"Don't Worry, Everything Will Be Okay": An Insidious Form of Denial

I wrote yesterday about feeling that my energy was misdirected by trying to warn people who are complacent about the coming (or already arrived, depending where you live) pandemic. It got me thinking more broadly of how people respond to my fears and ways that I have come to discern between people who listen deeply and honestly and those who deflect. I’ve described both stances below (there are of course way-stops between these approaches and times we might use one or the other depending on our energy level) as well as ideas for self-care if you are an anxious person.

“It’ll be fine”

I have a standard retort for people who tell me my worries are unfounded: how do you know? Unless they are a trained expert in the area, at which time I will defer to their judgment, someone telling me I’m “worrying about nothing” gives me far more insight into the nature of their character than it does into the rationality of my anxiety. I definitely believe that some people operate from a default of denial–nothing is real unless it is affecting them personally. They obfuscate and deflect legitimate concerns because these anxieties hint at the fact that the world can be an unjust, unfair and brutal place. If it isn’t happening to them, it can’t be happening.

Yes, those of us with heightened anxiety can easily overestimate the potential likelihood of a danger occurring, but we can also spot trouble before it arrives. I contingency-plan with the best of them and, because of my efforts, I steer clear of certain issues into which others move without pausing. Holding back “I told you so” strains my throat when I notice my unheeded warnings coming true again and again. Attempting to protect one’s self by denying reality has as many consequences, if not more, than wasted worry.

“I have my doubts, but we’ll face it together”

Responding to someone who lapses into extreme anxiety does not mean engaging in panic yourself or denying your read on the situation. Rather, it is perfectly fine to share fact-based evidence that might help to mitigate some of their concerns, especially if you ask permission first. This is where I have would-be comforters lapped; I can quickly absorb a tremendous amount of factual information, so I am ready to go with the latest scientific statistics and projections while they share three-week old data they heard on a podcast. On the other end of the spectrum, anxieties that have little basis in reality might be easier to counter with science, but the people who struggle with them might also be less receptive to scientific reasoning.

To me, the best way to support someone who you might view as “fear-mongering” or overly worried is to establish what your objective take on the situation is, and to then focus most of your energy on the trust you have in both the other person as well as in your relationship. When I share my pandemic prep with people IRL, I wish at least one person would say something along the lines of “well, I know who to ask if I decide to prepare a list of items.” The most I’ve gotten so far was someone declaring they would come to my place if the shit hit the fan, which only angered me at their callousness. If you can connect to the person and let them know that you appreciate their forward-thinking nature, even if you believe it to be too trigger-happy, as well as let them know you will be there to help them cope if or when the situation fully develops, it may help them come down from flight or fight into a more productive, problem-solving state. Scared people make rash decisions; prep for an event such as a pandemic requires a rational response, not a panic-stricken hoarding of toilet paper.

Mental Self-Care for the anxious

If you are reading this as a highly anxious person yourself, here are some practical steps you can take if you are facing a situation that seems to concern only you and in response to which you are being told you are over-reacting.

1. If possible, consult the experts. Nothing is worse in my mind in regards to anxiety than getting riled up by people who have an agenda to push or those who base their ideas on fantasy. Find the scientifically-accurate experts who do not stand to benefit in a substantial way from peoples’ responses, and listen to them. In regards to the pandemic specifically, this is the person to whom I’m listening (as well as reading research as it is published).

2. Share your concerns judiciously. Even if your anxieties are pushing at you, decide whether the person to whom you want to speak is likely, based on past experiences, to listen carefully or to simply dismiss you. If someone acts as though you are completely irrational, consider whether there might be other people in your life that would be more open to hearing what you have to say.

3. Before taking any practical steps, if possible, make a list of items you might acquire or plans you might enact, and then wait at least 24 hours (or a good night of sleep minimum) before you follow through on what you are considering. I have worked myself up in recent days into wanting to buy an oxygen concentrator and a large solar power station. Because I slowed myself down, I realized the oxygen concentrator’s cons outweighed its possible benefits, and that I would face serious security issues with a solar setup as it would have to be placed in front of my house and would therefore be highly tempting for someone to steal if we actually end up in a situation where it would need to be deployed. By slowing myself down, I resisted panic-buying and have been able to better use my resources.

4. At the end of the day, remember that we all die, some of us in unexpected ways. I keep this truth in my mind not to feel depressed but to boost my feelings of acceptance of my life situation. When we run out of practice steps in handling a crisis, coming to terms with the reality of it can, at least for me, open internal space for contemplation and grace, rather than a raging “there has to be a way” as the elements consume.

5. Remember you are likely not as alone as you might feel you are. There is a limit of rational action that I can take at this point, and, as terrifying as it is to me, I find myself coming to a growing knowledge that I might have to *shudder* cooperate with my neighbors if things go really side-ways. In modern Western societies like the one I inhabit, there is a particular sense of individualism where people may literally never speak with or help out their next-door neighbors, not because they hate each other but because they are able to sort their lives in a way that does not necessitate such interactions. I am not so naive to think that my federal government will do anything useful, but I have a bit of trust in my local officials to try to mitigate disaster and in myself to work with others as needed. Scarcity can promote selfishness but it can also promote sharing; I hope that the latter is what rises to the surface in the areas where people are struggling right now.

In conclusion, a person’s level of anxiety is not the best marker of their capacity for acting in a rational way. People can under-react just as much as they over-react and can respond too slowly to a crisis as well as too early or without justification. If you are highly anxious as I am, my advice is to reserve your time and energy for acting with as much objective reason as you can, with the support of people who know what they are talking about because of their education and experience, as well as those in your life who offer a caring, gentle presence when your anxiety gets the best of you. Please share how you care for yourself as an anxious person!

Owning My Depth

I’m definitely in a mood today after the experience I’d predicted might lead to marginalization and transphobia did not let me down in its vexations. I’m not certain as how much my perceptions of others are accurate right now and how much they are colored by a T-inspired blunted depression, but I feel as though, much of the time, I am surrounded by shallow people. People who are flippant and who, although they are capable of being loving and caring to those who are like them, do not concern themselves with the needs of those whom society pushes to its fringes. Indeed, they are the ones, through their complicity and outright discrimination, who encourage the different to be viewed as deviant.

I’m as flawed as the next person, as self-centered and self-righteous as anyone you’ll meet, but I know it. I do not deny the bitter, the ugly and the hating parts of who I am. I may struggle at times to rein them in and to befriend them, but I’ve explored the cracks between the veneer of civility I wear when I feel like being “nice.” I check my assumptions and examine my motivations for areas of bias. I have blessed to know a few people who have depth not only in the integrity of their character but also their willingness to acknowledge where they lack character.

I don’t know how to relate to people who are shallow, especially when I think they are causing harm by their un-examined way of gliding obliviously through life. It isn’t that I take the ignorance that they spew personally, it is that I view them as, at the end of the day, a bad person. A person who denies and invalidates the suffering of others and who refuses to listen or change when they are told their actions are harmful is not merely misguided or incompetent. They are willfully making the world a worse place and I find accepting that they are able to do so unchecked to be an injustice.

Perhaps all I can do right now is to focus on the persuadable, those who are interested in exploring their own inner assumptions, and to know that, because they can potentially do better and do good, they are worthy of much more of my attention and focus than are those who show no interest in being challenged. There are lost causes when it comes to addressing privilege. To the lost causes, I can try to stand up to them in group contexts and to mitigate the harm they cause. It is likely, if I sit with it long enough, I will come to know that my willingness to write someone off and declare them “cancelled” reveals not only the shallowness of their character, but also an uncharted territory of inner contempt I hold into which wells of compassion may need to soak.

How do you handle responding to people you perceive to be shallow, if that is a characterization you hold of them? How do you stand up to injustice? How do you come to know your own assumptions and biases?

Room for Growth

I am following up my recent post about how to know whether each person’s full humanity is being recognized in a relationship. Today, I’m focusing on my own weak spots in living up to what I wrote. The list from my previous post is below.

“If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported.”

Offerings of acceptance

“Welcomed as you are” is a struggle for me in my personal relationships. In professional relationships where I have authority over someone, I strive to my fullest capacity to be open-minded, non-judgmental and to find something good in everyone I meet. Outside of the structure of this context, I tend to focus on potential red flags, signs of abusive tendencies and to assess on a continual basis how likely my boundaries will be repeatedly tested in a relationship. In other words, I center my attention on self-protection and compatibility. I would like to better trust myself to be able to adjust how close I am to someone in the context of information I learn in the future, rather than to take every questionable situation and elevate it into “and we’re done” before I have a full assessment of how things might go.

Unearned trust

I am not certain as to my capacity at “offering love, affection and trust without having to earn them.” I am not overly transactional in my relationships (for example, I don’t give gifts or act with generosity with the expectation that it is returned in kind), but I do open up incrementally as I build trust with someone. I also think that I am prone to withdrawing if I feel hurt and could fairly be accused of “abandoning” people, although my perspective is that we each need to be responsible for handling our own emotions rather than expecting someone else to resolve difficult feelings for us. I suppose my evaluation of this capacity would be that I am alright with where I am at on it, but I think there have been others in my life who would report me as being limited in intimacy and closeness.

Change on your own time frame

I am not very good at making sure those in my life are “encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace.” I want results and I want them now! My lovely brain is highly skilled at instantly peering, with accuracy, into another’s weaknesses and then developing, without intention, a multi-step plan for how they can better their life. I have advice overflowing and have had to do a lot of work to contain my desires to share it when it is not solicited. I’ve been reinforced many times as to the fact that the assessments I make are on-target and insightful, so I feel confident that my wisdom isn’t merely a projection of my own unconscious issues. I own my shit and I work on myself constantly; my desire to help others do the same is both a reflection of my dedication to inner work and of my intolerance for a lack of insight.

But, and the pause matters here, I am not in charge of anyone’s life besides my own. I do not get to decide how, when or where someone comes to a reckoning with who they are and the impact of their actions, especially when they do not have a direct effect on me. My insight may not be what the person needs at that moment in time, especially if they are upset. Often, offering empathy clears space for objectivity and analysis, but being “rational” doesn’t always allow for an emotional connection. I feel frustrated that people I care about have to help me learn this lesson on a repeated basis, but it also allows me to circle back to considering compatibility. I do best with those who appreciate my clear-sighted way of looking at the world, rather than with those who only want “emotional support” and who do not move from a place of coping emotionally to working on solving what can be solved in their life situation. There is a fine balance to be struck in this area and I hope, with time, to get better at finding it.

If you care to, please share which of the aspects of my list you find to be most challenging at embracing, and where you might go with it.

In the Fullness of Your Humanity

For today’s post, I decided to consider the qualities of a relationship that enable a sense of my full humanity as well as allow me to acknowledge the full humanity of the person or people to whom I am relating. I will be continuing this post in the next few days in order to answer the reflection questions I included. I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments!

If your full humanity is being recognized in a relationship, you will be:

  • considered as a whole person, not as a representative of one aspect of your identity
  • expected to own your mistakes and to make concrete steps to improve
  • welcomed as you are
  • able to set appropriate boundaries, saying yes and no according to your preferences
  • only responsible for managing your own emotions, thoughts and behaviors
  • able to make your own decisions
  • allowed to consider the compatibility of each person’s needs, desires and wishes
  • taken seriously when you share that something offended you
  • offered love, affection and trust without having to earn them
  • apologized to when someone’s actions harm you
  • allowed to express your needs, desires and wishes without being shamed or mocked
  • given space if you ask for it
  • present with each part of yourself
  • encouraged to adapt and grow at your own pace
  • built up, cheered for, and supported

Reflection

Which of these characteristics speaks most to you? Are there any that feel uncomfortable, or for which you know you have caveats? Are there any that you value but find challenging to offer to another? What might you add to the list?

At the Edge, With Helplessness and Hopelessness (Today's Daily Remembrance)

It is not a good day for my capacity to feel optimistic and bright. My attempt to get accommodations at my job is beginning to look like I am going to be retaliated against or, at the minimum, discounted. I could not sleep last night and now have no appetite. In the face of this situation, I need to take some time to access my inner world.

I feel helpless and hopeless. I gotten to this place many times before in my life, but have often failed to label what I was feeling in the moment. I would get stuck on the external threat, perseverating on how to mitigate it, and would ignore all of my internal processes. After several hours of frantically searching the web exploring my next steps, I saw into my inner world and noticed how much each part of me was scattering in every direction at once. I could not calm or come back to myself at all until I acknowledged the state I was in. I’m feeling trapped, alone without anyone to help me bear the burden and worried that even more devastation lies–unpredictably and uncontrollably–ahead.

I fear that I’m at the edge of the crevasse I’ve done everything in my power to avoid, the place where I lose my job, my home, my healthcare and anything else that provides a semblance of normal life. I’ve never asked for accommodations because I feared doing so would lead to this outcome. Logically I know I’m many, many steps from this dire fate, but the landscape feels tilted towards my inevitable demise. That is what helplessness and hopelessness look like to me–drifting from “functional human” into an animalistic state where moment-to-moment physical survival is my only focus. Openly acknowledging the effects of my trauma feels like a direct portal into reliving it writ large.

The few responses available to me when I feel helpless and hopeless center primarily on either engaging in a fight for control or on surrendering in acceptance of my fate. The “be louder” side won last night as I spent hour after hour complying a list of questions and additional documentation for my employer. I won’t get any clarity for a few days at the minimum, and my energy is flagging quickly, collapsing into “come what may.”

The ledge I perceive to be closing quickly has never left me ever since I came to terms with my childhood trauma and ended contact with my parents. I knew living my truth meant I could lose at winning or fail at succeeding at life; I knew I had to take that risk over denying what they’d done to me in hopes of having a “backup” plan. I’ve sworn up and down I’d die on the streets before I’d let them back in my life and I mean it as much today as I did the first day I said it.

Rage starts overtaking me when I sit too long in this place. They (my parents) irreparably broke my mind and the thin lines of glue with which I’ve managed to cobble together a person are yielding to the pressures of my life. I’ve come to a razor’s edge but I’ve never been hospitalized or taken off any significant amount of time because of my disability. I’ve walked and ran and scampered to stay back from the ledge and I’m so, so tired of fighting for a foothold. I feel like I literally asked my job for one g-d extra rope to help me stay secured, and all that’s happened is I’ve slipped further towards the breach. I’m sure if I fall in, people will suddenly, magically gain an ability to see my struggles, all while totally and utterly failing to account for the shoves downward they gave me and the shrugs they offered when I extended my hand in desperation.

Let me, come hell or high water, not be a bystander to someone else’s helpless and hopeless moments, even if all I can do is point them towards available resources. That’s all my suffering ever teaches me, how to not add to other peoples’ struggles. I have no greater insight into when to fight and when to yield, or how to avoid my personal pit. How do you handle feeling helpless and hopeless? What feels like your personal “worse case scenario” in life, and how do you cope with its existence? What are some resources you use to keep from going over the edge into despair?

Dulled Senses, Empty Body

CW: Discussion of dissociation, PTSD and effects of trauma

After a long weekend during which my illness and the weather has kept me house-bound, I am finding myself feeling and acting disconnected and detached. As part of my chronic PTSD, I struggle with dissociation, which manifests in varying degrees. At its most extreme, I feel physically numb and unbound by the normal constraints of time and place, unsure of where I am, who I am and what is happening. Today isn’t like that, but is instead a more subtle form in which I feel deflated, apathetic, mentally dulled and aloof. The more I try to find myself in terms of sensing my body, the farther from it I feel.

I’ve been in and out of crisis mode after a series of severe triggers last holiday season. I know that seeking accommodations at my job is likely to lead to a confrontation of some sort, whether it is in needing to advocate further for what I need or dealing with the fallout if I get what I’ve requested. On days like today, where I know a storm is coming but the weather is perfectly calm for now, I shut off to a degree that all of my creativity, spirituality and even my connection to my physical being feels severed. Internally, I’ve gathered all the valuables and am boarding up the windows and doors, even though I feel so calm in my actions that the shift seems invisible.

As I sit with this reality, the relational disasters I’ve endured make more sense. Someone triggers me, but only the parts of me who protect me fully perceive the danger. They scatter inside me and prepare to abandon ship, but I’m still listening to the band play and enjoying my dinner, oblivious to the coming calamity. When everything lists and panic ensues, I’m somehow already at the head of the line for the lifeboats, but can’t understand how the small gesture or unkind word was the tipping point. In other words, I perceive events through multiple filters, and have already pulled the plug without knowing I was about to do so, yet am conscious of my decision to jump overboard after a more minor rattling or shaking–
“the final straw”–occurs.

It’s terrifying to feel that the leavings I take are pre-ordained and mostly out of my control. Yet, I have not regretted very many of them, irrational though they seemed at the time. It is scarier still to feel hollowed-out in the moments between the initial decision and the final withdrawal, abandoned yet waiting to run. I think I’m afraid but I can’t feel fear, because fear could quicken my footsteps too much and I wouldn’t successfully plot my course. So instead I am feeling and knowing nothing but the awareness that an signal is coming and I will need to, with immense speed and focus, react to it when it occurs. I’m living wartime again, the battle of a childhood of indifference and hatred punctuated by sheer terror and violation.

Self-care is only conceptual to me right now. I can try to rest but will drift into flashbacks. I can reach out to a friend but may endanger my relationship by being easily triggered. My main coping skills are to immerse myself in television and stories, so that other people’s stories replace my singular one into which all the threads of my life weave and to gorge myself on unhealthy foods so that the confines of body become known to me again. I intensely and spontaneously craved junk food yesterday for the first time in weeks and couldn’t understand why, but its purpose now seems clear. I shut down to conserve energy for the fight to come, even though my methods likely soften rather than harden my defenses.

I will come back to myself and will come more whole again. I’m in a temporary state of dissociation after repeated triggers that overwhelmed my healthier abilities to cope. Were I hysterically crying or having panic attacks, it would be easier to first detect and to then address my needs. It is substantially more difficult to notice the lack of a normal reaction as opposed to an exaggerated one, but they can both be equally destabilizing. Have you ever dealt with dissociation? How does it tend to affect you? What do you do to cope with apathy and detachment?

Giving Myself Permission to Hope and Dream (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s simple pleasure could not have come at a better time. I’m feeling in a negative rut in several areas of my life as of late, so hope has been hard to come by. I keep making attempts to improve my life but have only met with limited success in my vocational and relationship arenas. Every failure and setback leads me to feel like I’ve dug myself deeper into a pit of despair and hopelessness.

One possibility that has been more promising than the rest is the idea that I may not be able to alter certain areas of my life in significant ways, but I can potentially expand my experience and activities in a manner that improves my quality of life. I am opening to more creativity and artistic expression as a means of bringing purpose, intellectual enrichment and challenge into my daily experience. Specifically, I am planning to equip myself with digital tools in the next few months so that I can illustrate the intuitive card deck that I have been working to create for the past few years.

I struggle with judging my time spent being creative as frivolous, and then I have a crummy week like this week where the core importance of grounding myself in my own body as a sensing and expressing being, rather than existing only in my identity as it relates to my occupation and friendships, shines through. So, for today, I hope that I can achieve my creative goals and that I can continue to find new avenues for exploration of the world that excite and interest me. Where might you benefit from giving yourself permission to hope and dream?

Taking a Self-Portrait (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For a trans non-binary person who is now a few months on T, I’ve been taking surprising few photographs of myself. I think that I am scared about experiencing changes I don’t want more than I am focused on the ones that show up that cause me gender euphoria. This reflects my punishment-averse nature much more than it does my potential ambivalence about taking T.

My transition goal is to appear as androgynous as I can with some hints of masculinity (leading to me falling into the unfortunate “vaguely masculine” stereotype of non-binary people which ignores trans and non-binary femme people entirely). I think I’m already pretty much facially androgynous, so I feel uncertain about my next steps. In general, I love what T has done to my mind, my issues with my cycle and my energy level, but I have mixed feelings about its effect–present and future–on my physical appearance. On the other hand, I’ve been vibing on considering having people use “he/him” pronouns in addition to “they/them,” so I think there is some fluidity and ambiguity in terms of my end goals.

As I snapped a pic of myself, I immediately focused on any signs of aging and any negative aspects of my appearance. I had a full-blown eating disorder as a young adolescent and am extremely conscious of any signs that my weight has increased, so my eye was drawn especially to the puffiness of my cheeks. To me, beauty is reflected in one’s comfort with themselves. I am so comfortable with my personality and how I show up in the world, but I shrink back and feel exposed when any attention, positive or negative, is drawn to my physical appearance. This exercise has shown me the ongoing disconnect I have with my body. I want to trace the photograph I took and study it until I love it or at least until I know it as myself. How do you feel when you see yourself? If you appreciate your own appearance, especially if you did not do so in the past, what helped you achieve this?

Journaling about a Pleasant Memory (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Given that I experience complex PTSD, dissociation, anxiety and depression, reminiscing is an activity in which I rarely engage. My memory processes are disrupted and I struggle to organize and verbalize my experiences. When I attempted today’s simple pleasure, I was pleased that I was able to come to a particular memory, one which I think foreshadowed my future enjoyment of nature, community and mindfulness.

A few decades ago, I went on a summer youth trip out of state (still within the U.S.). Youth group was not a place where I felt welcomed or understood, so I was very nervous to spend a week on this trip. We stayed in a city in a southern part of the U.S. in a large, old house where we slept on mattresses on the floor. Our meals were served family-style, which was a huge problem for me as I was a vegetarian at the time and there was meat in everything. I ended up subsisting on Pringles (TM) from a local grocery store, to the point where I could not eat them for years afterwards because I developed an aversion from my over-indulgence.

At one point, a few friends and I asked for permission to walk to the store. As we were returning, the heavens opened and we were caught in a deluge of rain. It was summertime, so it was the sort of warm precipitation that soaks but doesn’t chill a person. We had of course not prepared in any way for this and started half-heartedly running back to the house, laughing hysterically. We passed an office building and a few of its occupants looked out at us and smiled. I felt totally present in that moment, joyful that I was experiencing spontaneous silliness with other people. There was just the slightest hint of danger and rebellion in our actions, coupled with a sense of solidarity and acceptance of our (drenched) fate.

What stands out to me about my memory is that there is no way to set up a scenario to make something like it occur again. Rather, all I can do is put myself in new situations with other people and see what happens. The deepening of my consciousness that I encounter when I tap into the connectedness of humanity is the most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had and it is one that requires a divine sparkle of “here, right now” that cannot be forced. I anticipate with joy the next time nature brings me together with others.

Giving Someone a Compliment (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I am not a complimentary sort of person. My mind skews to pessimism and negativity, but I do not spend all my time criticizing others. Instead, I tend to lean towards validation and support rather than to positive comments. I see people’s pain more than I see their joy because I am more in touch with my own pain than I am my own joy.

Praising people feels manipulative as well in my worldview as I wonder, if people praise me, what they are trying to get from me. I take the compliments that fit my sense of myself and leave the others to the side. For today’s simple pleasure, I gave positive feedback to a friend online and will continue this practice in person for the next day or two. I tell myself that my praise has more meaning because it isn’t doled out like candy, but perhaps I need to be more willing to share in sweetness here and there. Are you someone who praises easily? If so, how do others react?