Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?

As a Matter of Fact…

We are moving into a time of year that feels expansive, active and dynamic. There is one aspect of how I approach people, though, that I feel still needs to be shed to allow me to open to the growth that awaits. I feel the need to prove my intelligence, knowledge and intellectual capacity to others and/or to educate them out of their ignorance. Were I a man rather than a non-binary person, I could see myself easily labeled as someone who “mansplains.” Gender aside, I am definitely a “know-it-all.”

I was raised by parents with little education; my mother did not attend college and my father did not go to high school. They were genuinely lacking some of the skills and information needed for the modern world. For example, I had to learn everything about colleges, scholarship and financial aid on my own. Being able to grasp information without any assistance was a requirement for me to be able to succeed; there was no hand to hold onto.

I then chose education as my career, a form of employment that is heavily focused on disseminating knowledge and helping others develop critical thinking skills. I am talented in altering how I explain a topic based on the abilities and capacity of my audience members. I am not nearly as good at guiding people in terms of de-emphasizing my own role in their intellectual gains, even though I try to encourage others as much as I can.

These intertwining factors have led me to need to precise and accurate in what I say, and to say it with conviction. Tentativeness tends to get read, especially for people who aren’t seen as men, as a lack of knowledge. I speak forcefully and with conviction.

Where things go awry is perfectly illustrated in gleaning information about the coming pandemic. I am anxious to my core about the potential fall-out of the situation and I cope with my anxiety by arming myself with a wall of research and facts. This information, though, simply bounces around in my head without direction or purpose, after I take all the logical steps for myself that it implies I should. I then struggle and fail to contain it to my own preparation, but instead attempt to inspire others to take reasonable steps to avert danger. All this ends up in me reciting information such as pandemic death rates to people who are overly optimistic, ill-informed, disinterested and/or secure that their unacknowledged privilege will shield them. I keep telling myself “they aren’t worth the effort” and “my energy is being wasted” but, at the same time, I have nowhere to channel what I’ve digested.

I want to be able to influence people. It feels unbelievably validating to hear someone tell me they thought about something I told them or that they took an action because of a message I shared. In all my years growing up, despite my knowledge base and capacity outweighing my parents’ education, I did not feel heard or seen. It felt like the energy I devoted to try to better the life of my family went into a black hole. When my current life touches that thread, I retreat to avoid getting pulled into a “help me; you’re useless” scenario.

I find two streams of thought emerging from this reflection. First, I need to find additional outlets for my abilities, and, second, I need those avenues to be fruitful. I would rather bite my tongue than be dismissed by someone unable to recognize that, in regards to most topics most days, I do indeed know what I’m talking about. Or, I at least want to stop the flow towards those unyielding shores as quickly as I can. I found myself drawn to playing online games like Sudoku and crosswords this past week, and I see now that the increase in my desire to do so is a direct result of both feeling like I am not being intellectually challenged enough and, at the same time, that there is no place for what I’ve absorbed.

As I sit with this a moment longer, I see that, even if I find ways to occupy my mind that I deem useful, I must work as well on my delivery. I know I come across in a graceless way at times. I want to inspire intellectual appetite and curiosity in others and I have a lot of personal growth I need to do in order to achieve that end-goal. Knowing things is one skill; leading others to want to know things benefits the greater good. What is your relationship with obtaining factual knowledge and sharing it with others? Are you more likely to call others “know-it-alls” or be labeled as one yourself? In what ways do you keep yourself intellectually engaged, and/or encourage others to learn?

Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

An Unexpected Kindness (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

I reflected yesterday on the topics of abundance, gratitude and contentment. A manifestation of gratitude on which I wanted to act was to create a new category of “Writing Everyday” which focuses exclusively on building my capacity for thankfulness. My task was made easier when a neighbor went out of their way to do something nice for me.

My day started off chaotically as the roads were covered in icy snow and I made it to work with literally a minute to spare (I am the sort of person who is fifteen minutes early to everything, so being on time stresses me out!). On top of that, I had to juggle managing multiple situations in the moment while being internally distracted by upcoming events. By the time I got home, physical labor like shoveling snow felt like it was only adding to my burden.

I shoveled a path for my dog and to the mailbox, and turned to the sidewalk, which I try to keep open. It was then that I noticed it was already neatly cleared, much more expertly than the job I normally do. I felt relief and gratitude sink into me, not only because I could spare my shoulder and back potential injury, but also because it meant that someone thought well of me and wanted to help me out.

I decided I don’t have to try to extrapolate lessons or think about ways in which I should have been kinder in the past. For today, I can simply rest in appreciation that a simple physical action by another lightened my load and made it easier for the good in me to shine. Thanks, anonymous stranger! What’s was the last unexpected kindness you received?

OUT AND LOUD

I have been out as a non-binary trans person for about ten months and on low-dose T about six months, so I thought it would be a good time to spend some time processing my experiences thus far. I want to consider both how I am relating to my body as well as how I am relating to others from this place of a deeper understanding of myself. Finally, I want to consider what I would like to focus on going forward.

PHysical Changes

I have had ambivalence about being on T ever since I started it. I want my voice to drop, a bit of fat redistribution, increased muscle mass and mental changes. I am a lot less interested in hair changes. Thus far, it has been a mixed bag. My body hair is darkening but is not extremely different than it was. I also find myself not caring about it at times and bothered by it more at other times. I have had some increases in feelings of depression since starting T, but I do not think they are all due to the physical effects of it. In general, I feel more alert and my body aches are so much better than they used to be. My voice has lowered slightly but not quite as much as I would like it to. Because my job involves speaking, it has been so nice to feel like I can project my voice with less effort. I keep waiting for an internal indication that I need to cut my dose or go off of T because I am being more affected than I am comfortable with, but so far, it hasn’t come.

Social Changes

I have lost a few friendships since coming out as a trans non-binary person. I think being true to myself has led me to be more willing to follow through on creating a safe environment for myself and less willing to tolerate people’s ridiculousness. I’ve always been a decisive person, but T has helped me back up my inner knowing with action.

As a trans person, I’ve come to understand what it means to center advocacy work around the people who are most affected by bias and discrimination in a particular social justice realm (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.). This understanding, coupled with the intensity with which I’ve always approached moral issues, had led me to have a “no shits given” response to cis people’s lack of understanding and/or concern for the needs of trans people, and has helped me to better understand why I need to step back, listen and elevate the voices of others in areas where I have privilege. It has made it harder for me to engage in close relationship with people who lack this insight, but also more appreciative of those who grasp it.

Future plans

I need more (any!) trans people in my everyday life! I am hoping to be more engaged in pride events and such this summer and will hopefully meet people with whom I can form a connection. I have been presented with several opportunities to talk with cis people in a formal training setting about the experiences of trans people as well as how to act in solidarity, but I would love to be able to find places to direct support trans people. Finally, I want to continue to be vocal at least in my state in regards to the rights and needs of trans people. Things are going badly on the legislative front for trans youth in several states and, in addition to advocating for their needs, I want to be vigilant to ensure similar discrimination doesn’t ensue where I live.

If you are a trans and/or a non-binary person, are there topics that you would like to read about and/or discuss? How has your experience been going this last year?

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

Observing an Insect (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Ants are creatures I most associate with beings that make piles of dirt and which swarm en masse to discarded scraps of food. However, for today’s simple pleasure, I watched ants crawl down an old oak tree. Their tiny-legged journeys inspired me.

At first, I thought the red-hued ant I was watching was solitary, which struck me as odd because ants are known for living in large groups. It eventually traveled in close proximity to another ant and I then saw more. For a while, though, it traveled down the coarse bark on its own adventure. Every scramble forward felt at an impossible angle and I wondered how it was able to cling so adeptly to the wood. The ant wasn’t racing; it meandered. It stopped every so many paces and wiggled its antennae to direct its next motion. Finally, it disappeared into an oaken crevice.

The lessons I took from observing the ant were firstly to pause and “sniff” the air on occasion, by which I mean to check in with myself and my surroundings instead of barreling through the world without reflection. I also marveled at the idea that my journey through life may seem at a certain angle and level of difficulty, but could be viewed entirely differently, were I able to shift my perspective. Finally, I loved the idea of surging into community, greeting others along the way, but also withdrawing into dark and cozy places of rest as needed. What is the last insect you observed? What did it teach you?

Watching a Shadow (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It is raining buckets outside, so today did not provide many outdoor viewing options for my observation. Instead, I used the light in my living room to notice the shadows. As I sat, I realized shadows imply form. They are created in the presence of both a source of light and an object. They focus our attention in a mystery or horror film because they give rise to the notion that something is there, something whose true nature cannot be fully discerned. They imply presence, but, in the absence of a direct view or a mirror, the presence remains without understanding.

I live with so many shadows of trauma in my life–they are cast long and in sharp relief, but the specifics of the events which laid them out are obscured in my memory. Snippets and feelings and pain are all that remain. Even if I am full of shadow, I live in light because I name the monsters. I let be known what I do know to be true.

What I cannot abide well are those who deny shadows, who pretend there are no monsters casting them and who seek to blot out any brightness that would illuminate their dark truths. When one of my abusers communicated their denial to me, they literally stated that there wasn’t even a “pinprick” of light that would show them what I was claiming happened had indeed happened. That metaphor kept at me for a long time, and, through today’s observation, I know why. Killing the light to deny the object to ignore the shadow, or vice versa is the modus operendi of evil and is anathema to what this world needs right now. Shine, stand and outline your truth.