Battle of the body and the brain (aka facts vs. feelings), Part 2

I have HPV. I found this out a few years ago, and because of that, I have the distinct pleasure of annual “lady doctor” visits which, you know, whatever. I am also the only student from my women’s health class who took the professor up on the offer for my very own (new, still wrapped) plastic speculum. Anyway. Last year, I had a biopsy & colposcopy, and everything came back fine. This year, there was something not normal but not ABnormal about the cells (atypical, I guess), so I got to have another biopsy & colpo. Only this time, thanks to some scarring on my cervix, she had to really dig around in there trying to snip the samples. It… didn’t feel good.

I’d already been feeling a little low after yet another, what will likely be my last, visit to the fertility clinic the week before, where they – bless them – have been nothing but kind. And HONEST. I am 45 years old, with 45 year old deteriorating eggs; on top of that, a low egg count thanks to a low-functioning ovary, and what appear to be polyps inside my uterus (which we discovered after doing the HSG/fallopian tube dye test). At this point, my parts appear to be no longer viable, although there is one more procedure (hysteroscopy) I could endure on the off chance I might be one of the VERY FEW women who, at my age, is still producing quality eggs. Otherwise, if I wanted to have a baby, then it would have to be donor eggs (~ $20K) or a donor embryo (~$10K).

I’ve already talked about how much I wanted to be a mom. I had the chance when I was 18, but I ended the pregnancy, and I don’t regret it for a minute. There’s no way I’d want to be tied to that guy for the rest of my life, not to mention I just wasn’t anywhere near ready to be a parent 27 years ago. Besides, there was no attesting to the quality of that dude’s DNA, considering the “shotgun in a trailer park” incident, the stalking, the cheating… yeah. Even now, faced with the reality that I probably can’t have a baby of my own, I know I did the right thing back then; there have been no second thoughts, no regrets, and I wouldn’t change a thing (unless I could have met C 27 years ago… that would have been nice).

Anyway. I don’t really need to get into all that again, but suffice to say, I am still working to let go of the embedded disappointment of having finally found my person but then also having to accept the fact that we won’t get to create a life together. There are, of course other options – including adoption, which we agreed probably makes more sense, if we do anything at all. If we’re even thinking of dropping that kind of money at all on a baby that isn’t biologically ours, we might as well find one in need of a family. I mean, C already has kids, and I suppose I get the consolation prizes of: freedom to travel and only being responsible for two cats; having some expendable income; not risking my body being permanently affected or damaged by carrying or birthing a baby; and not worrying about raising a child in our current mess of a world. Selfish, but that’s all I got.

On top of coming to terms with my body no longer being a viable baby maker, I’m also having to come to terms with there being potentially cancerous cells trying to form on my cervix, and I just can’t help but feel like… I don’t know. Saying I feel like less of a woman doesn’t really fit here, but it’s something like that. And it sucks. After last week’s appointment where the doctor was digging around to get her samples to send off to the lab, I just started crying. It was a little scary, but more than that, it was just a goddamn lonely experience. Even though I know I have the support of C and family and friends, none of that seemed to matter. My heart hurt.

So that’s what brings me back to feeling at odds with my body and AND my brain. And differentiating between facts (like, knowing I’ve got so many loved ones on my side) and feelings (feeling totally and horribly alone on that exam table).

In the piece I wrote last year, I talked a lot about how I’d already come to peace with not being a mom, and that’s true. How I’d started to mourn the loss a 2nd time because of having met someone I could have totally seen procreating with, and having another outlet for the huge love we have for each other. All of this is true… but if I’m being honest, I’m totally good with it. We have a great life already, and it just keeps getting better. We will absolutely be okay, no matter what happens. Admittedly, it’s still a little hard being around all the pregnant women at work – clients and coworkers alike – but I don’t begrudge them the happiness so much as I just wish I could have been able to participate in that part of being alive and human and a woman. To relate to that experience. That said… the feelings of loss I’m feeling are more like memories of what I used to want/feel, as well as acceptance of what’s reality now.

Facts vs. feelings.

Something else I’ve been thinking about are all the ways people try to be supportive. In my case, people have tried being supportive by reminding me that *plenty* of women have babies at my age (that’s not actually true; it’s possible, yes, but not probable, and certainly not typical and absolutely not likely for ME). And part of the problem there is that I haven’t been broadcasting all the information I have about my body and what’s working and what isn’t, so they’re basing their comments on assuming I’m just being flippant when I say I’m too old. I get that people think they’re being helpful by trying to offer hope… when what I really need is just a heartfelt, “I’m really sorry, I know that must be hard.”

Empathy.

And none of the silver linings people like to offer, either: “Well, at least you met the love of your life.” Yes, and I’m eternally grateful for that. Doesn’t change how I feel about THIS, though, and I don’t appreciate being told to stop feeling a certain way because I am blessed in another area of life and should just focus on that. It would be like if I tried to not feel the disappointment because I don’t have a right to feel that, when most of my life is really going so well… like, how dare I want for more?

I get that people don’t really know what to say in the face of difficult things. I am, admittedly, terrible about holding presence for people during hard times. At least, I feel like I am. I assume people want to be left alone, when that may not be at all what they want or need. I assume people will come to me if/when they need me to be there for them, when I know damn well I tend to hibernate and not reach out when I need people the most. So, I shy away at the risk of saying or doing the “wrong” thing. Other people just can’t shut up, and feel like they have to talk their way through someone else’s pain, instead of just being there for them.

And people really just say terrible things meant to be helpful ALL THE TIME. In fact, I’m going to write another post about that.

Back to body and brain betrayal, I guess what I was getting at up there is that most of my brain has come to accept my physical reality. But there are parts of my brain that seem to want to dredge up old feelings, beliefs, assumptions, desires… all of it, just for the sake of ruminating and trying to convince me I’m still not over it, when I really am. Like, I really am good. There are little waves of lamentation and mourning, sure, but it’s primarily acceptance, with some old memories of wants and desires, reminding me of what I used to want, and am I SURE I’m okay with it? Don’t you actually want to continue to wallow and be sad and beat yourself up a little bit while you’re at it?

NO. No, I don’t.

It’s like part of my brain is a pusher – of bad ideas, of self loathing, of cravings, of poor choices, of bad thoughts – and the rest of my brain is the resistance. It’s weird. But by compartmentalizing the way I think about things, by understanding where it all comes from (like, cravings come from basic genetic programming but resisting the cravings is a learned behavior), my hope is that I can get better at resisting urges and cravings. Get better at letting the thoughts and feelings pass when I know that to let them stay is to invite the devil in.

All of that to say… I’m actually doing pretty damn well with all of it, as long as my brain stays the hell out of my way. ❤

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Battle of the body and the brain (aka facts vs. feelings), Part 1

Do you ever have days (or weeks or months or years) where you feel completely at odds with your own body? Or your own brain? Maybe both at the same time which is always a joy and a pleasure?

I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that I can know – with every fiber of my being – that certain foods make me feel terrible… and yet, as soon as it crosses my mind that I want one of those foods, it’s like I’m powerless to resist and all that sense flies out the window. Cheez-Its, mac & cheese, cookies, pizza (this is the hardest one to admit and accept), popcorn, anything with sugar in it, anything made of bread… you get the idea. The ONLY time I feel good physically (and mentally) is when I eat lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and the occasional dairy or brown rice. Everything else gives me heartburn, gas, indigestion, foggy brain, lethargy, body aches, weight gain & bloating… it sucks. A lot. If I eat too much sugar or too much salt, my heart pounds out of my chest and my brain goes on overdrive.

And yet, KNOWING this does little to prevent me from shoving any and all of it directly in my pie hole, when given the opportunity. Why is that?

You know how, in flight, fight, or freeze mode, your rational brain (and a lot of other brain & body functions) shut down because YOU IN DANGER GIRL, and it’s not until that FFF reaction is gone that your brain & body resume normal function? Like, your rational brain ceases to function in order to conserve the energy you might need if you find you’re going to have to haul ass away from whatever threat is there – whether real or perceived.

I’m wondering if there’s a similar thing that happens when a craving pops up. Cravings are fleeting, of course, and the feeling of one is a whole lot different than fear for your life – mild anxiety because you’re panicking at wanting the THING, depending on what that thing is – but until the craving passes, your rational brain can’t play the tape out to the end and remind you of what happens every time (EVERY time) you eat pizza.

And that leads me to think about other situations in life, where you can absolutely KNOW WITH EVERY ATOM IN YOUR BODY that, say, a person is bad or wrong for you, but you’re still drawn to them and subject yourself to prolonged agony by continuing to spend time with them while everything else falls apart around you. Or you can know that getting laid off from a job was nothing personal, purely business, and yet you can’t help but be hurt, angry, and take it personally. Or, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a cigarette is going to taste like you’ve licked a dirty ashtray and make your lungs burn, but you just can’t help picking one up because IT’S THERE, and it was your social crutch for so long you’d rather suffer a little than have to go without.

There are so many things… but ultimately, I think it comes down to what you know vs. what you feel. There’s a difference between facts and feelings. And sometimes, I think you just have to let the feelings float on through – acknowledge them, call them out, say, “I see you” – before you can return to your sane, rational state of being.

Maybe it’s just me, though. I mean… when I’m driven by a feeling or a craving or a reaction, I’m really not my best self, most of the time. Certainly if the feeling is one of love or joy, then ideally the outcome of whatever behavior it inspired would be a good thing. Since I’m referring more to the URGE TO ACT when you’re overcome with anxiety or hurt or anger or fear, or the urge to make the feelings go away, or you’re beating yourself up for feeling the way you do, then it’s the negative outcomes I’m thinking of. I’ve never had a good outcome when driven by fear, anger, hurt, anxiety, or insecurity. But when I’ve allowed those feelings to show up and opted out of acting on them, I’ve found better alternatives on the other side of the feelings. Usually, fact-based alternatives. Goodness knows, my brain can make up some crazy shit when I’m anxious, and when I think about taking action – mostly in the hopes of assuaging the anxiety or fixing what I think is broken – it’s never a healthy response. I just don’t think it’s possible, at least for me, to engage in a healthy way when I’m in the throes of an unhealthy brain/body behavior.

I’m finding lately that I keep sinking into poor eating habits, and it’s… vexing. Especially because as soon as I go there with it, I STAY there with it, and it makes me feel worse (physically and mentally and emotionally), which prompts me to beat myself up and lose any momentum I may have had with eating well and/or exercising. Vicious cycle. Over the weekends, I tend to start moving in a better direction because I have no outside influence, but as soon as I go back to work – where there’s candy and baked goods and a convenience store and a Starbucks on the same block – all hell breaks loose and I’m back to eating junk, which usually prompts me to just give up and order fast food for dinner. With C traveling as much as he does, it’s been hard to get in a routine that isn’t disrupted one way or the other; I don’t seem to have much in the way of discipline OR will power, and the only way I am successful is when I am consistent, and don’t allow myself to stray from the path. At all. I know there’s all that “moderation” talk out there, and allowing for treats and normal meals and whatever else, but it’s like a portal to the devil for me, and THE DEVIL WANTS CAKE.

Anyway. I’m splitting this into two pieces because it could get real long, real fast, but there’s a whole lot more I’ve got to say on the matter of bodies and brains betraying us, facts vs. feelings, etc. Nothing more about food/exercise, though; this took a turn I wasn’t quite expecting, but it’s certainly one of the many things I’ve got on the brain. I think I just needed to get this out there and get the ball rolling.

How far will you go?

To avoid having a difficult conversation, I mean? To what lengths will you go, just so you don’t have to speak up for yourself, draw lines in the sand, enforce your boundaries… to request (nay, demand) what is your due?

What will you put up with? What behaviors will you tolerate? What will you justify, in the form of another person’s poor choices or actions, just so you don’t have to have that difficult conversation with them? Or, maybe, just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’re settling? That you’re compromising yourself for the sake of “going along to get along?”

Will you quit a job, rather than calling out workplace toxicity or abuse? Rather than confronting an unfair pay structure? Will you move, rather than having a conversation with that neighbor who plays their music too loud, without ever giving them the opportunity to make it right? Would you stay in a relationship with someone damaging, rather than standing up for – HONORING – your needs, because it’s easier than the devastating loneliness you imagine on the other side? Do you downplay those deep-down voices as silly daydreams, rather than the gut instinct you were never taught to trust?

Do you listen to the people who say you’re too demanding? Your expectations are too high? You’re a traitor to the cause if you expect compensation commensurate with your worth? Do you trust the partner who tries to keep you still by telling you you’ll never do better? Do you believe the lies they tell you, because it’s easier than challenging all you’ve ever known from the world, even though there’s a bluebird in your heart that sings sometimes, that knows better?

Do you stay in undesirable situations – work, play, love, home – out of fear of being viewed as flighty? Unreliable? Unstable? Do you place the value of outside perspective higher than that of your own intuition? Or do you run, instead of staying in those situations and doing the work to make them right? Is it worth the work? Where do you draw the line between standing up for yourself and giving in? When does it turn from mutual compromise, to compromise of self?

Have you decided it’s easier to struggle to make ends meet, instead of having the scary conversation with a boss about a raise? Do people who know you guilt you into getting what they want? And do you let them, because it’s easier than having the fight? Do you let fear get in the way of saying no?

Were you ever taught to lobby on your own behalf? Did you grow up with people acting as your champions, or are you having to learn it on your own? Does it feel like work, and does that sometimes inform how you engage with the world? Does it exhaust and upset you sometimes, feeling like you need a megaphone and a sandwich board sign to announce to the world what you will (and will not) tolerate, what you do (and don’t) deserve? And does that exhausted upset lower your defenses to where you put up with more than you know you should?

At some point in life, did someone instill in you the belief that you should just take what you’re offered, that to ask for anything else is a selfish insult? Did someone teach you that it’s better to let others have what they want, that it’ll always turn out okay in the end? That you have to suffer for your art? Or suffer for truth? Or just… suffer?

How far will you bend over backwards to please other people? Until your back breaks? At the first sign of discomfort? Or somewhere in between?

How far will you go to avoid standing up for yourself? How far, to avoid acknowledging your own value and demanding you be treated accordingly? How long will you let other people tell you who you are, and what you’re worth?

And then I guess my next question is… are you okay with that?

Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

Snapshot thoughts: A cost/benefit analysis (of sorts).

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with some adults and kids, and the talk turned to Trump and Pence. One of the kids asked who he was, so I responded with, “He’s the guy from Indiana who made it legal to deny services to the LGBTQ community.” Boyfriend followed that up with, “To be fair, he made it legal to deny services to anyone; that just happened to be the main outcome.” And then in chimes a known right-leaner who says, “Well, it actually just gave businesses the FREEDOM to choose who they wanted to serve.”

*record scratch*

I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange. How it is that two arguably decent human beings can view the same situation from such different perspectives. What causes that? Where did those two roads diverge? And I guess the biggest question of all… how can you place more value on the freedom of a business (or, like in the state of TN, a mental health provider) to choose who they want to serve than you place on the needs of underserved and marginalized populations?

This all led me to thinking about where we currently are as a society. So divisive in our thoughts and conversations and behaviors, it’s as though there’s no room for respectful discourse anymore, much less the possibility of being open to changing our minds – or at LEAST seeing things from another perspective. Like, politics and religion and “alternative lifestyles” are off-limits, because how dare you question what I believe! How can you challenge yourself to grow, if you’re not willing to listen to other sides? How can you be so firmly entrenched in your beliefs when you won’t venture outside your comfort zone? Why are you so afraid to admit you might be wrong, or that you might be a racist, or at the very least, contributing to the systemic racism that is so pervasive in our country? Why does it have to be one thing or the other? Why can’t people see that just because you criticize something or someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the good, as well.

Constructive criticism is as important as critical thinking, and I think our society is drastically lacking in both right now.

A lot of this can be attributed to what I have dubbed “snapshot thinking.” You know, the way we only get little bits and pieces of information, usually stuff that is already in keeping with existing belief systems and usually from sources that align with bias, and we just let that further affirm that we are correct and everyone else is wrong. Like, for instance, people who are convinced that WE ARE IN DANGER AND EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND WE MUST BE SAVED, despite evidence to the contrary:

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/07/psychology-why-americans-afraid-low-crime-levels.html

The snapshot thinking comes into play with the internet, too. You’re only getting snapshots of the lives people are leading, and it’s only what they want you to see. Facebook? Snapshots. Instagram? Definitely snapshots. Twitter? 140 character snapshots. And if you don’t take the time to investigate and flush out the picture with research and questions and critical thought, then you’re left to fill in the blanks with your own bias and assumptions.

This never turns out well.

It’s my understanding that, as humans, we’ve evolved to make snap judgments in times of danger. But so much has happened to complicate that process that now we rely on it for our entire existence. We don’t ask probing questions. We instead get lazy and expect the little bits and pieces to suffice when it comes to educating ourselves, whether about the world around us, the community in which we live, or the people we profess to love. Snapshot thinking – the satisfaction with bits and pieces that likely reaffirm what we’ve already assumed, because we are quick to dismiss anything that challenges us in any real meaningful way – is corroding our ability to relate, our desire and ability empathize with others.

But we need connection, now more than ever. We need to be willing to learn, to grow, to be challenged. We need to ask questions, and we need to evaluate how our thinking and our behavior might be contributing to the marginalization of others. Doing so does not take anything away from who we are or what we have; instead, I like to think it adds to our character, makes us better as humans.

I find myself conducting my own cost/benefit analyses on different areas of my life. Should we get a cat, or should we get two? (Notice I didn’t ask whether or not we should get one at all…) What are the costs associated with one vs. two, and what are the benefits? (Final answer TBD next weekend, but probably the answer is TWO.) Should I continue the MSW program, knowing it’s no longer the actual path I want to pursue, but also knowing what I learn would lend itself to my growth in the human services field and as a human being? (No.) Should I return to Facebook, knowing it was such a chaotic and disconnected experience before, but also knowing that most of my friends rely on it for communication and otherwise we’re all just out of touch with each other? (Yes. And so far, so good. Mostly.)

And, finally, what are the costs of having these difficult conversations with people I love? What are the benefits? Is it better to just keep everyone comfortable in their existing beliefs? Should I just worry about myself and my own expansion and growth as a human, or is there a moral responsibility to try and bring others along?

Final thought, courtesy of John Gruber on Twitter, and it’s honestly something that should drive home what racism looks like to ANYONE, if you think about it long, hard, and well enough: What if, instead of Trump, Barack Obama were the one with three wives and five kids between them? What would the discourse look like then?

Equity Equality and Justice