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?

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.

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

I think my heart is ready for “My Piece of Land.”

On March 15, 2014, I heard Amanda Shires for the first time.

The day before, I’d made my way from Nashville to Chattanooga for the weekend. I was in the throes of feeling heartsick; on the outside it appeared to be about one thing, but the truth is, it was about everything. It was every failed relationship, every denial and dismissal, every “thanks, but no thanks.” I was also in the throes of growth, although I didn’t know that yet; all I knew was, I hurt.

And it was through that hurt that I first truly connected to Jason Isbell and his album, Southeastern. Every word, every note rang true through the hollows of my tender, aching heart, and it was like I’d finally found an outlet; it was just borne of someone else’s pain. It’d been a long time since I’d felt that connection to an artist of any kind; pretty much since my high school years when it felt like everything was terrible and hard, and the whole world of music seemed to get it. I hadn’t cried to an album since Jeff Buckley’s Grace.

But through my own past of addiction, through my own lifetimes of heartache, through the loss and through redemption – or at least, the hope of it – I connected to Southeastern. I dug through a lot of Isbell’s older stuff, too, like “Goddamn Lonely Love” and “Save it for Sunday,” among others, but man. Southeastern really nailed it.

And so, with my sad little heart in tow, I drove to Chattanooga for the weekend to hole up in a hotel room and attend the Isbell show at Track 29 the next night. I was already tender when I showed up, and I was (surprisingly, oddly) surrounded by a lot of rowdy cowboys and cowgirls, whoopin’ and hollerin’ and generally raising hell. I was, in all honesty, baffled. How in the hell do you get that response to Jason’s music? Why wasn’t everyone else showing up solemn and affected like me? I didn’t get it.

And so, the feeling of “apart-ness” grew.

Enter Amanda Shires. I’d never heard her music before that night, but I proceeded to stand there and cry through her entire set. With all of her charm, wit, and sweet engaging way, I was just too wide open to the music to do anything else. “If I” threw me over the edge and I gave up on coming back; I was endeared and busted, all at once. When Jason joined her on stage for a few songs, the hope and promise they represented with their own story of “overcoming” was almost more than I could bear, but it was also exactly what I knew I wanted and needed: hope. I couldn’t make it through all of Jason’s set, though, because by the time I heard the song I wanted to hear most, I was pretty well snotty and destroyed and needed a drink before heading back to my room for the night.

Since then, I’ve had Jason and Amanda on repeat, and have gone to see them perform at the Ryman for the last two years in a row. Their music carried me through some tough and interesting times, to be sure. The interesting (and potentially weird) part is that, over the last few years, I’ve probably had 15-20 dreams about the two of them, and in each dream, we are all friends. The situations change, and some are stranger than others, but in every one, we are connected.

I like to think it’s because their music and their story supported me the way a friend would, through a lot of really challenging moments. I carried their music with me and, as a result, I began to heal. (Of course, I was doing a lot of hard work, too, not to mention experiencing the very worst relationship which, I think, carved out room and willingness to now receive the very best).

So it’s almost as though the timing of Jason’s new album, Something More than Free, perfectly coincided with a shift in my own life and perspective. That album is so different from the previous, and yet so similar to the ones that came before – but better. It threw me for a bit of a loop when I first heard it, but I realized I, too, was ready to move on. Back to the person I was before, but better.

I honestly thought I was at the point where maybe I could just enjoy their music without it being so attached to the feels, because you know what? Life is good. I’ve grown and changed, and between the new job and the perfect fit of a love, it seems like the need to connect by way of some music had moved along.

That is, until I heard a new track from Amanda’s upcoming album. She played this one and another at the Ryman last fall, so I knew what I was in for, but it wasn’t til last night when it finally hit me and all sunk in that this, I think, is the record I’ve been waiting for. It’s the logical conclusion; the bow you wrap around the present. It’s the one where SHE lays it all bare, comes to terms and peace, and without even hearing the whole thing, I just kinda know it’s going to be exactly what I need.

So come September 16th, I’ll add it to the CD player in my car, along with another two of hers and three of Jason Isbell’s intertwined to tell the story, and I’ll likely sniffle my way through the album release in October. And it will be then that I can marvel at just how far I’ve come, all the while in the company of that perfect fit of a love and the friends I’ve never met but couldn’t be more grateful for.

 

Unfriending Facebook.

Over the last few years, and this past year in particular, I’ve thought (and posted) a fair amount about my love/hate relationship with Facebook. It seemed to weigh heavier on the “hate” side – increasing on a daily basis – until finally I came to the conclusion that it was time to sever ties completely. And so on January 1st, I did. At the risk of beating a dead horse, since I know there have been myriad articles and think pieces and studies published about the topic as well, I’m finally diving into writing about why I’m so much happier without it.

2015 was, for me, filled with some good, but mostly a whole lot of toxicity in the form of other people; I’ve done a banner job of simply cutting all of that out and moving on and away. Deleting my FB account was like the final step, because there was something toxic about that site, too. It may have been my own personal experience and interaction with it, it may have been my own inability to moderate usage, it may be due to my own sensitivity to overload, it could be a hundred things that have little or nothing to do with the site and everything to do with my reaction to it… but whatever the case, I can’t tell you how much lighter, happier, and clear-minded I feel as a result of no longer being connected in that way.

Before the advent of social media… how did we stay in touch? How did we interact? How did we connect and STAY connected to the people we loved and the ones who mattered? I mean, were we okay with not staying in touch with that one kid you knew in 6th grade? How on earth did we survive without knowing everyone’s opinions on EVERYTHING? The internet provides a forum for everyone’s thoughts, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, etc., and while this can be a good thing – I’ve met some amazing people through the internet and wouldn’t trade them for the world – this can also be a really, really bad thing. Have you read a comments section lately? It’s like the floodgates opened and everyone’s inner ugly got conjured.

What Facebook turned into for me was a place where people were inflicting everyone else with their thoughts, opinions, pithy quotes on photo backdrops, political discourse, and what basically felt like no one listening to or actually TALKING to each other anymore. It was all just noise, and it seemed to feed into peoples’ misguided belief that everyone else wanted to hear it all, or cared, and that their opinions on things – no matter how ill-informed or bigoted or small – were paramount to truth or the art of active listening. “I don’t care what you think or have to say, but here’s what I think. About everything.”

Everything wound up feeling overwhelming. Superficial. Empty.

Full disclosure: I had over 400 friends on there. Most of them were people I’d gone to school with at some point, worked with at some point, met somewhere along the way in my pinball ricochet moves around the country… only a very small handful of them were/are people with whom I am maintaining an active friendship or relationship. Family, too, but mostly it was people I wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with. Not because they aren’t good people (because they were, otherwise I wouldn’t have added them in the first place – or I would have deleted them, which happened pretty regularly once true colors came to light), but because I just don’t have the emotional or mental bandwidth for maintaining that many relationships or interactions. By being connected to a person on Facebook, I felt some kind of responsibility to try and maintain active contact. Otherwise, what’s the point?

A lot of the people with whom I’d reconnected when I first moved back to Nashville had mostly faded into “acquaintance-land” for reasons I won’t get into here (I’m not sure I could do it justice from a one-sided perspective, anyway), but staying connected to them on FB meant I had access to see all the things they were doing, places they were going, and lives they were living that no longer involved me. This is not a condemnation, because it was a mutual (albeit unspoken and passive) parting of ways. It probably would have benefited from calling it out and owning our parts, but at the same time… eh.

Anyway. All of that to say, it simply reinforced the feelings of “apart” and lonely to which I have always fallen prey, especially in conjunction with my ongoing experiencing of anxiety and depression that crops up in wintertime; FB did a banner job of exacerbating all of that and extending the life of the struggle well beyond the winter months. Instead of being happy for people that they’re out there living life – at least, the little bits they were portraying on FB – I found myself falling into feeling left out. So by deleting those reminders and effectively removing myself from the mindset of being “left out” where I’m sitting at home looking at everyone else living life, I’ve made it so that I’M living life, too. In person, out loud, and I’m no longer being presented with reminders of what I’m not doing and who I’m not seeing. Who needs those reminders, anyway? People with whom I am not actively engaged in relationship of some kind are really none of my business… just as I am none of theirs.

Which leads me to the flip-side of it all, where people had access to me, but hadn’t earned (or no longer had) the right to be there. One major event: someone I thought of as a friend decided to delete me from all social media without saying anything to me about it, and then, in a private group in which we were both members, made multiple comments about how she’d removed two toxic, triggering people from her life without saying anything to them and how it just had to be done for her own sanity (YO I’M SITTING RIGHT HERE). While it sucks to realize and own that sometimes you’re a trigger for other people, it sucks worse when you bear witness to them calling it out, knowing full well that some folks in the group know it’s you, and no one is saying anything. Mind you, I didn’t say anything either – I just left the group, because it wasn’t worth it to me to pursue; I’m happy to let everyone have their own experience and give whatever space is deemed necessary.

And then there were some overt, extensive, and extended attempts at manipulation from a few people with whom I no longer engage, one person I hadn’t seen or talked to in over 6 years sending me some unexpected, nasty, off-base words (someone I wasn’t even friends with on there, mind you), and a whole lot of other messy stuff… done. No thanks. People sometimes use the internet – and especially FB – in a lot of terrible ways, and I was tired of being on the receiving end of that, even just a little.

Not to mention the manipulation of Facebook itself. Controlling who and what you see, how much of it you got to interact with, the push for advertising to infiltrate your timeline, and all the ways they were trying to make themselves an invaluable and irreplaceable means of staying connected – or at least convincing you that you NEEDED the site in order to stay in touch, social, and relevant…

NOPE. Nope nope nope, and nope.

At the end of it all, there were maybe two things I knew I’d miss. Pictures of far away family or friends and their kids, and the occasional big life updates from folks I care a great deal about who only seem to share that stuff on FB. Also, occasionally hearing about cool events going on around town. So, three things I’d miss. But those three things are manageable and surmountable. I can poke around online to see what’s going on in town. I can reach out to friends & family and get them to send pictures via text or email, or if they’re local, I can actually, you know, make plans to see them in person. Picking up the phone, firing off a quick text or email, hanging out in person… it all works for me just fine.

I knew there were people who enjoyed the things I’d share and write about on FB, but all of that – or some of it, anyway – gets posted here, too, for anyone willing to follow a separate link. Otherwise, I way prefer to update my people on my life in real time and in person, because that’s how you engage and build connection. By having a conversation. And while I’m overloaded with grad school homework, I can just reach out to let people know I’m thinking of them.

When was the last time you did that in some way other than on FB? When was the last time you sent an email, or hell… wrote a letter, or sent a card or postcard, or picked up the phone to call someone and hear their voice?

By deleting FB, I’m no longer on information/opinion/social media overload. I can hop on Twitter for the occasional 140 characters from smart people I want to learn from, with links to articles I might not otherwise see. I can peruse the Instagram accounts of my friends for a quick peek into their daily lives. I can write here, and if folks want to read it – and even respond to it – they can.

I guess it all comes down to priorities and boundaries: prioritizing relationships with those who are important to me (and, honestly, the people who show that I’m important to them, too, because the effort shouldn’t all be mine), and erecting some real and serious boundaries with the rest.

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who love having contact with/access to hundreds of people, but for me, it was just too much. By deleting Facebook and severing unnecessary ties (as well as eliminating the weird expectations that come with them), I’ve effectively right-sized my social circles and interactions, and have begun making the transition back to real life interactions and in-person connections. It’s really been nothing but a huge relief.

Kicking it old school, y’all.
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Update (later that day):

After writing all of this out, the conclusion I finally reached is that ultimately, Facebook was doing nothing to encourage or enable me to be my best self. Instead, it was enabling me to get lazy with my efforts at friendship and family connection; it was enabling me to let the FOMO get out of control; it was enabling me to beat myself up with all the presumed lost opportunity; it was enabling me to maintain one-sided engagement and espouse my beliefs and thoughts mostly unchallenged. So, it really had little or nothing to do with everyone else; it was all just me, not being the woman and the human I want to be.

With all the other major steps I’ve taken toward cutting out the unhealthy influences in my life, this was just one more step in the right direction.

ThxFriday, THUNDERSNOW Edition.

Friday night family time girl time fun time; early morning auditions and leisurely afternoon lunches; new running kicks and muscle rollers; afternoon naps on a different couch in a warmer house; celebrating a dear one’s 40th at one of my favorite (old) haunts; realizing it’s been more than a year since setting foot in that joint; systematically replacing old associations and memories with new ones; early morning store and coffee runs (er, not those kinds of runs, FYI) and getting right back in pajamas afterward; when your favorite team is beat out by your second favorite team so it’s all gonna be okay (go Panthers!); surviving the chaos surrounded by kindred spirits; boot camp enthusiasm, even with the shin splint onset; knowing well enough to take care and take it easy; taking advantage of restaurant week, and being rewarded handsomely for the slush-braving efforts; the return of regularly-scheduled awkward; and the unexpected work reprieve (which translates into: study break) resulting from the equally unexpected 6-8 inches of snow currently occupying my outside space. Working from home means jammies, cookies, and now… naps. Heart: FULL.

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