A lake in winter with the sun gleaming off of it and leafless trees lining it in the distance.

Visiting a Body of Water (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure was very cold! The weather has taken a sharp turn into winter where I live, so my photo shoot was brief and I was left with numb fingers after only a few minutes. It was worth it, though, to visit a local lake that never fails to astonish me with its beauty.

I know people who love to sit in front of a fireplace or bonfire and feel that their cares melt away in the flames. Observing a body of water, especially a river or lake, has the same effect on me. I especially appreciate that, although the surface itself is so alive and ever-changing, even more is happening below, out of sight. The combination of unknowable depths, fluidity and quiet power that water holds makes it the element to which I most strongly connect. What is your element of choice? What effect, if any, does being near water have on you? What does it represent to you?

Habits of the Heart (Today's Daily Presence)

Today’s Daily Presence card focuses on the circulatory system. In bringing mindful awareness to this part of my body, I chose to review habits in which I engage that can affect the health of one’s cardiovascular health. My goal in doing so is to examine more fully the context in which my system is operating and to consider where my energy will best be spent in promoting heart health. Habits are only one piece of the puzzle in regards to how well our circulatory systems function. Perfect habits do not guarantee perfect functioning, but I want to do what I can to mitigate other risk factors.

Exercise

I exercise several days a week by combining strength training, cardio and stretching. I feel that I’ve gotten quite a bit slower/less intense in my workouts in the last year or two, in part due to a shoulder injury and in part due to changing my medications so that my heart races more when I am working out vigorously. Once I get to about 130-140 bpm, I feel that I am not getting enough oxygen and have a hard time maintaining my pace.

Prior to the workout videos I’ve been using for years, I never been able to maintain any set exercise schedule, so I am hesitant to try to make alterations to what I’m doing for fear I will end up not working out at all. I have fallen into the practice of working out right after I eat lunch and then writing my blog post. I wonder if writing before working out would give me more time to digest and would therefor lead me to be able to push myself farther.

Diet

I have an addiction to junk food (I mean addiction here just as seriously as someone might reference an addiction to an illegal substance) and lose control over my eating as soon as I have anything deep-fried or sugary. I have to abstain totally and eat only home-cooked foods to stay on track. I’ve failed at this for several months and have gained 10 lbs, so I am now at least 20 lbs overweight. I feel that this is affecting my ability to exercise. I get my bloodwork checked each summer, so I have some time to hopefully get things on track again. My glucose does not run too high, but my triglycerides and cholesterol are a little over the recommended maximum, which can definitely affect my cardiovascular health.

A particular aspect of my diet I’ve become more aware of in recent years related to my circulatory system is the ratio of water to salt that I’m ingesting. I have orthostatic hypotension when I get dehydrated, which means my pulse rates shoots up from the 50’s to the 120’s when I get out of bed in the morning and I sometimes pass out if I stand up too quickly. I’ve found that I have to constantly drink water as well as have a little salt if I had any IBS flares, as I get imbalanced more easily than I thought I would. I also have to be careful not to overdo it on salty foods as I find my blood pressure rising when I do so.

Stress management

My favorite story (regardless of whether it is true) about Type A people is that heart doctors first investigated the connection between heart health and personality after noticing all the seats in their clinic had the edges worn off because patients were so impatient to get to their appointments. I am extremely Type A by nature and it takes deliberate, conscious effort to override the seat-wearing setting at which my body naturally runs.

All the work I’ve done on my blog the last few months is a testament to my attempts at managing my stress. Simply spending time writing posts like today’s slow me down and allow me to think, feel or behave in ways that reduce my anxiety and reframe my experiences. I still react with intense emotions to stressors, but thoughts such as “this is only one part of my life” or “I will handle this and it will end” are more likely to pass through my mind than ever before.

I will say that I was surprised to learn that everyday stress does not have the same direct link to heart health as the rest of the habits I’ve listed on this post. This makes me feel so much better because I’ve always interpreted my problems with emotion regulation to be horrific for my physical health, but conceptualizing reducing them as helpful but not life-or-death (in this regard) makes me feel calmer.

substance use

I am proudest of myself in this arena as I have not drank any alcohol for over a year. I never had a full-blown alcohol addiction, but I’ve had times in my life when I got drunk every weekend. I gained a lot of weight when this went on and became pre-diabetic, which motivated me to make a change. I am alright at watching my caffeine levels; I definitely have pulse rate issues if I over-indulge.

Conclusion

In sum, my diet stands out as the place where I have the most room for improvement. I at least eat a varied diet, some vegetables and fewer carbs overall than I have in the past, but I am consuming significantly more calories than my body needs and am, at times, eating food that is lacking in nutritional value. For me personally, my weight tracks very closely with my bloodwork and my overall health, so I would like to lose some weight and improve my physical stamina for exercise. I have gained and lost more than an entire person’s body weight at this point in my life, so perhaps I need to look at it as entering a period of healthier behaviors rather than conquering my issues once and for all. What habits do you consider crucial to your heart health? How do you make sense of your behaviors in light of their effect on your cardiovascular health? What changes, if any, would you most like to make?

The Right Distance (In the Cards)

Today’s draw from my In an Open Hand deck invited reflection on taking a risk and considering next steps. In coming to a place of being much more deliberate in how I spend time with others, I realize that the social situations that I would most like to experience would be those that somehow combine present-moment awareness and self-contemplation alongside sturdy boundaries that lower the chances of me feeling unsafe in regards to PTSD triggers. I would say that I have one recurring group in which I participate in which I mostly experience this, but I would like more.

I spent several minutes in contemplation while writing this and what came to me is how hard I have to work to manage my interactions with others. My threat-detection system is so tightly-calibrated that it is set off by the slightest boundary incursion. Whenever it isn’t being activated, my “oh shit I said the wrong thing now they won’t be my friend anymore” self-criticism script starts running.

The entire experience feels like being boxed in on a field with lines set to buzz if crossed on all sides (into the next person’s space), and the other people and I are constantly tripping them, startling me and sending all my mental efforts towards resetting the playing field whilst everyone else seems oblivious to what is afoot.

Where I feel safest is when everyone is (figuratively) sitting in their own spot, calmly engaging from a safe distance that does not conjure feelings of abandonment or attack. Something in being fully present allows for this, but I have no idea how to create or locate this type of encounter in a setting that includes casual conversation. It likely isn’t a realistic desire either–people move about relationally and “healthy” people are able to negotiate their boundaries.

I got so angry internally at a coworker recently when I tried to explain to him why a leadership position wouldn’t work for me. He kept insisting I would be good at it, as if too much self-doubt was the reason for my resistance. My PTSD is the whole way debilitating; I feel like no one except my therapist has any g-d clue that I even have it at all no matter what I say or do.

Basically, in casual settings, I have to sacrifice any internal semblance of calmness and safety in order to make it through. I find myself fantasizing about having a group of friends where I could literally scream “trigger” whenever they set off the buzzer, and they would act in an apologetic and reassuring way and “back off” in the moment. I physically isolate myself because of how suffocated I feel in most social encounters. People aren’t pawns and I can’t move them to the distance I need, so I cast them out entirely when there are too many hits to my system.

I trigger others’ abandonment fears much more than their “you’re too close” issues because of the way I’m calibrated.* I respect their boundaries and tend to tip-toe up to any possible touch-points and (sometimes) apologize if I feel I’ve overstepped. I don’t feel badly for leaving people because I would much rather be left than invaded.

This is the inner world I know I have. I explain it to friends. I warn them about how I work. I do everything I can to educate them as to my triggers. And it is nearly always for naught as they lack either capacity or care to work with my system as it stands.

I think shifting my focus off of trying to resolve these dilemmas onto finding places where there is a natural distance held within the setting (to whatever extent these spots exist) and onto what I can offer myself is the only rational response. I cannot keep resetting the field and believing that this play will be the one that leads to perfect balance and no lines crossed. I get that exposure helps reduce the intensity of triggers for most people, but my triggers aren’t primarily fear-based so, in my case, it only makes it worse. I owe no one a g-d explanation for why my steps look side-ways or off-track when I’m simply trying to find a quiet place to sit and contemplate in peace. I think the next time I’m pressed, “I’ve explained my mental health issues to you as much as I’m willing to” is going to be my go-to. How do you hold boundaries with others? Is it harder for you when others get too close or too far? How do you find your peace?

*If you are finding yourself relating to this on one side or the other but aren’t sure what to call it, I would describe it as representing attachment styles. Complex PTSD can be related to attachment trauma. I would describe myself as having moved from a disorganized/unresolved attachment style towards an insecure-avoidant/dismissive one. I tend to attract insecure-ambivalent/preoccupied people as friends which only compounds my problems.

Shopping for Hand-made Crafts (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I traveled far outside of my comfort zone today, to a craft show in a rural area at which my friend was selling her creations. It was held in a conservative Christian church, a space I have a hard time entering after my experiences in like places growing up. Now that I know myself as a trans and nonbinary person, many spots in which a mix of anger and fear used to inexplicably rise up in me are, in a way, simpler to navigate because I know why I feel the way I do. My internal level of stress tends to be higher as well, because I am more visible than I would have been in the past.

I was delighted to find that the show was bigger than I expected for such a sleepy town, and that it presented a sensory kaleidoscope in terms of colors, textures and shapes. I purchased a beautiful hand-made sign from my friend to take to a gift exchange, and found a piece of art for myself that’s very meaningful. It is made from river rocks and depicts a person and a dog walking, with writing at the bottom noting that there is a purpose in every path. I felt that Spirit was affirming the shift in my inner sense of meaning away from “healing must come through relationships” to “healing is here in this moment.”

I was misgendered only once while purchasing some cards, and the person said “she..?…” in a quizzical-enough way that I felt validated more than harmed by it. There was a merchant selling nothing but large crosses which led to fear-rage rising up momentarily, but I felt my freedom of movement come right back and moved on (my town’s Pride this past summer had a person with a life-sized cross screaming about how we were going to hell so let’s just say that symbol isn’t working for me right now). There were also homemade cookies for sale, a purchase I undoubtedly would have made and regretted in past times as a way to cope with my discomfort. In sum, I entered a space that held potential trigger after trigger, but I was present with myself through it and now have a lovely gift to give as well as a perfect, hand-made representation of my inner work. A good day! What was the last experience you had with local and hand-made merchants? How does the space in which events are held affect you?

The Point of Inflection (Today's Daily Remembrance)

For today’s card, I focused on what occurs at the intersection of inhalation and exhalation of a breath. It seems to me there is a world of possibility between the moment we soak in our surroundings through our senses, and the moment we create and express the perceptions those senses have left on us. A holy pause, filled with both eagerness and sorrow, is ours.

I’ve had moments in my life where I wanted to pause time, where the laughter, music and camaraderie was so pleasant I wanted to cling to it forever. Many more breathes have been halting and shallow, wishing I could speed things up so that I would never have to experience the darkness, the pain and the disconnection I felt then and there. Every breath moves on, though, to the next, until there is no next. We only have the rhythm of our lungs and our heart to sustain us.

As I’ve learned to slow and more fully appreciate the sensory experiences the world has to offer, it has opened new spaces inside me for imagination, creativity and deeper observation. I tended to get lost in my ruminations–the same three rumbles of thunder clashing again and again, perceiving every sensation as a threat–or to rush so quickly from one breath to another that I scarce know how my lungs filled. It is only through deliberate practice that I come into the fullness of my capacity to breath; it’s not my nature but it might be our collective nature into which I’ve tapped. I’ve found in this inner universe much more grace and compassion than I anticipated, as well as a sense that time isn’t the essence of our lives but merely a companion to our journey. What is your relationship with the in-breath and the out-breath? What meets you in the inflection point in between each?

To Become (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw involves focusing on hopes and dreams, from a place of tender care for their fragility. As I sat with this invitation, what came to mind is a desire to create opportunities for self-reflection and self-compassion that encompass present-moment awareness. Ideally I would like these spaces to extend beyond myself, but I think experiencing them inwardly first is an initial step.

I’ve concluded in recent weeks that relationship drama pulls me away from the central source of my joy, which is my connection to the universe through my inner world. In trying to work from the outside in, I end up in situations that are unsafe for my parts, and which then force some of who I am into hiding or which cause me to feel isolated from other people. My healing has to flow from my Source, from the inner well of Spirit that I believe is available to everyone. Other people cannot reassemble me; I am my own unity.

To form and extend this indwelling of connection and clarity, I believe compassion for self as well as energy directed inward is necessary. My inner being needs its own workspace for creativity and spirituality in order to flourish, as well as a cozy den in which relaxation and downtime can occur. How much of my life have I wasted in social situations that were unfulfilling, trying to meet the needs of my parts without listening to them? How unloving and unconscious have I been in relating to others by coming from a place of scarcity and drudgery?

I exaggerate here, but right now writing this, I feel like if it takes me 99 years to come to myself whole, and I then spend my final year truly present with another, might that not show more love than expecting each other to heal our un-examined and unmet wounds without any inner work? I in no way want to make it sound like my path is everyone’s path; many people become their best selves through their relationships with others. I am harmed by attempting healing through relationship more than I am helped, and the window into myself I’ve opened has shown me another path forward. To what extent is your deepest meaning and fulfillment found in relationship with others? With your inner world? In other passions?

Winter Skincare (Today's Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I’m focusing on caring for my skin. Going on T often corresponds to more breakouts, so I changed my routine last summer and have found my skin is also responding (so far!) better to the cool temperatures than it has in the past as a result. Moisturizing is my main skin self-care secret!

Facial care routine

I start each day washing my face with a benzoyl peroxide face cleaner. Then, as soon in sequence as I can, I blot using a toner. I finish with a light moisturizer with SPF protection. I repeat this process after a hard workout.

In the evenings (when I shower), I use a moisturizing soap in the shower. I repeat the benzoyl peroxide cleaner, and then alternate between a charcoal face wash and one with hyaluronic acid. Finally, every other day, I include Differin gel as the final part of my facial care. All the products I use are available over the counter at places like Target, and cost ten dollars or less individually. The fact that they are budget-friendly is important to me because, although I care about my skin, it isn’t something into which I’m willing to pour tons of money.

I don’t wear any makeup now, so any blemishes and skin imperfections are a lot more noticeable than they used to be. I can feel self-conscious if a pimple makes its home on my face, but I am grateful my daily process at least keeps my face from being extremely oily. In addition, although I’ve written this before, I feel the need to restate that I cannot believe how much more able to “breathe” my skin is now that it isn’t covered in what seems close to paint in retrospect.

Body Skincare routine

The routine for the rest of my body is much simpler. As I write this, I find myself wondering why I give my face so much more attention! I use the same moisturizing soap to wash my body, and a body butter cream on my hands, feet and any other dry spots every night. I also use a standard moisturizing lotion throughout the day, primary on my hands.

I’ve dealt with both eczema and psoriasis before, and winter has been a prime time for flares. I still have problem spots on my knees and the backs of my hands at times, but staying ahead of any drying has helped to reduce my issues. What does your skincare routine look like? Does it feel like it soothes or irritates your skin? What’s your secret ingredient to feeling your best in terms of your skin?

Night Sky Musings (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I’ve fallen in love with the sky. Late fall and winter have often been bleak seasons for me, given that all the vegetation is dying off. Now that I’ve started to notice the clouds, sunlight and array of colors present above, I no longer feel that this time of year is austere and lifeless. My only frustration has been my inability to convey in artwork the beauty I’m witnessing in nature.

The card I drew today focused on representing the dark, so I chose to attempt to illustrate the night sky using my set of colored pencils. This was even less successful than some of the day scenes on which I’ve been working. The black, magenta and blues I used seemed too bland and, strangely, lacking in light compared to what the night holds.

I need to spend a lot more time in contemplation of the sky as well as to take a lot of photographs of what I’m trying to capture in order to more fully capture its magnificence. The moon must have a place too! Have you tried to illustrate or create an artistic image of the night sky? What have you found helpful in doing so?

A Good Laugh (In the Cards)

With the start of meteorological winter, I’ve moved to the Resting and Renewal cards in my In an Open Hand deck. This suit focuses on finding softness, coziness and warmth during the chill of winter. The card I selected centered on experiences that bring laughter and joy.

Watching silly animal videos as well as humans failing at their intended actions tends to make me laugh, sometimes to the point of tears. I get frustrated that more cerebral humor only make me chuckle, but I suppose I don’t have a lot of control over what I find most humorous. A sub-genre of silly animal videos is “animals in sports stadiums” which I recently discovered; the combination of humans slipping and sliding as they attempt to wrangle the creatures who show their superior wiliness and physicality cracks me up.

I don’t consciously turn to humor as a coping mechanism or think about finding a good laugh as a way to improve a day that isn’t going well. I hope next time I’m feeling down, I will think to watch something silly. What makes you laugh the hardest? What effect does laughter have on your overall mood?

A Cozy Spot (Today's Daily Remembrance)

My Daily Remembrance cards contain several prompts related to “what is at the intersection of…” which I’ve been skipping over as the questions feel too weighty and frankly confusing (even though I was the one who created them!). Today’s draw, however, was about the confluence of excitement and boredom, which I feel up for tackling. The answer, as my first pass, would be comfort and a safe coziness.

Excitement carries the potential for challenge and risk, which I tend to shy away from as much as possible. I rely on social interaction as my primary source of excitement, but it tends to quickly escalate into feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. I have, however, had a few times in recent memory where things felt too static and that there was too little excitement.

Boredom comes for me also in many social settings; once I pass a certain point of too much activity happening around me, my brain goes into a lower gear and I feel immensely underwhelmed and disinterested in connection. Music pumping, lots of physical movement in a crowded space or many people all talking at once leads me to check out.

Even though I need little sensory information coming at me in order to feel satiated, I require a constant stream of mental engagement. I want to be learning something new and challenging my perception of the world as deeply as I can every day. My capacity to take in this type of stimulation–the intellectual/perception kind–is much higher than my external-stimuli processing one.

My dream, then, I suppose, would be a place where I could engage in both internal and external conversations, through writing, art and verbal communication, in a laid-back, soothing environment. Coffee-shops, especially large ones with lots of furniture choices, fit me perfectly and are where I’ve had some of my best fits in terms of high mental stimulation/low sensory input environments. Where I live now is unfortunately rather bereft of such places, and instead most of the art and well-being focused events are centered around alcohol (painting + wine, yoga + beer, etc.).

I have some down-time coming up in the next few weeks for the holidays, and I need to make visiting coffee-shops a priority. The coziness, the blending of not too much excitement with not too boring, should be nice. I also find a similar environment in art shops and museums. What places in your life do you find fit your need for stimulation best? Are you an adrenaline-seeker or low-key? Do you require more intellectual or sensory input to feel filled up?