill a void, but instead just end up making it bigger. That site makes me feel lonely; being privy to the photos and events and other things that friends (near and far) participate in doesn’t make me feel closer to them – it makes me feel further away and disconnected. I also feel like the site opens me up to things I want nothing to do with, so. No more. I figure if I’m not interacting with people in real life now, removing that site from my existence isn’t going to change anything or make it worse. If anything… better. Much, much better.

There isn’t really much more to report these days. I’m getting back into a gym routine, slowly but surely, and that feels good. Last week I stopped drinking coffee and am now having tea in the mornings instead; I don’t know where the hell that inclination came from, but I’m just going with it. Now that the horrific caffeine headache has passed, I’m just enjoying the change. I’ve spent this weekend mostly at home, nesting and tending to things that needed my attention, which felt way better than going to the shows I’d planned to attend. Basically, just paying attention to what my brain & body are telling me is best.

And really, that’s what it all comes down to. I’ve spent a lot of time ignoring those things, and struggling for/because of it. I guess that’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year: your body will tell you the right thing to do and the best direction to take. I know mine does, despite how much I’ve tried to ignore it (and paid the price). When someone or something causes you severe anxiety, pay attention to that. When someone or something causes you grief, confusion, or upset… pay attention to that. When a message or a path or an insight keeps poking its head into the door of your awareness, let it in and follow its lead.

Don’t be afraid of hearing or telling the truth, and find the people who will tell it with you.

Real-ing in the new year, Velveteen Rabbit style.

It’s been a hell of a year. I have to say, I’m kind of relieved it’s almost over. I’m not usually one to look back and say, “Good riddance!” because I’m usually so anti-regret, and invariably there’s good to be found in every year that’s passed – even the really, really tough ones.

This has been a really, really tough one.

And not even for reasons one might think. I guess I’ve kept pretty quiet about what I’m sure appeared to be some tough and unfortunate parts, at least from the outside looking in, so it’s likely that outside perspective is a whole lot different than the reality. And yes, I’m being intentionally vague, because this isn’t at all the forum for discussing such things.

But whatever. It was still pretty rough there for a while, in a few different parts. And yet I can say, with all sincerity, that I am thankful for every single thing I went through, and every single thing I learned this year as a result. I’m supremely grateful and amazed and relieved for how it’s all worked out. Even when the packages in which the lessons came wrapped were painful (or stressful or confusing or scary or ugly or dramatic or dysfunctional or avoidant or manipulative or dishonest or or or… etc.), I don’t regret any of it – even the intentional “learning/growth experiences” for the sake of the long game. I’m coming out the other side of it all in a way better place than where I started and really, that’s all I can ask.

So… yeah. I learned a lot in school, and loved every eye-crossing second of it; I learned a lot from my family (every last one of ’em, but especially my niece); I learned a lot from other people (woof, did I learn some things); I learned a lot at the old job about what does (and definitely doesn’t) work for me; and I can already tell I’m going to learn a ton at the new job, too.

Have I mentioned how much I love to learn and grow as a human?

A few weeks ago, I read a book by Sam Harris called, “Lying.” It’s short, sweet, and touts the benefits (as well as the morality and logistics) of simply telling the truth, all the time, no matter what. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate; I’ve got a strong desire to put that into practice in my own life, and I have a whole lot more I could say about that, too, but in the meantime I will just say that it got me thinking about what it means to me to be real, and how I can incorporate that into my life in the coming year.

Real friends, real life, real connection, real talk… this is what I want for myself in the year (and life) ahead. And a small part of what that means for me is cutting out some social media accounts completely. Like, for good. I’ll keep Instagram for pictures, probably Twitter for following people who are a whole lot more interesting and smarter than I, this space… and that’s it.

What I’ve come to observe is that people might use social media (namely, Facebook) for different things – catching up, staying in touch, updating friends and family on special happenings (or day-to-day stuff too, I suppose), business or band promotion, event invitations, treating the timeline like a litter box for opinion turds, bragging, stalking, dramatic blowouts, messing with people and perception by putting up pictures that don’t accurately represent what’s really going on… but you know, gee. Not surprisingly, pretty much none of it feels real to me. It feels like a false, shallow replacement for real connection, letting everyone (including me) off the hook for maintaining actual relationships with other people. I think a lot of our problems as a community, society, and members of the human race would be alleviated, or at least lessened somewhat, if we just put the electronics down and TALKED to each other. I realize I sound like an old fart, and maybe I am, but we’re not wired for being wired; we’re wired for connection.

I’ve had enough. I want to reach out to people, and I want them to reach out to me, too. Like, for real reach out. Not just pass over a picture I posted and walk away feeling like they know how my life is going. You know? I want to have real interactions and real relationships with real people in real life. Real connection, real love and affection… all of it. And, conversely, I don’t want to keep getting or giving any false impressions about levels of connection and friendship, either.

So, come 1/1/16… no more Facebook, and a significant paring down of other social media. A whole lot of other life changes, too. I’m excited to see and experience all that the coming year has to offer, and am equally excited about all the lessons and wisdom I’m bringing with me.

“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” – Émile Zola

Every moment is another chance to get things right.

Every moment is another chance to get things right. Don’t ever forget that. ❤ 

Quality Quotes and Errant Thoughts.

Every once in a while, there’s a quote or a saying or just some words that come out of someone’s mouth at just the right time in just the right way, and it all seems to lend itself to navigating what Pema Chödrön refers to as the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

  • “Sometimes just sitting back and letting people escalate in whatever direction they’re going to is a powerful way to let them show you who they are.” (A comment on this post from Captain Awkward) 
  • “But all the love in the world won’t make up for a lack of respect.” Another comment on a Captain Awkward post – those comment sections can be such a font of wisdom, I swear; never mind that CA always has such good and insightful things to say.)
  • “He who throws dirt loses ground.” – Texan proverb, by way of Noelle
  • “A person is a person because of people.” – Zulu proverb, by way of this amazing story. I can’t recommend watching the video enough.

And then there are those meandering thoughts that always seem to come out of nowhere, and are nothing at all like the meaningful quotes. So, here we are.

  • I’ve been cat-sitting for the last week. Yesterday morning, I woke up to three puddles of watery spit-up and a solitary turd in the kitchen, with an impressive skid mark leading up to it. I decided to write a country song called, “Three Piles o’ Puke and a Turd in the Hall.” Sure to be a winner.
  • Presumably, the puke and turd were cat protests, demanding the return of their humans. Has anyone invented a game called “Angry Turds” yet?
  • (I gotta say, though, having a cat to pet on has significantly reduced the anxiety otherwise inserting itself into everything, everywhere, so I’m grateful for that.)
  • Why do finger and toenails start growing differently as you age?
  • When a bug is on your car and you drive a few miles with it still on there, where does it go? Can it find its way home, or does it just start over because of the inadvertent relocation service you’ve provided? Are they able to just pick up where they left off, or have they been displaced forever and do they lose their family and friends and community? Maybe they’re hitching a ride to get the hell out of dodge?
  • Does honoring your limitations actually exacerbate them? Where do you draw the line between stretching your comfort zone and harming yourself for the sake of societal expectations? By giving in to your anxiety or your shame or your fears, are you giving them (and the triggers) more power? I wonder about this sometimes, because I know that the longer I sit with something negative – shame, anxiety, insecurity, etc. – the bigger it gets. And I know that Brene Brown talks about the only antidote for shame being compassion and connection, but sharing is like the LAST thing you feel like doing in a spiral. So how do you know when what you really need goes against what you’re feeling driven to do at the time?