A photograph of an orange and white striped cat laying on a pink-red bedspread.

Can I Cease Striving and Start Living?

I’ve stopped asking who I would be without my disability and begun to consider who I would be if I lived in a society that centered the needs of disabled people such as myself and which treated us as something more than the sum total of our “productivity.” I’m disturbed at how fully and uncritically I’d bought into capitalism and work as a measure of worth. Had I known where my effort was leading me, I would have course-corrected long ago.

An aspect of this reassessment has been to realize that many of the aspects of what I’ve consider success in other people are most likely, at least in part, the result of privilege. Yes, each person faces their own struggles and challenges in life, but some of us have a much shorter path to travel to arrive at the “American dream” than do others. Something has always felt off when people have praised me for prevailing against the odds and said they were proud of my accomplishments. I wonder if this is because reaching those accomplishments took from me or prevented me from obtaining core securities such as trust, relationships and safety.

Even writing this feels self-indulgent and disempowering. I don’t want to become stuck in anger, facing off with those with more power saying “fix it,” although that is likely a much more appropriate assignment of blame than shaming myself for being disabled. I want nothing more than to disengage from our capitalist society entirely and either emigrate or become wholly self-sufficient.

There are real limitations to what I can do right now to achieve these goals, so I find myself gravitating towards trying to accept a reality I despise. I would not miss my job or where I currently live for one heartbeat, but, in leaving abruptly, I would be choosing at least a time of severe poverty and lack of access to healthcare. I am at least burdened with a choice; I feel a new level of empathy for those who are trapped in relationships with family, partners and/or friends who cannot leave because our society’s lack of provision and accommodation for their disability prevents them from doing so.

I am sitting with where I’m at and allowing myself time to notice if any answers arrive. In the meantime, one question I want to begin to ask myself more frequently is the following: “What would I like to be doing right now?” rather than “what should I be doing right now?” I am so afraid of acting in a way I classify as lazy; I need to explore the discomfort of that space instead of busying myself in a futile attempt to subvert it. How much are you affected by needing to feel busy and productive? How much would you be or are you impacted by the word “lazy”? How far apart does “what I want” and “what I should do” feel to you?

Tell Me More–A Relationship Red Flag?

I’m very curious to learn what others think about this topic. Despite my extensive formal education in psychology, I cannot recall learning about this behavior as a sign of a personality disorder or other psychopathy, although I believe it has to fit in somewhere. It is, at the minimum, a defensive posture and, if deployed with malice, an astute way of assessing someone’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. To what am I referring? Namely, asking personal questions without offering any emotional intimacy or depth in return.

I’ve encountered this phenomenon in two areas of my life. The first, the more benign but still infuriating of the two, happens when someone posts a question on social media but does not offer their own stance, opinion or response. I’m learning to stop myself from responding to first check whether the person “put themselves out there” and shared where they are coming from before responding. I think I’m beginning to formulate a flexible rule of “you go first” when someone asks for vulnerability. Obviously, in situations such as healthcare, I do not expect my medical doctor or therapist to tell me their problems before I share mine. There are some relationships that are meant to be one-sided. I keep having a nagging feeling in the back of my mind, though, that those posting certain types of questions on social media either have ulterior motives or are not brave enough to start from a place of showing up authentically. “Sure, I’ll share….., but you go first” feels right in some contexts.

The more ominous of the situations occurred in a face to face situation in which I found myself the past few years, in which someone I once counted a friend and now only consider in our professional capacity repeatedly asked me prying questions while sharing minimal vulnerabilities in exchange. He would sometimes be arrogant and unrelenting in his questioning, which led to a traumatic experience and a whole host of other fallouts for me. I realize now that a giant red flag should have been raised internally simply from him asking too many questions without opening up in a corresponding manner. I don’t want to over-simplify here–every question does not need a like exchange. A pattern, though, of asking highly-personal and emotionally-charged questions, coupled with very little openness by the questioner, is a concern that the person is gathering information not being a friend, and is not interested in and/or capable of developing emotional intimacy.

I’ve always been alert to potential scammers. If I answer the phone when I don’t recognize the phone number, I will not even give my name or acknowledge anything until the person tells me who they are. If there is a paranoid to gullible continuum, I am far on the paranoid side. Where I’ve been lax, however, is in treating emotional and personal queries as being asked out of kindness, since so much of my experience growing up was of being ignored. “They’re interested in me” tracks way too quickly into “maybe they care about me” when in fact there can be all sorts of motives as to why someone wants to know more about another person. In this case, there is a relatively clear-cut way to know whether to lower my guard–am I being entrusted with secrets or only asked to unearth my own. I felt violated in the former friendship I described above when I realized the person had succeeded (for a time) in hiding so much of what they really believed and who they really were from me. I am someone who typically only needs to experience something like that once to get it. At the same time, I don’t want to over-react in future situations and get lost in inventorying how many vulnerabilities have been traded. I think I’ve shared a good deal of my own perspective here, so I hope my readers will share theirs!

Relaxing Rhythms (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I am grateful that I have nothing to do and nowhere to be. Days like this can sometimes depress me, but today I’m feeling cozy and calm as I relax. The shift in everyday life in the pandemic has strongly impressed on me how much internal variation I have in mood, desire for socialization, body rhythms and pace. I am most stressed when there is a mismatch between what my body and mind need and what life requires of me. Everything is lining up for a day of lounging around and I am here for it. What’s your setting today? How well are your internal and external worlds lining up?

Processing Over Plodding

I’m in a foul mood today after a sleepless night battling abdominal discomfort alongside crashes of lightening from periodic thunderstorms. I awoke to find water damage in my bathroom, the source of which I have not yet pinpointed, and found myself saying “no” to an obligation I later realized I could have met. I’m spiraling into feelings of unworthiness, hopelessness and guilt.

And, yet, I’m slowing down in this space instead of numbing myself through mindless entertainment or food. I’m making room for the small parts of self that are tired, frightened and utterly overwhelmed by what feels like crisis after crisis. I’m reminding myself of the positive steps I’ve taken and what I have accomplished today.

And, when I make space for myself, I find my fears are more vast and deeper than I first realized. My guilt at declining an invitation swirls until I am homeless because I cannot provide for myself–one wrong step and I lose everything. My sense of worthlessness holds my inability to tame my temper when I feel unwell–I become a monster when my body hurts. My hopelessness devolves into–there is nothing I can do; everything is always a mess and goes poorly for me. To sum it up, I’m a monstrous, incompetent fool who screws everything up.

I am none of those things and I do not know where to find the parts of myself that feel that I am that. What stood out to me immediately upon writing the last paragraph’s final sentence is the raging hatred I have towards anyone who emulates those qualities even slightly. I want them gone from my life, never to return. I hate incompetence, cruelty and needless failure. Yet, what grace do I offer myself when I start to embody an iota of any of those attributes? What grace do I offer others who might do the same?

This welcoming of the unpleasantness, this turning towards it rather than away from it, allows me to feel larger and more spacious than I did before. I am grumpy because I am sleep-deprived. I needed to rest and could not show up for my obligation in a way that would allow me to contribute in a positive manner. I have handled the situations the day has given me as best I could, and, in allowing myself time to process instead of plodding along, I will handle a similar day even more successfully. When is the last time you checked in with how you were feeling on an off day? What is your inner dialogue and commentary like? What peace do you make with the parts of self that are hard to welcome?

Befriending the Fearful Parts

Today is barrels of fun as I’m dealing with the potential for severe weather as well as the ongoing pandemic. Right after learning about the upcoming weather events, someone posted “tips” for dealing with anxiety on a social media site I visited. What they wrote immediately irritated me as their message was basically “think positive” and “distract yourself.” That approach may work for some people, but, to me, it dishonors the role that parts of myself–the ones with strong emotions–play.

Anxiety is often relegated to the role of a deceptive betrayer, a cowardly enemy or a feminized hysteric in modern culture and modern psychotherapy. I find it unfunny but ironic that many of the exposure and response prevention tasks that people with contamination OCD have had to endure, such as touching a doorknob and not washing one’s hands, fly directly in the face of declarations from the W.H.O. and the C.D.C. in terms of dealing with the pandemic. We have been told to fight our fears, to quell the whispers of obsessive thoughts and to “calm the f*ck” down” when, in reality, the world presents dangers. I find myself deeply questioning the years of training I received in graduate school, wondering how much the “treatment” of anxiety is really a tutelage in social norming in order to not disturb the sheltered peace of the privileged optimists among us.

What relationship can we have, then, with our anxiety that does not trade fighting for subservience and terror? I view it as one of acknowledgment, honorance and the formation of an alliance. If this framing doesn’t work for you, ignore it! I first encountered in during Buddhist practice and immediately knew it was for me, but it may not be the story you need to tell.

To me, getting to know the scared parts of myself is first a practice in realizing there have been and continue to be things that are frightening in the world. I’m not “stupid” or “over-reacting” when I worry. I concentrate on the process of how I worry and thank the parts of self that bring worries to my mind for their care for me. There is a way to worry well or at least to negotiate with worry. I take action based on my fears, action aimed at reducing the likelihood that they will come true as well as methods of building resources if they do. Sometimes, my fears fuel panic-buying, but I’ve grown to trust myself more deeply than I did in the past, so this happens here and there, not with consistency. In short, I prepare for danger, and, in doing so, often fear it less.

I also check in with myself and with my fear to watch the extent to which it is based on concrete reality and the extent to which it is a physical reaction to stress. I find that I actually have the most difficulty with anxiety after a stressor has occurred, when I’ve taken all the practical steps possible and simply am in a state of waiting for resolution. For me, behaviors such as not sleeping or eating poorly can create their own spin-offs of fear that have to be managed by self-care.

Perhaps because I’ve been invalidated for my fears on a non-stop basis, told not to worry, that my worries are unreasonable or that they don’t deserve attention, I’m not good at remembering that, even if the worst happens, I’m not alone. There may or may not be people willing to help or sufficient resources to recover, but, even if safeguards fail me, we are interconnected and each of our lives, in my worldview, are more than a beginning and an end. What would it mean to tell the next person you hear panicking that you will be there for them in whatever way you can if their worries come to fruition, rather than telling them not worry? To have that said to you? I try to do this for my anxious parts, to let them know they aren’t going to be abandoned to fear, that the rest of me will consolidate and bring the resources I have to bear to manage the situation.

Anxiety, even at the “pathological” level I possess of it, isn’t my enemy. It does not deceive me. It isn’t hysterical. It is a biological response that has been preserved in pretty much all animals by the process of evolution to warn us of danger. Humans have the gift of foresight, of anticipating threats before they occur. We can rage against this capacity, deny its presence, numb it or attempt to silence it through invented worlds of positivity, or we can come to know the inner monsters we hold and realize they are frightened children who need love. We can come to know it as a part of us, steady in its reliable angst, and, like all parts, only made whole when it is welcomed into the family of our being.

One More Bite (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Today I’m grateful for having the time and available resources to mindfully eat an abundance of fresh, healthy foods. Yesterday, I received a shipment of fresh vegetables from a farmer a few states away, and combined several of them with a chicken and pasta dish I made that included a kumquat sauce. I’d ordered avocados straight from California, and, although they are still ripening, the farmer there packed them with an overflowing amount of kumquats still on the branch! It was a delightful treat and, mixed with the carrots, microgreens and spinach of yesterday’s haul, my lunch today was one of the most satisfying I’ve had all year.

My relationship with food has been the source of both pleasure and pain. I have struggled with anorexia as well as food addictions, so eating a moderate amount of healthy foods is something to which I end up aspiring rather than achieving more days than not. Most likely because of these mental health conditions, few things in life bring me the excitement and joy that food does. I stare at dishes being brought to other diners at a restaurant the way other people stare at people they find attractive. I recall meeting someone several years ago who told me he ate because he needed to eat, not because it made him happy, and I’ve never had such a “who are you?” moment as that one.

All of this to say, living through a lockdown where traversing a grocery store feels akin to potentially being taken out by a sniper in the form of a virus-carrier, my issues with food have only gotten worse. I’m starting to eat beyond the point of hunger and have spent far too much money trying to ensure I don’t have to go without in any capacity during this time. One practice that I am hoping will cut through the anxiety-fueled excess is mindfulness. Taking time to enjoy each bite as well as to honor its origins will hopefully help me to focus more fully on gratitude, and, in slowing down, I will be better able to hear what my body is communicating to me in terms of what it needs. What’s your relationship like with food? How is it being affected by the pandemic?

Attuning to Nature Sounds as a Slow Living Practice

If you have access to a sense of hearing, what sounds come to mind when you think of busyness? What do words like hectic, stressful and crowded bring to mind? I hear cars engines running, a cacophony of harried voices, the smell (wrong sense, I know) of pollution and footsteps stomping down the sidewalk or hallway in a clipped pace.

What do phrases like slowing down, living the simple life, relaxing and spacious stir up? My mind conjures notes of grass blowing in the wind, birds chirping, a stream softly flowing and insects at play on a summer night. I continue to watch live streams of nature scenes from around the world, and, more than the peaceful visuals, I’ve become accustomed to the instant feeling of calm that permeates my body as soon as I hear the accompanying sounds. In particular, the night-time noises from various animal parks in African countries and the rush of waves coming in on Hawaii’s beaches are the most soothing I’ve found.

It is a privilege to be able to enjoy slow living. What we often conceptualize as a simple lifestyle depends on pre-existing wealth or access to funds. I detest tourism to poor areas of the world that revels in the condition of life there as the “cure” to busyness, when, in fact, abject poverty brings its own forms of (often physical) suffering. To be able to be still and to be able to relax into the sounds of that stillness are gifts for which I hope I can be grateful and moments I desire not to squander.

There is nothing that needs to be done or accomplished with the quietness of the natural world. It is ephemeral, broken most often where I live by the machines humans have made. It cannot be stored in quantities and does not hold over from one day to the next. All we can do with it is attend it, open to it, and be in it as fully as the presence it offers us. The pandemic is stripping from me any vestiges of a belief in raw capitalism as a way of life; today I find myself pondering how many billions of dollars humans have spent on products designed to mimic, at maximum expense and minimum function, the enormous wealth that can be found in acts as simple as pacing my breath to the contour of the ocean’s rhythm?

Mindfully Attending to Eating Patterns (Today’s Daily Presence)

I ordered fresh fruit for delivery this week, as well as a box of “healthy” pre-packaged foods. It has been a while since I ate anything that wasn’t made from scratch and I found my body’s response to be quite surprising. Everything tasted either over-salted or excessively sweet. All of the chips and such seemed overly artificially-flavored, even though it was from natural ingredients.

I wish I could give all the credit for the shift I’ve undergone in my tastes to adhering to my “home-made foods” diet so thoroughly, but the other factor that’s made a decided difference is being on low-dose T. Since starting T, I rarely crave carbs, salt or sugar. I cannot believe how boring a bag of pretzels tastes now; in the past, I could consume a large portion easily in one sitting. I’m primarily interested in eating meat and fruit now, but I would say overall my food drive has lessened.

I am only today starting to settle down from my efforts to get my job transitioned to online work (there might unfortunately be additional developments on this front), so I haven’t been cooking more than the bare minimum to keep myself fed. I am anticipating some exciting meal prep once my homegrown mushrooms and micro-greens and so forth are finished growing. What’s the last homemade meal you created? Have you ever experienced a significant shift in the types of foods you enjoy?

Skill-Building for Self-Sufficiency (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

To what extent do you rely on global supply chains to provide for your daily needs? A question most of us would have probably viewed as superfluous a few months ago, and which now feels like one to which I actually need answers. I’ve started having visions of myself sneaking into corn fields to borrow an ear if all the grocery stores run out of food (did I mentioned I have some problems with “what if” questions?). To attempt to balance between digging a bunker and assuming everything will be business as normal, I’ve decided to try some indoor gardening.

I do not like bugs or weeds, so tending a backyard garden is 100% in the category of “chore” for me. I have had coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and deer in my backyard, so chances of an easy path to success, were I to try gardening outside, feel rather slim. I am instead going to be growing indoor microgreens and herbs. I have also considered mushrooms!

I sometimes start new habits, such as writing this blog, and am highly consistent in tending to them. Other times, I begin a project and give up almost immediately. I feel in this case that there is a non-zero chance I will actually need the food I grow for sustenance, so I’m hoping that will motivate me to follow through and put in the effort needed to produce a result. Hopefully there are some gratitude posts forthcoming where I get to harvest what I grow. Do you have any skills you are building right now? Do you value self-sufficiency? If so, in what ways are you able to be self-sufficient?

Tips for Coping with Social Distancing Measures

There is evidence of community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 near where I live, and daily life is rapidly changing. Events have been cancelled, my job may be moving to e-learning and social distancing is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. I wanted to share a few ideas I have about how to cope.

Action and acceptance

I wrote about this topic yesterday. In terms of steps to take, what I want to share is to encourage you to take steps to deal with the situation at hand that are measured, within your means and accessible to you. I’ve been stocking up on basics since January, so I’m now in the stage where my anxiety is fueling me to want to purchase, for example, a 3K generator. It can be really difficult to discern between what is rational and what is panic-based; if at all possible, for larger purchases, I try to wait 24 hours before making a final decision.

In terms of acceptance, there may come a point for each of us where we reach the end of our capacity to prepare or to respond to the crisis. I won’t provoke your anxiety by laying out examples as, if you are as skilled at freaking out as I am, your mind has no trouble delivering these to you. This is the place where I think practices of spirituality and faith in humanity have to come to bear. My hope is that something greater than myself will guide me and someone kind will meet me if I arrive at the end of my means. The groundwork for this response, for me, has been years of inner work and (much less successfully) attempts to build a social support network. Each of us might have more at our disposal than our scared inner children let on.

Self-Compassion

Give yourself permission to be only as active as you need to be to maintain your health and responsibilities. I’m seeing a lot of posts about learning a new hobby, finishing the book you were writing or completing a home repair project if you are asked to stay home. Although these suggestions are well-meaning and perfect for people who need to stay busy, they can be overwhelming to those of us with workaholic tendencies who may feel that we are not being as productive as we should be.

I do encourage you to develop a daily schedule with as much time as you are able to devote to self-care and reflection. It is healthy, in my opinion, to pause from time to time to check in with yourself and your loved ones and to see how you are coping. Mindfulness and other practices can help get us out of the past or the future into the present moment.

To the extent that you are able to do so, be present with your emotions. It is okay to feel angry, scared or sadness. I’m struggling with an angry “I told you so” after my concerns as to what was coming were dismissed and mocked by several people IRL. Rather than stuff down what feels like smugness, I’m sitting with it and asking myself how I might respond differently in the future when someone ignores my advice. Our feelings are excellent, in most situations, at helping us identify our underlying needs.

Community Connections

As I shared above, social support is key to making it to the other side of the pandemic in a way that tends to our mental health needs. This is the time to get creative and to find ways to connect with loved ones, even if it has to be through virtual settings. A monthly meeting I enjoy attending has been cancelled, so we are considering hosting it virtually if the quarantine continues next month.

Take a mental headcount of the people in your neighborhood or local community with whom you might partner to meet basic needs. I’m learning about so many agencies that exist on a city and county level that I did not know were there to support the community. If it suits you, determine whether there are ways to support healthcare workers who might be highly affected by this crisis.

What are you doing to cope with social distancing if it has been implemented in your area? If it hasn’t been yet, what can you do to prepare?