Finding Peace in a Time of Panic

Leaders around the world have begun to reference the global pandemic within the framework of a humanity facing a war. We are admonished not to panic, whatever that means. In my country, our leadership’s been rudderless and we’ve received daily contradictory messages. Things are not fine.

As a person with lifelong severe anxiety, including PTSD caused by childhood abuse, it feels like I’ve spent so many years trying to tell myself that the world was now “safe” and that I could let my guard down. I’ve felt so jealous of people who are carefree and secure in their daily lives. Now I’m not sure if it was they or I or both of us whose prior learning deceived us.

The truth, most likely, lies somewhere in the middle. Our lives are likely more fragile and less guaranteed than the “everything will be fine” but also on stronger footing than “we’re all going to catastrophically die now” crowd would have you think. As a group, we need a range of tolerances for risk, otherwise nothing or everything would be chanced.

I keep noticing a theme of uncertainty as a driver for panic, but those of us who live deep in the realm of fear might know a different cause: no good options. The unknown isn’t what frightens me per se, it is the potential unavailability of a solution to whatever threat I might face that I find intolerable. I know what it is like to be trapped with no way out; I spent many years living that reality and it caused me to split myself apart internally simply to exist.

I refuse to bind my peace to the notion that no catastrophe will ever arrive at my doorstep. I find it insulting to be told not to worry or to trust that the higher-ups know what they are doing. The peace I seek is simply this–that there is more beauty than pain in the world. That, even in the darkest moments imaginable, kindness and compassion remain somewhere to be found, if not by me, then by the next person.

I’ve been shocked to find myself arriving at an inner well of actually giving a shit about the people in my life, a place I thought long lost and dried up. I’m not resorting to “me and mine” to the extent I would have predicted. I believe that crises can bring out the best in us, not because we avoid feelings of panic and terror, not because a solution will arrive if we simply hope enough, but because there is something central about teamwork and collaboration to the nature of being human. We will find our peace in this, together.

Even in My Dreams, She Haunts Me

I dreamt of my mother last night. The specifics of the dream, upon awakening, were immediately lost to me, but the impression of herself she’s carved on my psyche feels as though it is pulsating with remembrance of the scarring she caused. So many years have past since I’ve seen her in person that the line between who she was to me and what she represents to me has blurred.

I wrote yesterday that my capacity as a person isn’t related to the approval of cishet white men. I think I need to acknowledge part of what that means to me is that my parents’ views of me are irrelevant to my worth as a person, but also admit, in the same breath, that they still contour the shape of my inner world so much more than I wish they did. My reactivity to being dismissed and disrespected, the impulsiveness with which I direct my energy to defend myself, is a straight line from being constantly verbally abused and gaslit as a child and teenager.

My mother, real and internalized, was the queen of denial. She could cry and say she was never unhappy. She could have a conversation with me and, hours later, tell me she’d not seen me all day. She could witness my father sexually abusing me and pretend nothing happened. Reality was a malleable, unsequenced energy that she bent to her will. I didn’t have access to voice recorders or cell phone video growing up, but I have no doubt she would have found a way to deny the digital as well as the physical world.

She’s entered my mind as of late because of the pandemic. I fully expect, if she becomes ill, to hear from my siblings for the first time in years as to how desperate she is for my presence. This happened a few years ago when she got cancer, and, when I tried to form a limited amount of communication with her, she denied that she in any way initiated their contact with me. She thinks she owns me and can manipulate me to suit her needs after all this distance, time and hard truths.

I feel contempt more than any other emotion for her and it leaks through when I am disrespected by people who might, even in an oblique way, stand in for her in my mind. My dream had only the emotion of terror and the sensation of being trapped, that she found a way to make the story of my life collapse into itself and become only the abuse, the denial, the betrayal and the fear that underlies my relationship templates. A part of me wants to light up all the circuit boards the next time I’m rebuked for sharing a verifiable truth, to call out the privilege that is no doubt driving the “well, actually…” I’m receiving. I know this will lead to a response of useless and defensive posturing. The truth of my triggering will be apparent if I start emailing sources and data to prove my point.

My mission statement for this year includes “powerful vulnerability.” I wonder what the response would be if I responded with “you telling me I’m wrong about something I’ve extensively researched and for which I could easily locate 10+ scientific sources is reminiscent of how my parents responded to me when I spoke a truth they didn’t want to receive as a child. I’ve learned how futile it is to argue with someone who doesn’t give my voice the weight it deserves, so I’m not going to waste any more energy on this discussion.” There are people who show me through their responses that they value what I have to say and take it in without defensive skepticism. There is a new story of my life I can tell, but I have to stop stalling out in the shallows of my past in order to do so.

Unbridled Joy (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been cooped up more than usual as of late, between the winter weather and my attempt to avoid unnecessary trips during the health crisis. I had a few housekeeping items crop up unexpectedly today, so I decided it was worth it to head to a local home improvement store that allows dogs in. His incessant whining the entire trip there let me know he was very excited about the trip.

As soon as we arrived at the store, my dog started leaping for joy as his feet hit the ground. He found the nearest human and tugged me in their direction. There was a family with several small children, who did not quite know what to make of such a small dog (he’s a Yorkie) enthusiastically sniffing their shoes and looking up at them in bliss.

I found the light bulbs I was looking for and headed off to another area of the store. We ended up behind another family, and my pup joined right in with them, ignoring their personal space and acting as though they obviously wanted him to tag along. I normally keep very close tabs on him, but, between trying to locate and carry several items, he kept sneaking closer to people than I realized he was.

He met the first family again at the cash register. The young boy who had at first drawn back from him didn’t reach to pet him, but did give him more attention as he stood facing him. My dog was in heaven, surrounded by new humans who might, just might, let him sniff them and perhaps even pet them.

I am in love with the innocence and earnestness with which my dog approaches people. Me in dog form would totally be bearing teeth and foaming at the mouth at anyone who approached; thankfully, he is not me. The fact that he seems to believe he owns the entire warehouse, barking loudly at any other dogs who dare to enter, and prancing around as though it’s been too long since he took stock of his playground, never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I’m reminded of what seems to be my grounding statement this year–there is more beauty than pain in the world. I am so happy to have witnessed it today.

Energy Balancing Body Scan (Today’s Daily Presence)

Today I am feeling highly energized with nowhere to direct my anxieties. It is raining out so my daily run isn’t going to happen, but I needed a way to better balance what I’m feeling as well as to reconnect with my sense of my body. I brought myself into present moment awareness with a visual and breathing-centered meditation.

The meditation practice in which I engaged has a relationship with a Tibetan Buddhist practice I learned several years ago, but I have unfortunately lost my knowledge of its name and origins in the time since. If you know what I’m referencing, please let me know in the comments!

I started by imagining my body’s stale, negative energy gathering in the form of grey smoke in my fingers, toes and edges of my head. As I took deep breaths, I saw it moving towards the center of my body, and, in breathing out a deep breath through my mouth, saw it release and float away. I repeated this process, noticing and concentrating on areas of my body which felt compressed, tight or stuck. I imagined a negative pressure developing, drawing out the trapped energy to itself where it could be exhaled. I saw my body lengthening and loosening as this occurred.

I then moved into a state of reception, where I breathed in clear, healing energy and transmitted it from the core of my body down my torso, into my fingers and toes. It also coursed from my neck into the reaches of my head and ears. As I inhaled, the energy woke up areas that felt tired, warming those that needed to be warmed, and cooling those that felt inflamed.

I then engaged in stretching exercises to further open and release as well as soothe and calm my body. There was more of a sense of a need to balance than I have had in the past. With being on T, I finally feel that I have enough energy, which is a totally new experience to me. Determining how to keep it flowing without spilling over is still a series of trial and error.

If you try the meditation, what was your experience with it? Is it easier to send out spent energy or to draw in renewed energy? How does your body balance?

A photograph of a small journal into which a colored pencil drawing of a sunflower-like image has been sketched.

Draw Anything (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I have been so blocked when it comes to drawing these past few months. When my perception of external threat reaches a certain level, as it has at my job, I shut off from my creative energies in a futile attempt to protect the hopeful and joyful parts of self from harm. My viewpoint of the world being bleak and lacking pleasure is no doubt related to this inner exile.

So, for today, I pulled out a small sketchbook in which I’d created several drawings last year. I was stunned to notice there were several images I had little memory of creating, which tracks with the internal separateness I experience. I decided to put as little pressure on myself as possible and to draw a sunflower. Upon making this decision, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the prospect of accuracy and the need to research how to create a sunflower. I almost gave up before deciding realism wasn’t my goal and that I could draw an image that had the essence of a sunflower even if it didn’t accurately reflect what it would look like.

The experience of drawing itself followed a familiar pattern. I spent several minutes in a blissful state, happy I had finally cracked open a sketchbook and was “being creative” at last. I felt relaxed and peaceful. Soon enough, however, once I’d made the decisions needed for how to finish my drawing and switched into filling in the petals, my mindset changed. I suspect that this was because the decision-making part of my brain, the prefrontal cortex, was no longer required as the central player, and I likely transitioned to relaying on the “muscle memory” part of the brain, my cerebellum, to complete the task at hand. Doing so meant that my thinker (prefrontal cortex) was back to having free reign to ruminated and stress out about upcoming events.

There is an obligation coming up this week where I may experience transphobia. I found myself worried that I was embedding anxiety into my drawing in that, when I look at it, all I will think about is (possible) harm. I have serious weirdness with both holding onto peaceful mental images and with creating them, and this small encounter may offer me a few insights as to why this could be happening. The moment of change today seemed to be when I lost my ability to be mindfully present with what I was doing.

Art is not always pleasant and it does not always make me feel better. I am so grateful that I am learning this lesson on my own rather than trying to go to art therapy and giving up after the first session because I think it didn’t “help.” It takes a disproportionate amount of energy and effort for me to engage in it as something in the process gives free reign for my inner torment to rise up. The threats I perceive from the outside do not fade from view when I’m being creative, if anything, they take shape and become manifest. This doesn’t mean I should avoid art, but rather, that it may be a way to confront my fears rather than to escape them.

Are you mindfully aware of yourself when you are creating visual (or other) art? What is the relationship between your emotions and your artwork? What helps you overcome blocks in your ability to create?

Welcoming Abundance (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I drew two cards today, one relating to casting a spell and the other connecting to allowing myself to hope. I decided to set “abundance” as my intention. I’ve lived my entire life with a mind to scarcity, pain, loss and lack, so considering riches, pleasure and prosperity does not come easily to me.

Where is there plenty?

Observing the areas of my life in which my supply outpaces my consumption should, theoretically, allow me to experience gratitude. Perhaps the action to underlay my intention should be to capture the moments of thankfulness I experience in a way that allows me to hold onto them more fully. They tend to feel very ephemeral, a morsel whose flavor has faded before I’ve finishing chewing it. I might add an additional “Writing Everyday” category specifically dedicated to recording the good experiences in my life.

What brings me pleasure?

My answer certainly feels base and silly, but, truthfully, food is probably my main reinforcer in life. It is unambiguous in its ability to improve my mood and to provide enjoyment. I like to cook, to ea and to watch shows of others cooking and eating.

The pleasure I anticipate in social interactions rarely comports with what I end up experiencing. Instead, spending time in nature genuinely lifts my spirits and elevates my mood. Spending time with my dog is also enjoyable.

wrestling with contentment

Even though I know what I like, I would not describe these experiences as leading to contentment. I do not know what it is like to rest in a place of contentment feels like as I’ve never stayed there for any length of time. Contentment, to me, is the intertwining of gratitude and pleasure, the sense that there is enough right now and that whatever it is, it will last.

If I’m not content with my life, the two paths that lay in front of me, the two paths I find meet me at every difficult moment, are to change my experience or to change my perception. I have been leaning more and more into attempting to change my perception as my attempts to change my experiences seem very much to lead in concentric circles, where I find myself in another layer of disappointment and failure.

Perhaps a third option, one that I hesitate to settle for and am not sure I can do, is to accept that I am unlikely to feel content with my life. This does not line up with the idea of welcoming abundance, unless abundance is the space left by the lack of things I thought I needed to be happy. What does it mean to say, when I get to the end of my life, that I never found contentment but that I appreciated abundance when it came to me? That my life knew more pain, discomfort and lack than it did resources and plenty, but that I made do as best I could with what I had?

There are very brief moments, seconds really, where I see myself through another’s eyes and I know, in wordless thought, that I am a good person who is doing their best. My childhood trauma not only set me up to find scarcity in excess, but also to see myself as selfish and ungrateful, someone incapable of opening to the holy and the grace of life because of the despicable nature of my soul. This isn’t who exists when all the layers of who I am dissipate. I am in abundance and of abundance. I may not find contentment if I seek it through pleasure, but I can be content in who I am. From that place of knowing I’m enough, I have more than enough at my disposal to be enough in ways in which I need to be.

Are you content in your life? In who you are as a person? What brings you joy? What in your life fills you with gratitude?

Migraine Self-Care (In the Cards)

I’m on day 2 of a migraine. I decided to pull a card and happened upon one focused on feelings of coziness and comfort in the chill of winter. It felt appropriate to explore how my self-care might be tailored to my particular health needs today.

Self-Observation

My migraines vary in their quality, intensity and duration. My main triggers appear to be dramatic shifts in the weather, hormone changes and emotional stress. I believe the current one has been brought on primarily by feeling overwhelmed; this kind tends to last longer and sometimes only lift after I process a lot of trauma memories and emotions. Starting by observing my experience and being with myself in the midst of it redirects my focus from the symptoms and onto self-care.

Dim the lights

I once happened to have an eye exam scheduled while I was having a migraine, which quickly confirmed for me that I become quite sensitive to light when I’m having a migraine. I began the day by skipping my routine of opening the curtains in my living room. I’ve kept everything as dark as I can and this reduces my pain level.

modulate my pace

Exercise has a paradoxical relationship with migraines. It can serve as a trigger but is also useful to reduce the frequency of migraines. For myself, low-impact exercise, where I get my body moving but do not increase my pulse to its upper threshold, seems to provide me with more benefits than complications.

I also need to rest at times when I’m in an active migraine phase. Too much external stimuli, such as a crowded mall with lots of smells, sights and sounds, feels even more unbearable when I’m in pain. Slowing myself down but continuing a steady amount of activity at times tends to work best for me.

eat nourishing foods

One sign I’ve noticed a migraine might be starting soon is that I will have strong salt or sugar cravings and a much harder time avoiding junk food. I ate a large amount of sushi Friday night which I think preemptively upped my salt level and warded off the worst of the cravings, although I then ate much more homemade food than I intended yesterday. Today, I accidentally made a super-spicy tofu dish, which I had to eat very slowly because my mouth was on fire. I found some research stating migraines are triggered by spicy foods and others noting spicy foods help to mitigate the symptoms of migraines; in either case, eating it certainly cleared out my sinuses quite effectively! Overall, doing as much as I can to eat homemade real food seems to be a way to keep my migraine symptoms from getting worse.

At times, extremely cold drinks that cause a “brain freeze” help to temporarily relieve my migraine pain when nothing else will. Apparently the blood vessels and nerves related to brain freezes may also come into play with cluster headaches and migraines, so perhaps inducing the phenomenon interrupts the headache. I may round out my diet for the day with a homemade ice-cold smoothie and see if I can replicate this person’s success.

If you suffer from migraines, which types of self-care do you find most useful? Like me, do you concentrate on trying to reduce the pain you are experiencing, or are there other priorities on which you find it more helpful to concentrate? Are there any foods or beverages that assist you the most in coping?

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.

Ear Massage (Today’s Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I am learning and practicing ear self-massage techniques. As a person diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, auditory processing disorder, Eustachian tube dysfunction, tinnitus and TMJ at various points in my adult life, this area of my body has dealt with a lot of strain and discomfort. As of late, my body’s latest “trick” is to turn one part of my left ear scarlet red out of nowhere, with a corresponding warm sensation, so the issues I have seem to be getting worse rather than better. I suspect that my botched root canal over five years ago was a major contributor to many of these ailments, as several of the issues are primarily or exclusively on the same side as the tooth I had to have pulled.

I did not know until today how many acupressure points correspond to the ear. (Side note: The link I’ve included unfortunately does not reference Chinese/Eastern medicine sufficiently in explaining how acupressure may work.) I found the pressure point on my outer lower lobe to be the one that was most relaxing. Unfortunately, my tinnitus started up again after trying the points on my inner ear, so I will have to stick to only a few of the recommended areas.

I also tried out a technique for massaging one’s ears and neck in order to promote the opening of a person’s Eustachian tubes. After trying it out, I found myself wondering again how much the severe neck tension I have also worsens any ear dysfunction from which I might suffer. I find it interesting to note how much the lymph system plays a role in our ear health.

Finally, with my left ear ringing, I researched whether massage can help to reduce tinnitus. There was a double-blind study published that indicates it can, but the specific trigger points were not included. I have not gotten a massage in quite some time, so this finding is making me tempted to try it out again!

The Daily Presence practice never ceases to impress upon me how many body parts we have and how much of an impact each one can have on our lives. In addition, I am beginning to be able to appreciate the complex interconnectedness within each of our bodies in new ways as I learn about how the systems that run throughout our body interface with organs, limbs and the like. Have you tried any ear self-massage techniques? If so, how did they affect your body?

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?