Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

Trust and truth.

Who do you trust to tell you the truth? Assuming you want to know and hear the truth, I mean. How do you know the truth when you hear it? What is “truth,” anyway? I guess that’s a better place to start. You kind of have to agree on what truth is before you can have a conversation about it… so I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster

Simple Definition of TRUTH
the truth : the real facts about something : the things that are true
: the quality or state of being true
: a statement or idea that is true or accepted as true

And then to take it one step further… one of the definitions of TRUE:

a (1) :  being in accordance with the actual state of affairs <true description> (2) :  conformable to an essential reality (3) :  fully realized or fulfilled <dreams come true>b :  ideal, essential c :  being that which is the case rather than what is manifest or assumed <the truedimension of the problem>d :  consistent <true to character>

So, for the sake of this post, when I say “the truth,” what I mean is a factual account, whether of an occurrence, that person’s feelings for you… you get the idea. What really happened, how they really think or feel about you (at that moment, since those things change and are way more fluid than an event or occurrence), stuff like that.

Oh, and (what I think is) an important reminder/clarification: Opinions are not facts, and feelings are not evidence. 

Back to the original questions. Those people you trust… why do you trust them to tell you the truth? Why do you trust them at all?

I started thinking about this after the events of the last week and a few days (ahemELECTIONahem). Temperatures are running so high, everyone is so sure they’re espousing truths and condemning the liars – you know, basically anyone who disagrees – that I had to stop and evaluate some things. Like, why do people believe what they believe?

 

I just watched a really good video about how we decide what to believe. He talks about the four things that go into testing/examining a claim being made: intuition (gut feeling); authority (relying on credibility of source); logic (systematic reasoning); and evidence (verifiable information). What’s interesting to me is that only one of those four things involves actual facts; the other three are basically dependent upon you, your brain, your feelings, and your own past experiences.

How reliable are your gut feelings? Where do they come from, and what life experience colors your perception there? Are you aware of the emotional and mental lenses in place when you’re evaluating a claim?

Why are certain sources more credible to you than others? Why does one person trust Fox News implicitly, while another person places their confidence in PBS?

Is logic inherent in human beings, or is it learned? Is what’s logical to you, also logical to everyone else? Or is that a personal thing based on experience again? I mean, I know there have been many times when something I did – a project I developed, a route I took to get somewhere, the order instilled in my closet by hanging things in a certain way – seemed completely logical to me, but it may very well make no sense to anyone else.

So, then we’re left with evidence. Verifiable information. On the surface, this seems straightforward (ZOMG FACTS), but then, I guess we have to lend credence to the fact that if there are two witnesses to the same event, what they’d each report back could very well be completely opposite from the other depending on their personal spin. So, then, does evidence mean what we see with our own eyes? How can we be sure we’re witnessing something and evaluating it without prejudice or bias?

I’m not getting too far into that here, though, because what I think happens is that most people are relying on gut feelings and what they deem to be credible sources in order to decide what they believe. Whether it’s due to information overload, a lack of time for conducting their own research, a lack of interest, a lack of ability (or desire) to do the work themselves, and instead rely on their feelings, and they rely on people who strike them as trustworthy to tell them what’s true and what’s real. People are reposting things online without verifying validity, and it’s all because of that bastard called confirmation bias. There is SO MUCH OUT THERE… how in the hell do wade through it all to find what’s real, and what’s true?

You see the problem here. And this isn’t a partisan statement, either; everyone is guilty of it, myself included. I have decided which side I’m on, I’ve decided what’s right and wrong, I’ve decided what and who I believe. And not because I’ve done a ton of research and have deemed these sources the most credible, either. I’ve decided what to believe based on my own gut feelings, based on who I’ve deemed credible sources, and based on my own logical conclusions resulting from mild to moderate critical thinking skills.

Which, by the way, isn’t a skill we’re born with; it’s something that has to be taught, and encouraged, and nurtured, and maintained. Critical thought allows you to evaluate effectively, and ideally, get your feelings out of the way to land in a justifiable and reasonable place.

I’ve been trying to make sense of the huge disparity in beliefs in our country. The division is palpable, and the difference between someone like me and someone who heartily embraces DJT and his proposed band of merry bigots feels enormous and overwhelming. I would even go so far as to say, insurmountable (and I am totally okay with that).

Everyone has ideas about why we’re divided and what would fix it, but in my opinion, there’s no fixing it. There’s managing it, there’s overcoming it, there’s governing people into acting right whether they want to or not… but the division, to me, reveals some distinct groups: people who only care about themselves; people who care about others; and people who just don’t care at all. There are people who approach life from a place of love, community, and equity; and there are people who approach life from a place of hatred, fear, and division.

These qualities, these temperaments, these personality types… they drive how you engage with the world. Who knows how we would turn out, what personality traits and world beliefs would come about without the influence of those around us? Are humans born good? Or are we born hating and then hopefully have it loved/nurtured out of us? Or, conversely, are we born loving, and have that abused out of us emotionally, mentally, physically?

I think most of this is taught. Human beings are blank slates when they’re born.  We teach them to love, to respect, to embrace the world and everyone in it… or we teach them to fear, to fight, to find fault in those around them, to compare and to be “better than” instead of “equal.” Or, to deem anyone different as an “other” and certainly “less than.”

And so I guess I’m coming out of this long, rambling train of thought with two things:

  1. A reminder to do better with my own fact-finding and evidence collection with respect to my own beliefs. I’ve got a pretty solid gut reaction, my logic could use a little work, I’m sure, and those credible sources? More of those, please.
  2. A reminder that there’s a lot that goes into what a person believes, and why they believe it, and I would do well to remember that.

It doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand, nor does it mean I won’t challenge what I believe to be wrong, but I guess I’m hoping this will help ME from inserting some of that “better than/worse than/less than” language in my head. Or, at least, keep from inserting it into conversation.

Remember, kids: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

A lesson in empathy.

A reminder: Just because it’s not happening to you or not affecting you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
 
If you are a straight person, talk to someone (or a lot of someones) from the LGBTQ community about what it’s like to have people deny you services, have your government deny you rights, and have people view you as evil, vile, unworthy, or sub-human, all because of who you love. Ask them what it felt like to be granted the right to marry, only to be faced with the very real prospect of having that taken away.
 
If you are an able-bodied person, talk to someone with chronic health issues or a disability of some kind… aka “pre-existing conditions.” Ask them what it’s like to be denied healthcare, to be excluded from consideration for basic necessities all because of how their body works. Ask them, too, what it’s been like to finally have access to healthcare, and what’s going to happen if/when the ACA is repealed and how that’s going to impact them financially, physically, and emotionally.
 
If you are a white person, talk to a person of color about what it’s like to grow up in a country that killed and worked to suppress the native population out of the belief they were all “savages.” A country that was built on the beaten backs of black people believed to be and treated as sub-human. Ask them what it’s like to be denied services, jobs, or healthcare, all because of the color of their skin. Ask them what it’s like to see hate in the eyes of other people to whom they have done nothing but ask for equality. Ask them what it’s like to grow up afraid, what it’s like to just want to be seen and treated as completely equal, only to be met with resistance because so many people can’t seem to believe or accept that there is a real problem and, by doing so, continue to perpetuate it.
 
Ask a woman what it’s like to have her healthcare dictated by the government. Ask her what it’s like to not be able to make her own medical decisions without her morality being called into question by people who aren’t impacted by the situation and won’t have to live with the outcome. Ask a woman what it’s like to be treated like property instead of like a human being, to be denied rights because of her gender and the assumption that she is somehow less competent or capable. Ask a woman who has been raped what it’s like to be told she should carry that baby to term. Ask a woman raising children on her own what it’s like to be viewed as a drain on the system, regardless of her circumstance, because of the assumptions made when she applies for SNAP. Ask a woman who works what it’s like to be passed up for promotions or paid less money because of the body she was born into.
 
If you have a good-paying job, talk to someone who works two or three minimum wage jobs trying to make ends meet (and doesn’t have healthcare provided by any of them). And then ask them what it’s like to be told, “You’re just not working hard enough.” Ask a person who relies on social services to put food on the table what it’s like to live with the shame of not being a good provider, because in our country if you don’t succeed, it’s your fault. Ask a person who grew up unable to afford a quality education what it’s like to be faced with the rest of the country’s denial that their experience was at all different or that it impeded their ability to succeed, that the playing field wasn’t level from the start.
 
If you’re a Christian, ask a person of any other faith – but particularly Muslim – what it’s like to live in a country where its leaders encourage blind hatred and racist rhetoric against you. Ask them what it’s like to walk down the street and be called names, to be viewed suspiciously all because of what God you believe in, or the color of your skin, or the clothes you wear, even though this country is supposed to encourage religious freedom (for ALL, not some).
 
TL;DR If you don’t believe something is a problem, even after talking to people who tell you it is, maybe ask yourself why that is. Ask yourself how you would feel to experience something, only to be faced with an entire nation who doesn’t believe you.
 
And if you DO believe it’s a problem but don’t care because it’s not affecting you… well, your heart ain’t a place I want to be.

The privilege of mourning twice.

I’ve wanted kids – to be a mom – for as long as I can remember. I love babies and children more than most adults, and I think a lot of that comes from their straight-up innocence. The clean slate of humanity, the capacity for love and greatness ever-present. No walls, no shields, no hatred, no bigotry… nothing but the real. I identify with that a whole lot stronger than I do with most of the stuff grown people carry around; it’s beautiful, and I have always had the compulsion to protect it, to love and appreciate it, to nurture and encourage it, even as I stand by and watch the whole world seemingly conspire to squash it.

As I navigated my way through addiction in my 20’s, recovery and growth in my 30’s, and a return to my roots before 40, that desire to have kids – to be a mom – stayed strong. But I wanted it to be the “right” time, with the “right” person. Occasionally I’d entertain the notion of being a single mother and figuring things out, handling it all myself, and that was usually at the tail end of another failed relationship. Since I couldn’t seem to get things right when it came to love, maybe I should just give that part up and have the kid anyway. With so much love to give, why not?

But something always held me back. Circumstances, the desire for a partner, fiscal responsibility… I was convinced that things had to be a whole lot more secure and perfect and right than they were, if I wanted to shoulder the so very big and important responsibility of having and raising another human being. It’s such a decision of whimsy for some, not even a second thought for others, I often wondered if I were the only one who thought so much about what a huge commitment it was that I managed to think my way out of it.

As I entered my 40’s, the driving force and desire to have a baby began to dissipate. I realized one day that it just wasn’t there like it used to be; the emotional, the physical, all of it seemed to have faded, with only the occasional cropping up of desire, coupled with a small dose of regret. And maybe not regret so much as a realization that the time had passed, the opportunity was lost, and one of the things I’d wanted to experience most in life was likely not going to happen.

And so I mourned the loss while I worked to let go of that particular dream. With that came a slow acceptance, an understanding that it was just how life worked out for me.

Still, I held onto the idea that 45 was the age at which I would give up entirely, that if it hadn’t happened by then, I would move along. For some reason, 45 seemed like the appropriate age at which a woman would no longer consider giving birth; I’m not sure where the arbitrary number came from, but in my head, the years leading up to 45 seemed viable, and really, JUST as viable as any year before it. So even though I’d mostly let the dream and desire go, there were still the last vestiges of hope attached to every day leading up to my 45th birthday – which, by the way, still has yet to pass.

2016 has, so far, been the year of the universe conspiring to shower me with blessings. I have a job that I enjoy and am challenged by, working alongside people I admire and appreciate. I met my person, the one to whom I am so perfectly matched, I am blown away most every day by the magic; to finally know what it’s like to be loved, and to love this way in return. Ours is the stuff of history, of poetry, of novels and artwork and music; every day, my heart expands to accommodate our love, and my gratitude. We bought a home together – my very first. We have two of the sweetest kittens who are currently curled up on either side of me, keeping me warm and holding presence while my love is away on tour.

And so, having found that perfect person and our perfect home, the idea of having a child (and the desire to do so) was reignited. To create another human together: a perfect combination of him and of me; a tiny little creature who has my eyes and his nose and ears and a heart as big as both of ours; to raise a person knowing only love and support and compassion and happy – both inside the home and out.

But I am 44 years old.

And that means my eggs are 44 years old, too. What I never really considered or researched but now know is that, at age 40, your fertility hits a sharp and rapid decline. The potential for chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy – Down Syndrome, etc.) due to deterioration of egg quality hits a sharp and rapid incline. Miscarriage is a lot more likely. And even if you wanted to pursue IVF, if you use your own eggs, the chance of a live birth after the age of 43 is less than 4%.

All of that science to say… I’m getting to mourn it again.

I say “getting” because it is, indeed, a privilege to find myself in this place. The place where I am so well loved, and so in love in return, that it would have even been a consideration to have that baby together. To realize that I am finally in that perfect place, with the perfect person.

Don’t get me wrong: I am sad as hell. But in paying attention to the sadness, I think back to when I learned about primary and secondary reactions. The primary emotion or is the true and real response to something; the secondary reactive emotions are the ones that crop up as a defense mechanism. You usually have to sort through the secondary reactive stuff in order to get to the heart and the meat of the matter.

So, like, there’s a part of me that would love to sit here and beat myself up for making such “interesting” dating decisions for the last 20 years. I’d love to beat myself up for waiting so long and not just doing it myself. There’s a part of me that wishes I were the type of person who believed “everything happens for a reason!” because then I could spend my time looking for what possible reasons there might be for us to have come this far, to finally find each other, only to be denied this thing we both want so much. There’s a small part of me, too, that wishes I believed in God so I’d have someone or something to blame, to be angry with, to question the timing of all of this and the legitimacy of His choices. A place to deflect the blame, as well as a spiritual shoulder to carry the hurt.

But I am not that person.

There is no need to blame myself for the past; it does no good. There is no need to regret anything; that does no good, either. I don’t need to shake my fist at the sky and demand answers for how things are; this is, in fact, just how it all worked out.

Acceptance.

Anger has no place here. Life happened in its own time, in its own way, and to find myself now in the love and company of that perfect-for-me person, someone with whom to share the disappointment and move forward in grace and love, is really, truly, enough. I can sit with being sad and disappointed without having to cover it up in blame or anger or regret, and that, to me, is huge.

There are, of course, other options if we decide to pursue parenthood together. I know that. But I think it’s important to take each situation on its own merit and its own unique circumstances instead of trying to make the hurt of one situation go away with the potential promise of another that may or may not be an option, or realistic.

So for now, with this one piece, I am simply mourning the loss (again). The beauty is that I no longer have to mourn it – or anything else – alone.

A devil in wolf’s clothing.

Once upon a time, I dated a liar.

He wasn’t just your average, garden variety liar, though; you know, someone who lies to get out of trouble, or someone who lies to spare feelings, or someone who lies because they’re ashamed of who they are, or maybe they just haven’t learned the value of the truth. Nope. Every single word, every utterance that came out of his mouth was some form of manipulation or deceit.

If breath or a burp could be a lie, his would’ve.

He lied about his age and, when called out on it, he lied about lying about it. He lied about owning his home. He lied about where he was, and who he was with, when we weren’t together. He lied about his online activity. He lied about his relationships with other people – specifically, other women. More specifically, the other woman he was dating/sleeping with when he and I were purportedly dating/in a relationship. He lied to her about me, too. He lied about his travels. He lied to everyone about the nature of our relationship, and what he told them varied by who they were. He lied about himself, his nature, his past… every possible thing he could lie about, he did, and no one in his life was immune. He lied to his parents, his friends, his other girlfriends, his ex-wife, complete strangers… everyone.

About everything.

And it wasn’t just lying, either; the lies were coupled with methodical manipulation via every possible avenue. He’d get information and then use it to his advantage to keep people tied to him in some unhealthy way. Say things you want to hear, and then make you feel like shit for believing it. Or say terrible things and tell you you’re imagining that they’re terrible. One minute you’re his favorite; the next minute, there was something so wrong with you he’d never be able to get over it. He would find the things about yourself you valued most and in one breath reaffirm those things, but in the next breath, he’d berate and belittle you for them. One minute you’re dating, the next he can only be friends – but as soon as you start treating him as a platonic friend, he’d revert back to treating you like an intimate partner, and as though the previous situation never happened. One night he’d yell at you and shame you into staying small; the next morning, everything is fine and he has no idea what you’re talking about.

I think they call that “gas-lighting.”

Groundwork was consistently laid to confuse, to keep you off balance, to deny, deny, deny – and to ensure you would never pursue the lines of inquiry that might expose the clever ruse. The only way I learned for certain of his “affair” (read: ongoing infidelity, despite his protestations to the contrary and his insistence that I was obviously just insecure and suspicious and imagining things; that he had no interest in those other women but if I want to look crazy by reaching out to talk to them, that was on me, etc. etc. etc.) was a message exchange with the other woman. She reached out to tell the truth, and I appreciated that, regardless of any underlying motivations on her part. It was the affirmation I’d needed, that I wasn’t imagining things and I wasn’t, in fact, crazy.

Topping all of it off was an impenetrable and distinct lack of remorse, and an apparent delight in the manipulation of others. No real concern for feelings or well-being, no second thoughts about behavior or consideration of impact, although he would occasionally pretend to care. Everything was self-serving, and he spent nearly every waking moment playing puppet master, as though he thrived on the power he felt in controlling other people. When confronted with the truth, the ease with which he either lied some more, or turned it around to shift the blame and focus on someone else (usually me) was, for lack of a better word, remarkable.

With some time and distance allowing for further reflection… it was frightening.

Almost immediately after meeting him, I suspected something was off. A few months in, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I started to distance from friends a little; some of them dropped me completely, and I began to shut down and withdraw. Anxiety was ever-present, doing its best to call attention to the bad situation I was intentionally keeping myself in. I put a pretty damn good face out there for public consumption, but the reality was chaotic, unhealthy, damaging…

And yet, I stayed.

FOR A YEAR.

I was kept so confused and off-balance, I stayed thinking it must be me; there must be something I’m not doing right, or there must be some way to make this work, or maybe things are just meant to be this messed up, because we also managed to have some fun in there, so it wasn’t ALL terrible, right? There were promises of greatness, hints of something better… but it was all part of the deception he reveled in maintaining. And I played right into it.

Suffice to say, I stayed in it as long as I needed to in order to learn the things I needed to learn (I don’t recommend that if you can help it), and thankfully, I don’t ever need to go there again. Severing those ties was certainly one of the best and healthiest thing I’ve ever done for myself. Tough lessons, but so very good, and necessary, and permanently etched. There were continued attempts on his part to keep me tethered and engaged, but as with most bullies, when you stop paying attention and refuse to engage, they get bored and move on to something else.

So then, why am I bringing this up? Because I think it’s important to differentiate between a person who tells a lie here and there, and a person who is constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves or anyone else, to the point where it could very well be a diagnosable mental illness/personality disorder. The difference between someone who maybe made poor decisions in the past but has the potential to make it right, and a person who is clinically ill and incapable of doing anything but lie, cheat, manipulate, and harm. The latter isn’t even remotely harmless; anyone and everyone impacted by that person’s behavior is left altered in some way. There is no way to have a healthy interaction with a person like that, regardless of effort on your part.

And why else am I bringing this up?

Donald Trump.

I’m not even sure I need to take it any further than that, but I will just say a few things about this would-be President of the United States:

  • Watching Donald Trump stand/hover/loom behind Hillary Clinton at the 2nd debate was like watching a caged animal, or an attempt at intimidation, and it was scary.
  • Knowing he brought Bill Clinton’s accusers to the debate as a means of belittling and shaming Hillary – using their pain for his gain – was scary.
  • Listening to him so easily lie when confronted with things he’s said or done (things that have been documented as truth) is scary.
  • Knowing he’s intentionally hiding information about his own financial situation in an effort to maintain a certain reputation is scary.
  • Hearing the way he talked about how he can take advantage of women because of his celebrity was scary.
  • His complete lack of remorse or willingness to own his part is scary.
  • Watching, reading, and hearing people leap to his defense because “he says what we’re all thinking,” to justify  – nay, celebrate – all of these behaviors, all for the sake of “shaking up Washington,” IS SCARY.

Don’t get me wrong. HRC is nowhere near perfect (nor was she my first choice, nor does that matter because that’s not what we’re talking about here), but you can be damn sure I will vote for her if it means keeping a sociopathic/narcissistic/anti-social personality disorder out of the office of the presidency.

Y’ALL. You know we have the power to change this, right? Nothing has to be the way it is, and everything can be different, if and when we decide we’re no longer okay with the way things are. I’ve been marveling over that truth: that if we weren’t so damned determined to hold on to our beliefs and so convinced that they are correct, or so convinced that we are powerless to change things, we might see that what we believe is what we’ve been taught and shown, and how things are isn’t how they have to be. We absolutely have the freedom AND the power to change that. Like racism: it’s not innate, it’s learned. Imagine what life would look like if no one had ever been raised to think of another human being as “less than?”

Anyway. I don’t claim to know much of anything about politics, especially with as convoluted and partisan and covert and messy as things have become… I don’t even know who or what to trust anymore, or where to start looking for reliable information. You know, the actual TRUTH, not just biased half-assed reporting.

But I have finally learned to trust my gut when it comes to humanity and human beings. I’m a pretty good judge of character, thanks to years of experience and lessons learned, and I can recognize when something is WRONG that has nothing to do with whether or not I like you as a person. When something is off about someone, I can sense it; when they’re sick, or toxic, or even just unhealthy, my hackles are raised all the way up, and the protective shields go up with it. At this point, that’s enough for me to go on.

Donald Trump is toxic, in every sense of the word.

Dangerously so.

Yet there are people who still fervently believe he is the better choice. That the stories coming out about him are false, or that they don’t matter, as long as Hillary doesn’t win. There are people who RELATE to him (I think that’s the worst part for me). They’re willing to turn a blind eye to his lies, manipulation, misogyny, and explosive temperament for the sake of teaching Washington and us bleeding-heart liberals a lesson.

Right now, our country feels so polarized between those who maniacally value flags and songs and ideas of nationalism and personal freedoms more than they do other human beings, and then the rest of us who want everyone taken care of, no matter their color, sexual preference, gender, or religious beliefs. Bootstrap mentality vs. the need for empathy and community. I never looked forward to a Bush presidency, or a Romney presidency, but I never actively feared them, either. This is different. I can’t imagine what a Trump presidency would look like, but if I have to find out, I just hope we emerge relatively unscathed, that the lessons we learn come with a long-lasting side of empathy and act-right, and that we never, ever have to go there again.

Errant thought repository post.

It has been entirely too long since I’ve written here (or journaled regularly, for that matter). Initially, I engaged in the age-old self-deprecation for letting the writing go, you know, finding some way to beat myself up for not doing a thing that I claimed to love and need so much. But it crossed my mind, and Noelle TWT confirmed, that maybe I just don’t have as much processing to do these days because I’m HAPPY. And that sounds right to me.

That said, there are still plenty of things rolling around in my head, and those are the thoughts I’m going to leave here for the time being. Maybe expound on them at a later date. I have a separate piece I’m working on where I compare Donald Trump to an ex in an examination of why I experience visceral anxiety and fear at the thought of a Trump presidency, but that warrants its own space, I think.

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time finding ways to relate to people who are different in their belief systems. For instance, I work for a faith-based organization, and the majority of people who work there ascribe to that particular faith, and it’s ever-present in the culture. I am one of the few who don’t. And then, there are people in my life who fall firmly in the right-wing camp; I absolutely don’t. But it is important to me to try and find ways to connect and relate to and understand these folks, and what I’ve realized is that, if you view people as coming from a different culture, it’s a whole lot easier to accept the differences, if not overlook them completely.
  2. At work, I filter out the words that don’t apply, and at the bottom of it all, the gratitude we share is the same. They direct theirs to God; mine just… is. They pray, and I send my good thoughts out into the universe. We are all driven by the same desire to help and be of service; where it comes from, or to where/whom it’s attributed, doesn’t matter.
  3. The political thing is much more difficult, though. I can understand the desire for something different than what we’ve had. I get that people are tired of “career politicians” or “politics as usual.” What I cannot fathom is why anyone would think Donald Trump, in all of his horrible, abusive, misogynistic, bigoted, small-minded glory, would be the best choice. When I hear people say they’re tired of being “PC”, what that tells me is, you’re tired of being held accountable and expected to act right towards other people. When I hear that you like Trump’s plain, unfiltered talk, what that tells me is that you want a champion for your own ugly thoughts and beliefs. Even if you support him because you think he’s going to protect your gun rights, or your money, or something else, the bigger picture is not being taken into account, and it’s a selfish move. “I don’t care how his presidency impacts anyone else but me and my stuff.”
  4. And that leads me to something else… people in this country sure do seem to care more about a song, or a flag, or an idea, or their STUFF (guns, property, institutions, etc.) than they do other human beings. Why is that? Why is it more important for a business to have the right to refuse service to someone than it is to protect the rights of ALL people to be treated equally? Why is it more important for one provider to have the right to refuse mental health treatment to multiple patients based on his/her lifestyle or sexual preference? Why isn’t the greater good more important to more people?
  5. Government doesn’t always get it right, but it certainly does force us humans to act right. If there weren’t laws in place requiring equal treatment under the law, I guarantee – very sadly – there would be a whole lot more overt racism, bigotry, and divisive practices happening than already are.
  6. And then… why is it so hard for people to grasp the concept of Black Lives Matter? Why do people default to thinking in absolutes, where if you say “Black Lives Matter,” you must mean that no one else’s does? Why does it mean, when you want to hold the police accountable, that suddenly you hate ALL police? Why does criticism equate to wholesale condemnation? Why are some people so incapable of taking the historical perspective into account, as well as the far-reaching implications, in order to form a more well-rounded opinion? Is it that we’re incapable, or just unwilling? Is it part of the human condition that, when confronted with something ugly in our own society, we’d rather hunker down in denial than rise to the occasion for change?
  7. This morning, I thought more about that “politics as usual” argument that seems to be so prevalent these days. I mean, it comes up every election season, but this year it’s especially loud. There’s a part of me that thinks people are still stinging from having a black president for 8 years so the thought of having a woman in office is too much and they’re disguising their preference for an old white man in the role as a desire for deviation from “career politicians.” But, you know, good luck proving that. Anyway. It occurred to me that it doesn’t have to be this way. At all. None of it. Like, if we are all so tired of our government, of how things are run, of who is allowed in office, of the stalemates and the blocking of progress and the lies and the finger-pointing and the lack of viable candidates… why don’t we change it? Why do we have to keep any of it the way it is? I mean, who says we have to keep the Constitution, or the government, or the statehood, or a democracy, or any of it? Have we forgotten that we have the power to change and do something different? Have we lost our ability to think so much bigger than we have been? Is it a fear of change, or an inability to dream? Why don’t we just nuke it from orbit and start all the way over? (These are rhetorical, BTW.)
  8. On a completely different note… I switched doctors a month ago and, as a result of the blood tests they ran, it turns out that I tested positive for arthritis. I haven’t met with a specialist yet, so I don’t even know what KIND of arthritis, but at least I have an answer for the joint pain and other issues I’ve been having this year.
  9. The arthritis is just one more reason I want to get in better shape, and get back into the swing of healthy eating. I am carrying about 25 extra pounds of fat that I would like to convert to muscle, at the very least, if not get rid of completely. What I’m lacking, though, is the motivation and discipline to do anything about it. And that’s my question: where does motivation come from? How do you acquire discipline? How do you conjure that magic moment of willingness that converts into sustainable action? I have never been able to figure out what motivates me, other than finally feeling like I’ve had enough of a certain thing/situation/etc., and then defiantly moving in another direction. So, when will enough be enough in this case? What will it take to get me to change? If it’s not the current state of discomfort, or the memory of good health past, or the fear of a more painful future… then what? If it’s not the desire to feel pretty on my wedding day, or the preference for a healthy vessel for human life, then what? And how much of this desire to change is based on an actual medical need vs. me just not being okay with the way I look thanks to societal implications of what’s attractive? Am I being harder on myself than I should be – knowing I have a tendency to do just that? And then, how do you sustain the change once you start it? Is it a moral failing or character flaw if you can’t stick with something, or is that just the normal, human way?

Deep thoughts for a Saturday morning. I think maybe it’s time to put on some Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, play with the kittens, and get started on some of this unpacking. In our new house. You know, the one with windows that open, doors that close, and room for all of the love. ❤

Perfectionism, anxiety, and other random ramblings.

Last week, I spent the day with one of my nieces. Over lunch, she asked me if I had any advice for her, going into high school, or any advice when it came to dating. To the second question, I told her to just stay away from boys until the hormones calm down (HA HA), but at the very least, if you’re going to date, find someone who makes you laugh, is kind and honest, and who treats you well. Also, smart.

To the first question, my best advice was to focus on things that are important to her and make her feel good about life, and to do her best to let go of the need to be perfect. There is the potential for being paralyzed by fear of not being good at something on the first try, and so you just dismiss it as being “stupid” or whatever so you don’t have to risk looking foolish or not being perfect at it. I think this maybe runs in the family, or at the very least it’s just normal human behavior, and it’s taken me this long to get to a point where I place more value on having fun and living with abandon than I do on what others see or think of me.

Mostly, anyway.

I am still very much driven by a need to be seen as competent, having value, etc., and that certainly does get in the way of just trying things, or just DOING things that I want to try or do. I hold myself to impossibly high standards sometimes, which means I end up feeling like I have to do everything perfectly, I have to respond to work emails immediately or else people will feel like I’m failing them, and I judge my own behavior a whole lot more harshly than I think anyone else does – unless, of course they’re looking for things to judge me for. And in that case, who actually cares?

Anyway… that led me to thinking about anxiety. I’ve had my share of bouts with it, although thankfully the major occurrences have been relatively few and far between. The first time it was ever diagnosed was about 15 or so years ago, in the form of constant butterflies and feeling as though I had 7 different television channels – including some static – going on in my head at once, making it virtually impossible to focus. As best we could tell (we = my doctor and me), it was in direct response to the depression I’d been battling for several months. According to that particular doctor, sometimes your brain will try to “right” itself out of a depressed state by overcompensating which then turns into anxiety. So that’s nice.

During a recent appointment with Noelle TWT, I was telling her about all of the “project managing” I’d been doing in my head lately. And by that, I mean I was feeling the need to control EVERYTHING: perceptions, outcomes, behaviors, and managing everyone’s feelings, whether I actually knew what those feelings were or not. She had, as usual, a lot of great insight into that. First and foremost, that it’s what anxiety can look like. (Say what?) When your brain is on overdrive, ruminating or thinking about ALL THE THINGS, or causing you to feel as though you need to control other people… that’s anxiety. Of course, there are those other ways anxiety manifests: butterflies in the belly; inability to focus or concentrate; rapid heart rate; racing thoughts; and the inability to function normally or rationally until the panic subsides, because your amygdala has been activated and the rest of your brain has shut down. You know, fun stuff like that.

In thinking about all of that, I came to the very UN-scientific conclusion that there are, perhaps, two types of anxiety. One is the kind mentioned above, not necessarily caused by anything other than an imbalance in the brain; maybe exacerbated by external causes or conditions, but at some point your brain just decides to go off the rails and you’re left with the anxious feelings and thoughts and behaviors that seem completely inappropriate in response to the situations at hand. That’s the anxiety that sucks, and it lies to you about impending dangers, doom, your abilities as a human, the truth of situations… all of it.

But then, there’s another kind of anxiety: the kind that tells you the truth. It’s the kind that knows you’re in a bad situation, or you’re compromising yourself in some way, forcing an issue, trying to make something work that shouldn’t… you get the idea. The anxiety that comes from being and staying in that kind of bad situation is the GOOD kind of anxiety, if there is such a thing, because it’s telling you there’s something wrong, that something needs to change.

I get anxiety from eating too much sugar. My body is trying to tell me something when that happens: DON’T EAT SUGAR, DING DONG. Sadly, it also happens when I have cocktails, but it doesn’t show up until 3am (like, on the dot – it’s weird). But again, that’s just from my body having to process all the sugar, and the physiological response to that. Note to self: if a food or “spice” – in my case, excessive sugar or salt – makes your heart pound out of your chest, maybe DON’T EAT IT.

I also had significant relationship anxiety in the not too distant past. As it turns out, for good reason: when everything that comes out of a person’s mouth is a lie, an attempt to manipulate and/or gas-lighting in some form or fashion; when you can’t trust a thing they say or your place in their life; when the infidelity is so pervasive that they can’t even go to the bathroom without texting or messaging another woman; when controlling and managing everyone’s perceptions was like a full time job… it’s no wonder anxiety showed up to camp out on my doorstep. It wasn’t until it was over, and enough time and distance was inserted and I’d recovered that the anxiety went away. But that anxiety was trying to tell me something, you know?

SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE; GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN.

There were other relationships, too, ones that didn’t last as long but that still brought about the belly butterflies, and I think a lot of that was just me pursuing people who weren’t good fits. Anxiety tried to tell me that, too. That I was with the wrong person, that I was compromising myself, that I wasn’t having any of my needs met. I just generally refused to listen, and wound up paying the price.

Notable and telling, then, that I haven’t had one moment of anxiety since meeting my future husband. (OMG, HUSBAND. Heehee!) So this is what it means to feel safe and cared for!

Back to Noelle. She posited that my need to project manage and control things was likely born of a life of having no reliable consistency. I think that makes sense. It’s safe to say that any of my overreactive behaviors are as a direct result of having little or no consistency or reliability growing up, and so I’m trying to exact that control over everything now. I’ve been a control freak for as long as I can remember, at least as it pertains to my own life, but I always chalked that up to being a perfectionist and not wanting to be responsible for anyone else’s poor showing. I realize now that it’s that, still, but a whole lot deeper, too.

I think feeling like you have to be perfect means you don’t feel like you’re good enough.

The other thing she mentioned was that she’d listened to a podcast where someone was talking about anxiety and how it helped to determine if the threat was external or internal. If the threat is external – oncoming car, being chased by lions, significant other with a personality disorder, etc. – then you know there is (hopefully) something to be done about the situation, whether by managing it or removing yourself from it, and the anxiety is a legit response to a legit threat that will (hopefully) go away. But if the threat is internal… there’s some work to do, and it starts with realizing you’re not in danger and that your feelings can’t hurt you, and then learning to sit with it while you attempt to pinpoint the trigger and where it’s all coming from.

She totally speaks my language. One of my biggest lessons over the last few years has been to just sit with discomfort rather than knee-jerk reacting to it, so I can get to the bottom of it all. Sitting through secondary reactive emotions to determine primary ones.

All of that to say, it was eye-opening for me to realize that what felt like “crazy” behavior was really just anxiety rearing its head. Understandable, too. Between the full time job that was the equivalent of three jobs while my boss was on maternity leave, starting graduate school and trying to keep up a successful pace, finally meeting someone good and having it be so important to me that everyone love him and see the good in him that I do (while letting down 40 years of defenses and choosing to be vulnerable to real love)… it was a lot. And it was no wonder I felt like I had to control things – I didn’t want to fail, because I didn’t want to lose any of it.

I think I’m finally relinquishing my kung-fu grip on stuff. School (at least, this rendition) is officially over, my promotion has me moved into ONE job which is the one I want, and things with the fella are just perfection. I still need to exercise and quit eating so much sugar. But at the end of it all, I’m grateful for ALL of the anxiety, because it’s shown, taught, and illustrated things that I might not have seen or learned otherwise.

Doesn’t mean I want it to come back or stick around, though. And that perfectionism can go screw, too.

birdthink