I am not able to do an exhaustive inventory of everything anyone has ever said about fear. Humans have been preoccupied with fear since the very beginning of our evolution. The instinct to live and to be alive is interwoven with the instinct to be afraid of things that might hurt us. This instinct is at the very core of our existence as animals.
In my own life, I have to recognize fear as a driver in my experience and perception. I do not want to be scared. I don’t want to think about bad things happening. I do not want to feel sad and angry about things that do not actually exist. I want to be able to feel sad and angry about the fear-producing things that actually are happening – if not to me directly then to other people, and to the planet, and thus to me indirectly – in ways that don’t shut me down and make me want to go to bed or create so much panicked grief that I am not able to function well. I want to be able to stay grounded and centered in myself as a strong and capable person. I want to be able to connect with other people, and to try to do my work as a person whose values are hinged on holding in reverence the reality of suffering in the world and a long-standing commitment to do what is reasonably within my capacity to lessen the lot of suffering and to support healing.
If I am incapacitated by and exhausted by and distracted by fear, I can’t do those things.
There is a lot that I am not afraid of. I spent the night on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm. I walk down dark and unfamiliar streets alone. I know, in my rational mind, that I need to practice acceptance around the bigger things that I am afraid of – climate crisis, the disappearance of wildlife, my own uncertain future. However, I have fear. I feel it in my body, low level and then rising toward a horrified grief.
As I write this, I am thinking about the possibility that a part of me that has been conspicuously quiet the past few years is all but howling with the recognition that the things I most feared as a child are all coming true. War. The death of animals. Forests on fire.
Adults are not supposed to be scared about those things.
Inside, I feel like a little kid watching the world end.
I have been alive long enough to see that things are changing, and changing fast.
I don’t know what will happen. Everything that I used to think I could rely upon as being a stable, likely reality has gone all shaky.
Things that used to exist do not exist anymore. Forests become parking lots. Some places will be underwater in my lifetime.
That scares me.
It is good that it scares me.
It should scare me!
Nonetheless, I don’t want to live with fear. Rather, I don’t want to live with fear in the way that I have been. I have to change my relationship with fear, change how it registers in my body and mind, change the way I relate fear with love.
The other side of fear is love. If I love, then I become scared that what I love will be harmed or lost. It is impossible to love that way, because then it becomes about fear, and the feelings of love become a tightening chest, a heaviness in the throat, slight scrambling of the thoughts.
That changes what I think about, changes how I see the world and what might happen, changes how I *feel* in my life.
I was driving through town, and noticing that I felt lonely, anxious. I didn’t used to feel lonely. Interesting to be lonely again. My best friend is far away, and I have to reckon with this empty space that has been left in my days these past few months, and especially over the past several weeks, this being alone. It is probably good to know that something in the fiber of the friendship is woven with what certainly feel like unhealthy attachments, the pang of absence and worry that my friend will forget me, the sensations of being left behind. I also recognize that these things enter into my experience from a part of me that is still very much healing, and that it is perfectly natural and healthy for there to be ebbs and flows in friendship and the things we give our attention to. I know, in fact, that what I ought to be doing during this time, perhaps by design, is tending to my own affairs – projects and the forging of opportunities. Within this absence from my friend, there is the opportunity for reconnection with myself, and for reconciliation of the parts of me that are still wounded from attachments and difficulties with attachment.
I was alone for a long time.
I am alone now.
As I was driving in the rain, I came up to a stop light and saw a man who I know as Jethro. That is his street name. I know his real name, too, but I only remember his street name. He is an old man who looks like a boy, a trouble-making, happy, round face boy, whose hair was blond when he was young, before the army and the alcohol and the life and death of it all got ahold of him. It’s easy to imagine his as happy as child, but I know that his life was probably brutal, as so many lives are. Still, he has a smiling face. Once, when he was crying at the church, drunk and crying, mourning the death of his lady, I sat beside him and held his hand, gnarled and tanned from being outside all the time.
He wasn’t flying a sign, he was flying his hat, a black ball cap, holding it up like he was trying to catch coins from heaven, catching only rain. I stopped at the green light, cars behind me. Fished a few dollars out of the console, “Hey, Jethro!” I felt genuinely happy to see him, to see him smile at me. I held the bills out, and he thanked me. “I’m trying to do good, I’m trying. This, this ain’t no way to live.” He gestured to the open sky above him and the rain coming down on his head.
“I love you, Jethro.”
I meant it.
“You’re okay. We do the best we can.”
I held my hand to my heart and he held his hand to his heart, and we waited for the light gone red to go green again.
I drove over to the gas station at the bottom of the hill, pulled up to the pumps, noticed the woman with all her things piled up on a tarp-covered cart, saw the swaying older man thin strong shoulders in an undershirt, and thought I recognized him, knew that I knew him from somewhere, probably just around the neighborhood. “Baby,” he calls over to me, lurching like maybe he’s had a stroke, “baby, it’s raining. I got to ask, will you get me a piece of chicken in there. I’m honnnngry.”
He drew out the word like a whine.
“Yeah, of course,” I said, without thinking. I could easily get this man a piece of chicken. He took the gas nozzle from me, “Lemme do that.”
I protested. He didn’t have to do anything.
“I want to do it,” he said, and I understood that I should let him pump the gas.
“I’ll go get you that chicken,” and moved to walk toward the store.
“Baby,” he called, “one more thing. If you could get me a pack of Newport’s, in the box…?”
“I dooooon’t know,” I called back over my shoulder, already knowing that I’d buy him the smokes, because small mercies are priceless in a difficult life. At the counter in the back of the store, the people smiled and laughed behind the steam trays and ice cream cooler set beside the lotto tickets and shelves of tobacco, the stands of gold jewelry and glass cases of pipes and papers, pills with bold claims. The Hindi wife of the store’s owner bustles around all day, sweeping and picking up, walking around the parking lot with incense and muttering prayers.
I ordered the food and went to the other counter to get the smokes, a small hard rectangle that felt just like a present. I got the man more food than he asked for, and he was holding the door when I walked out.
“It’s your lucky day,” I said, and handed him his gifts. All the sudden I recognized him. “I know you! I sat with you on Grove Street.”
I leaned in closer to him, seeing that he had aged. “What is that phrase you said, that thing you said…?”
He paused, adjusted his parcels, his smokes and his bag of food and the collection of lumped belongings he had tucked into his shirt, right against his belly.
The beginning of the word came to me:
“Ashnakaya!” He exclaimed, and turned right toward me to hug me the way he’d hugged me on Grove Street. “My sister!” He held onto to me fiercely, kissed my cheek. “Ashnakaya!”
I still don’t know what the word means.
He held out a small blue box, robins egg blue, and offered me the earrings and the bracelet inside. I believe in magic objects, but I don’t need anymore of them. “Nah, nah man, keep it.”
He didn’t ask for anything else and after I said, “Go eat your dinner,” moved back toward the awning over the sidewalk in front of the store. The man who had been standing behind me at the food counter tossed a pack of Hostess cupcakes toward him as he walked. They skittered to a stop at his feet. “You got cupcakes now, too!”
And I wasn’t lonely anymore.
I think there is an opportunity in this loneliness to find what tells me that I’m not alone.
In the meantime, I’m grateful that I was where I was today, because it taught me something. Human connection can come from all sorts of situations. It has been a long time since I had to crowdsource Connection, find small ways to have a shared experience with people, some meaningful exchange.
I have been over-reliant on one source of connection and, in the current absence of that, I am left, again, to my own devices.
There is a part of me that believes that it is almost inevitable that people will drift out of my life once they have gone through whatever process they needed me for, or whatever process we were in together, trying to grow and heal in the clumsy ways that humans do.
That sounds callous, but it really is just the way things seems to move, at least in my life. I also have drifted from people. For me, that may sometimes be more about attachment issues and heartblocks than it is about the friendship having served its purpose.
The vast majority of anything I write for myself (as part of my practice, which – really – is what it is, a contemplative and expressive practice) loops and stitches around themes of peace-making, conceptions of self in relation to the external, fumbling through problem solving, the perennial conundrums of navigating one’s potential, and experiential observation.
So, it’s part of the way I housekeep my head and heart.
This particular writing was about how – earlier – I noticed sensations of loneliness, which was interesting because I used to not feel that too much, and I figured that it was because I possibly had become over-reliant on a friendship, or had allowed myself to become attached in some weird way where absence creates a lot of feelings of stress/distress, which is kind of understandable because we are bonded and our bond exists in our bodies, too, in the ways we feel connected and the ways we feel one another’s absence, the missing…but, is probably unhealthy, the distress-around-missing, and – at the least – difficult to deal with on a regular basis because it is a disruptive and ironically disconnecting feeling…so, there are some opportunities for me to adjust my orientation to the absence of a friend and possibly get my energy focused the connection, rather than the absence, and do some stuff that I’ve been needing to do, etc.
I think, truly (as truly as one’s thoughts can be) that everything is as it should be (based on interpretive evidence) and that this an important opportunity to do my own journeying and mentor-finding, and to work on some of the things I have been working on, to reconcile whatever is running in the background of me that makes me feel the sensations of loneliness in relation to you, because that is not necessary or accurate or remotely helpful.
Or helpful only insofar as they let me know that I need to find some old person to hang out with or something, or reach out to friends, or sit down and write, to stay busy with things that nurture strength and love and trust that all is as it needs to be, to find a thread to flow and to follow it.
My point, here and in the writing, was that running into two old drunk guys I know – I had just run into another one, someone whose hand I held for a long time while he was drunk and crying about a lost loved one – *evaporated* the sensations of loneliness and replaced them with a big, round goodwill and gratitude…
…and I remembered my practice of crowdsourcing Connection from when I was alone – almost very literally, at least for a season without allies and cut off from all relationships, not just physically alone, which I mostly was, but severed from all relationships and not showing myself to anyone or being at ease with anyone, how I would find – not through strategy, but through a confused and instinct driven almost desperate loneliness – ways to deeply connect with strangers and non-threatening acquaintances, have meaningful exchanges, be open hearted, supported…that is so important.
That is a good skill to have, to be able to find connection wherever you go.
The way we understand ourselves, our experiences, and our world is based on models of understanding, schematics of belief that define our realities and the way we exist within them. These structures of perceived truth provide us with definitions and explanations about the phenomena of living, and are the foundations upon which we make meaning of what we see.
All models are explanatory models. That is what a model does. It explains, provides a framework of reason, in the sense of grounds to exercise analytical processes and in the sense of causation, the explanation for an event, some phenomenon that we seek to understand.
I did not know this, of course, when I was young and fumbling through my understanding of what the fuck was happening with the world and why I couldn’t stop crying and wanting to die.
I lived in the woods with a family who was “a little different” – drove a VW van, with a mom who had a long braid, a father who built a geodesic dome for a living room way out in the woods by the river, worked on Cumberland Island, not at the paper mill.
So, although I didn’t understand the mechanics of models in structuring my reality, I knew that some people thought differently about things than I did, than my parents did. Why, even my beloved great-grandmother, the matriarch who lived down the dirt road by the aging pear orchard, was racist as hell.
“Don’t listen to anything she says,” my parents would say. “She’s a product of her times.”
Years later, in an essay that would get me into the graduate program of my choice only to drop out and attempt suicide in the first semester, I mentioned that messaging from my childhood, to not listen to anything my beloved great-grandmother said about people of color, that she was wrong, but could not unlearn, did not know she was wrong. She was born in 1894. She’d been racist for a long time, a product of her times.
That idea, that the period of time we live in can shape what we believe about other people stuck with me. I wanted to know how that worked, how someone I loved dearly could have such crummy ideas as to make my parents shake their heads. Why does that happen?
My curiosity around this was, and still is, a child’s curiosity, a puzzle to solve, a mystery to unravel. To me, it was maddening to not be able to understand why some people are so fucking racist.
When I began to experience stunning and violent depressions and rages at age 12, I had every reason to be sad. I had just watched the land I had lived with my whole life be bulldozed and paved. My entire town changed. The Navy came. My parents stopped laughing and sold land. However, all of that was just life, what was happening. It would be okay. It was okay. We had streets!
Nobody acknowledged or could fathom the possibility that the reason I was so sad and pissed off was because I was sad and pissed off because I had just watched my home be destroyed, the place I loved most and was connected to, the place where I had worlds, utterly destroyed because of some deal my father was involved in that went south.
At that age, I didn’t have the conceptual and self-reflective tools, the personal emotional intelligence, to understand that I was as upset as I was about the subdivision, the houses built over our road.
I mean, it was a good thing? Right?
My experience of emotionality was so tremendously powerful that it obliterated all capacity to understand anything other than that I was miserable, agonized, violently outraged, without really knowing why. It would have been enormously helpful if someone had sat down with me and just said, “Faith, it makes total sense that you’re grieving. You’ve just witnessed a horrific loss. Everything you feel right now is completely understandable.”
To me, the woods were my home, the home to a part of me that was deeply at ease in being who I was, a little kid playing out by the marsh, pretending to be a bear.
I have thought, for a very long time, that the woods had spirits, were full of spirits. I used to think I could feel them, and sometimes – especially at night – they were everywhere and rushing at me, a great whoosh of presence coming from the dark.
I thought, at times, that perhaps the woods had a part of me in them, or if I had a part of them in me. They knew me well. I was a creature that moved through them, that loved them.
If I lived in a culture that believed that the earth is alive and sentient and that trees carry spirits and ancestors are with us still, that the land carries those who died on it, that the land itself is the dust of the dead, I may have been told, “Faith, it makes total sense that you are in agony. You have watched your friends be torn down, ripped out of the ground, you have seen your sacred places defiled under concrete. The part of your soul that lives with the earth is wounded and outraged and the spirits move through you crying. It makes total sense that you are outraged. You are grieving a great loss, a tragedy.”
However, it did not occur to anyone that perhaps I was grieving the land and the familiarity of the town I grew up in becoming plastered by a Walmart and a million gas stations, acres of strip malls, parking lots filled with the flashy cars of the Navy boys in the hot Georgia sun. My great-grandmother being old, in her 90s, wishing she could die because she’s just a nuisance anyhow, is how she put it. Everybody dead. Can’t get around, can’t hardly see, body is failing, mind still quite sharp.
I have no idea where my parents got the idea to take me to get a psychological evaluation. Maybe from my pediatrician, about the “moodiness.”
The model that was offered to me, and to my family was the medical model of mental illness. Depression. A chemical imbalance. Often life long. A disease of the brain. These explanations were offered without much acknowledgement that they, the explanations, were kind of dire. I mean, a lifelong disease of the brain?
The idea was troubling to me. I tried to learn about it, but couldn’t find much but murky explanations. “Might be genetic.”
Nonetheless, that was the model that my family and I were offered to understand why I was so fucking upset all the time, why I kept saying I wanted to die.
Something was obviously wrong, but the explanation was wrong, too, and this – as it turns out – had devastating effects on the way I saw myself and the way my family saw me.
It erased all other explanations, and turned my emotions into symptoms.
Hi, _____ – Thanks for reaching out. I don’t check LinkedIn much, so I am just now getting your message.
Haha, I am struggling with many of the same questions you are. How to do the work we are most passionate about doing, with community and through education, without saddling oneself with a “career path” that – whole maybe related – isn’t exactly the kind of impactful work that one wants to be doing, or is so laden with requirements for credentialing that jumping through the hoops of degrees and training and licensure uses up all the energy that one wants to be using to make change and do good.
One thing I have done is tried to find points of what I think about as synergy in choosing my path – which, as I noted, I am still trying to figure out.
In thinking about synergy, I think about how certain opportunities might build skills or connections that will help me to do the work I most want to do, which is
community-rooted resiliency education.
I think that for people who have a unique vision, and unique experience or skills they want to use, it is hard to find external opportunities that are structured to hold and allow for the kind of visionary work that some people are inspired to do.
Like, if I am working for an organization, I am doing the work of that organization, and must deliver their services as an employee. I have been lucky to work for nonprofits doing awesome healing and recovery work with community, so there have been many ways that the work I have done as an employee, the work carrying out the mission of an organization, has aligned with the work I want to be doing, and my personal mission.
Working for organizations and community groups gave me a lot of good experience in how nonprofit service work is done, the systems that projects and initiatives exist within, and the different ways that people approach healing. So many different ways of approaching being of service!
I am in the process of trying to find other ways of doing my work – ways that don’t require me to be in a set schedule position or make me beholden to the tasks of the organization if they are depleting to me rather than generative.
In considering what I ought to do, I’ve taken in account my personal values and my experience in doing certain types of work in different settings to try to find what might be the best way to use my energy – what is worthwhile and, like I said, generative…inspiring and energizing and meaningful. I’m in the processing of considering what my personal mission statement might be. My vision and values.
For me, that’s what’s shaping the path. Listening to what I am excited about and what brings up feelings of resistance in me. Exploring that.
It sounds like you are stoked about doing work to support education and prevention with young people (YES!) – and so consider the experiences you’ve had that have made you think, “This. This is it. This is what I want to do!” Not from an idea of what you should do, or what people might think is good for you to do, or what an education program or job tells you is the right path, but in your gut.
Now, think of all the different ways that you might be able to have more of those experiences – it might be connecting with a community group, which will happen as you keep reaching out to people.
Pay attention to things you notice on social media and in the environment. As you get more clear in how you envision what you want to be doing, you will start to notice events and conversations that line up with that.
Social ecology is an amazing grounds upon which to do integrative education and recovery work, because we exist within our environments, and our individual struggles are tied to the struggles of the world. I think it’s totally necessary to seek out education in the interconnectness and coexistence of all things, and wish that every person working with other human beings worked from ecological perspectives.
It’s smart of you, in my opinion, to be wary of degree programs that require a lengthy and costly clinical track. The public systems of care are not the only way to help people. I got my MA and although the education was fairly decent, it was totally unnecessary and now I have a ton of debt. In the changing world, there are going to be many opportunities (and necessities) for people to build community-rooted alternative supports and resources for people who are struggling.
I am having all sorts of ideas now. Thanks for reaching out. It was helpful to me and inspiring to me to respond to you. Had a little bit of a “this! This is what I want to be doing!” moment. Helping people to figure out how to do what most matters to them in following their instinct to reduce harm and do good in the world. Such a human thing to want to help and not know how to go about doing it!
I am still figuring out this stuff, too. So, for me, this exchange has been peer support. Glad you’re out there and motivated to help to prevent and heal harm! The world needs you!
Please write back if inclined, and I hope this made sense. It’s first thing in the morning here, haha!
What my mental illness is:
I notice that I can’t focus, and that my body is filled with sensations of fear and sadness. It is hard for me to not pay attention to these sensations, because they are attention-getting sensations. They cut off my ability to be present in what is actual and happening around me, pull my gaze into my own experience, my body shaking (literally), and the space of my heart and stomach absolutely flooding with feelings of heartbreak, fear, and loss. I am able to maintain an awareness that these things are just sensations, and that everything is actually okay, that I am okay, that the messages and thoughts that poke and prod at the feelings are just myths, code written by harm, not real.
My eyes fill and a tear slides down my face while I sit against the wall at the dmv. I can’t stop it. I want to start crying. I am a grown person.
I take a deep breath and tell my nervous system that it is okay, try to think of reality, the things I want to believe are real, but the sad-thoughts edge out the good, make them flimsy and without the substance of actual belief. These good things are stripped down to ideas, theoretical good things that I can tell myself are real, but that don’t feel real. What feels real is the sadness.
When I am sad and worried about what will happen, I cannot think straight. I cannot laugh or be light in my being. The sadness comes into me and covers all that up. Obliterates me. Installs the sad world inside of me, totally fucks me up.
I understand, in my wise and peaceful mind, my pure mind, which I do have and but can only occasionally access and inhabit, that there is absolutely nothing to be sad about it, there is nothing to be scared of, that all things are as they are and the world is full of beauty and wonder and immense possibility for healing and joyfulness in simply being.
I understand that gratitude for whatever happens to me or does not happen to me is the only righteous and reverent response to the miracle of phenomena that I even exist, and that I am the person that I am, and that I get to experience love and loss again and again, and that it is a beautiful and sweet thing, all of it, no matter what happens.
I understand that I can take a deep breath and look at the underside of a leaf and be amazed to be standing in the moment I am standing in.
It is absolutely true that the cause of human suffering is the wanting of things to be other than they are, desire for something other than what is.
All of my sadnesses and fears are based in wanting something to be some way or another in a way that creates attachment.
There is some part of me though, some wounded sad and fearful part of me, that simply cannot grasp and learn these things.
When that part of me – which lives in my “survival brain”, because anything that creates such strong sensations in me is tied to my stress-response/trauma-response mechanisms – is activated, by stress and especially “emotional stress,” stress that is formed in attachments that set up responses of fear and sadness around circumstances that are actually neutral or positive, due to distorted perception and narratives, I literally cannot inhabit the part of myself that knows that everything is okay.
Because activation of stress and trauma responses affects perception and meaning-making processes, my experience of myself and my life and my reality changes.
I don’t see things clearly. I don’t read things right. It is hard to think straight and my intuition is muddied.
I am ungrounded, live wires firing off in the part of my brain that learned to be afraid of pain and wants to avoid it.
It is not, for example, inherently harmful to me if someone stops being my friend. This is how it goes. People move in and out of other people’s lives. My peaceful self is totally accepting and celebrating of these workings of the human heart and our relationships. I completely understand and am joyful in the belief that everything ultimately works out in ways that we can not even begin to imagine, so to just be grateful to be living. Keep moving forward.
However, my “survival brain” does not seem to know this, and so – when I begin noticing, (without trying to) the learned signs and indicators of a friendship that is changing – I feel sad and fearful.
The extent to which I become sad and fearful exists in proportion to how much a friendship matters to me, how much love I have for the person, how much joy my knowing them and laughing with them and dreaming with them has created.
So, if I love someone a lot, the feels can be tremendous when I perceive them becoming distant.
It’s been a lifelong thing that my sadness has pushed people away. Made me unbearable. Neurotic. Supremely unfun.
I understand that there is no room for fear in big love, in real love. That fear creates doubts around the integrity of love itself, and erodes trust, which is less about what the person will or won’t do, and more about believing that the person is a good person. Good people want to be seen as good, because they are good. It is supremely dishonorable to doubt the word of a good person.
That is what I hate most about the sadness/fear, that it robs me of the experience of being secure and joyful and celebratory in being loved by a good person. It completely fucks that up, and causes harm to the person I love.
So, my solution is to deal with these aspects of my survival brain being attuned to certain things in the way that it is, through rigorous practice, reduction of avoidable stressors to reduce baseline stress activity and support resilience, and doing every single thing I know to do that keeps me in the present and allows me to inhabit my peaceful mind and experience more freely.
I understand that I can just shift into my peaceful state, shut down the noise in me, and be deeply happy and content with all that is. I can do this. I am doing it now.
However, it is sometimes really hard to shift out of those trauma-rooted states. My experience of being in a Trauma/harm-rooted state is that these things can be self-reinforcing. Meaning, that the stuff that comes up for me – the feels and the thoughts, the images – they all create additional harm, freak me out, cause pain. I can feel my reaction to some thoughts in my body, and this is powerfully problematic. I have been trying to learn to recognize lines of thought that may be issued through the workings of harm and trauma, so that I can know that these are just projections of my fears and are not real, but the space between thought and explosion of feelings around the thought, before I can even catch it…it’s like being stuck in the waves.
There are things I try to remember to do, like stay in my body, watch my breath, observe my surroundings neutrally, with compassion and curiosity, remind myself of what is real, and know that it might not glimmer so much as the distortions explode, but that is because my nervous system is attuned to react powerfully to things that a part of me believes are threatening in some way. These can be social, emotional, attachment related, financial, environmental, personal. They can be related to loss or physical harm, or humiliation and being judged, being socially or economically punished. These threatening things can also be me seeing bulldozers and picturing earth pulled asunder.
Today, just because of my thoughts, I started to shake in the dmv, and almost started crying. I knew it was because of my thoughts and I didn’t really believe my thoughts, but they felt real. I had the feelings of the thoughts as though they were real. I tried to stay calm, to bring my vibrations up, to fill my heart with love for fear that these blaring thoughts and feels about things I would feel sad about would radiate out from me and set seeds in the world of unfolding events. “No! That’s not what you want! Don’t think about what you don’t want! Don’t picture it!”
While in the meantime, my headspace is stunned and flooded with thoughts and images of precisely what I don’t want.
Hi _______ –
I hope this finds you well. I am reaching out to you to request consultation, consideration for coaching services.
As I write this, there is a small voice in me that is simply saying, “Help! I need help!”
Let me assure you, I am happy and relatively healthy, and not in crisis in any way, but I do need help.
I don’t know how much you know of my personal history as a person with mental health challenges related to her neurodiversity and life experiences, but a HUGE part of all of that (if not the central factor) is that I am a person who at age 12 was tested as having an IQ of 151.
I am in the habit of acknowledging that these tests measure only a small range of who a person is and how intelligent they are, but they do measure something, if nothing other than how different you are from other people. Across a couple of measures, there are only 2.6% of people whose cognitive processing styles trend in the ways that mine do.
I don’t know why my heart is beating so fast as I write this. I don’t think I have ever talked to anyone in a help-seeking way about this and perhaps something in me recognizes that this is something I desperately need help with, and support around.
I need help organizing my processes and managing my life in a way that supports my growth and potential, and that allows me to develop my strongest gifts. I am twice exceptional, perhaps three or four times exceptional, due to trauma-creating lived experience which adds complexity to the conundrum of being really smart and yet also having profound difficulties in some areas.
I understand what challenges impair my ability to be most effective and ultimately well and healthy in life, and I even understand what could be done to address them. I think that because I understand these things, I believe that I ought to be able to do them, and for years and years I have tried, but challenges with attention and stress vulnerability and the functionality and design of my life seem to derail me or facilitate my drifting in my focus and activity.
I am in the process of making changes in my life, due to some of my current life structures being untenable and ill-conducive to my Wellness. I have things I am working on that I am excited about. I am trying to develop opportunities in the form of several big, ongoing projects, all of which are of vital importance to me.
It is really important that I figure out how to do my life and work differently.
(In my awareness as I write this are sensations related to the fact that nobody ever, ever talked to me about how my brain works. Despite years and years of mental health treatment, nobody – not my providers, not my family, not my teachers, nobody – ever talked with me about how maybe the ways I was smart had everything to do with why I was struggling. I didn’t even know I was smart, or that I was different. I knew I was different, but I just thought that meant I was fucked up. I knew that I was smart, because learning and knowing about things was so easy, but I just thought that meant that I should be able to do everything that anyone else could do, only better, when in actuality I had (and have) sensory and cognitive processing difficulties that functionally impair my ability to do or to cope with what is easy for most people.)
I appreciate the opportunity to reach out to you. Just writing this message has felt therapeutic, because in this small way, I feel powerfully less alone in my experience, and am taking responsibility for my wellbeing by reaching out for support. I am also connecting, and being open about my processing differences.
This is a positive help-seeking experience!
Thanks for your time and consideration in reading through this. Please let me know if you think that your consulting/coaching services might be able to assist me in figuring out how to be the person I am most effectively and most joyfully.
I have very limited funds to invest in seeking professional help, but I also
recognize that the constant stress of trying to do a life that is powerfully counter-therapeutic in its structures and functions creates enormous stress and difficulty for me, and I can’t continue to not address my needs – primarily the need to not have to go to work for an external entity to whom I sell my time, my emotional and cognitive labor, and my stress capacity, ultimately giving these things to work that in some ways is counterproductive to my goals as a human being.
Creating different ways to do my life requires structure and planning, processes that support my accomplishing tasks inherent in change…and I need help.
What do you think?
It has, according to my calculations, been 10 years since I began – on a whim – recording my some of my reflections on experience as part of a project to draw a picture everyday for a year. At various points throughout that time, I have felt strongly convinced that what I most want to be doing in the world is to simply be moving about and looking around and making note of the things that I find beautiful and terrible.
I have been able to weave this practice of paying attention and contemplating experience into my everyday life as I know it, musing over beauty and tragedy as I sit at the traffic light, as I hold someone’s hand, and in that I am lucky.
In being a person with a big, bold imagination, I have often yearned to really see and to really feel the places and circumstances that I am able to bring to mind, that come – actually – unbidden, not brought by any part of me that is consciously deciding to dream of being far away from where she is, I have had to learn to be happy and grateful for what is happening, what I am able to do. Accepting of the things that I believe I am not able to do, or that I am not doing at the moment, and to somehow trust that there is some purpose to me sitting in a meeting under fluorescent lights when I’d much rather be outside where it is quiet and the air is sweet with the smell of earth.
It is difficult to live a life that you don’t feel fully alive in, even if it is a life that others might be blessed to have.
The graciousness of my existence in relation to the sheer human atrocity that defines many lives on this planet is something to be deeply grateful for. I have no reason not to be delighting in the everyday of my life, considering how truly difficult so many lives are.
…and, yet, I want more…and I want less.
I want, more than anything, to be able to use my time in the way I need to use my time in order to inhabit a state of wellbeing that I have come to understand as facilitating of laughter and lightness in being, of open heartedness and the ability to really care about what is happening in the world, not to care in this guarded and buffered way required in the expectation that one will not feel outrage and grief in going to the supermarket or participating appropriately in a meeting.
Always, there is this countervoice in me that calls me out: “Why should you, Faith, get to spend your time doing what, basically, you want to do, when so many people are humble and content enough to do what they have to do, even if what they have to do is terrible, and they aren’t going around maudlin for wanting more, they do not bemoan the tedium and task of the everyday. They are grateful and happy for what they have. They are responsible and not selfish. They work hard, and don’t go around with this heaviness in them that blares all day – a dull sound like thundering tin – that their lives are killing them. They are able to let go of the people that they are and their deepest wants and needs as animals and in their core humanity. They are able to shut that shit down and do what they have to do. What is so special about you, Faith, that you should get to even think about these things, these questions of what you want to do and what you need to do?”
For my entire life, I have based my activities and expectations of myself on a framework of functionality that was designed to conscript people to working in models of modern American industry, which exist for the benefit of American industry, whether that industry be tank tops and flip flops made in China, or high volume factory farms, war machines, or prisons, which create profit for the entities of corporation and business.
The values of hard work being defined by your ability to get over yourself and show up for some bullshit that you don’t need or want to do, and to be happy with what you’ve got, even if your kids are hungry and the place smells like mold…these are values that were taught for the purpose of impelling participation and investment in the systems of economy, education, and reinforcing culture that keep all this going, that keep these systems of economy, education, and reinforcing culture going.
It is my educated understanding – because I have been privileged enough to have access to learn about and contemplate ideas around what shapes our human experience – that who I am and what I am, most truly, has little interest in participating in these activities of commerce and conscriptive culture that says, “well, of course you have to strive for this sort of life where you get up and go to work everyday and you have a house and you have a car and you buy new jeans and like the way the target smells, and you buy the groceries and eat the colorful food made in factories you’ll never see and you don’t think about or talk about the deep fear and sadness that blooms in you when you wonder what happened to the person you were and the world you used to live in.”
In many ways, this is as much a disability rights issue than it is anything else, because the reasons that I cannot participate in these models of commerce and consumption are rooted in that I experience these structures-of -how -we -do-things (how we work, how we get our food, what we do for fun) as harmful to the person I am in the effect that, for example, going to work day after day after day and having all this information and experience jammed into my consciousness in ways that overwhelm and stun, has on my ability to be reasonably well within my life, meaning not having a ‘panic attack’ – not being in fight, flight, freeze, submit, collapse mode in the course of everyday.
“You should be able to do it, Faith. If you’re so skilled at all this recovery stuff, you should be able to keep your life together and be well enough to be able to go to work, and be responsible. You shouldn’t be thinking about going to the woods, or not having anywhere you have to be. People don’t get those things. Mothers can’t do those things.”
I have a lot of feels around the fact that these expectational models of what a person is supposed to be able to do in order to be deemed a responsible adult and in order to be seen as a good mother, have acted upon the life of my family in such a way that I am reduced to an expectation-bound role, and that my kids are bound to be hurt and disappointed by my seeming inability to get my shit together and just get over myself and be happy to be giving someone a ride to the mall because these times won’t last forever. I love giving my daughter a ride to the mall, because i love her, but – really – is it actually necessary for me to be spending my time like that, or for me to be spending my time with her like that?
I mean, why is she going to the mall?
“It’s what teenagers do, mom.”
It’s so crazy to me that even being a person with a really lengthy history of mental health diagnosis and challenges deemed to be mental health related, I am still expected to be able to do everything anyone else does. There is some profound irony (and something that feels cruel), in taking away a person’s legal custody of their children because of mental health concerns and then expecting them to be able to do and be and show for everything a healthy, responsible, American mom can do and be and show up for.
Within these models of the normal American mother there is the assumption that one’s children are central to one’s life, and that being with one’s children in whatever capacity, and being available to one’s children, is the paramount purpose of being once one becomes a mother.
This is not to say that one’s children are not inherently central and connected to you, due to the immutable bond that exists between mother and child, or that – of course, you delight in the mere existence and presence of this person who came from you, this person who was fed by your body – or that, duh, if you ever need me, really need me, I will absolutely be there…but, that in the maternal role is this stripping of the person that inhabits that role, this critical dissolving of the things that this person wants and needs in their own lives, for their own selves, for the people they are. There is this expectation that we ought to give ourselves up, that this is noble and good, to exist only for our children, to do only what is best for them even if it comes to harm or cost to you, even if it kills you. Most every mother would likely die for her child, and most children would likely fight for their mother.
So, why can’t I just do what I need to do and get over myself and do my life in a way that creates the optimal security and abundance for my children and be happy in that?
My children are teenagers now. They were children before. They are edging into adulthood. These are exciting years.
It’s crazy to me that all I am thinking about doing is restructuring my work and exploring other avenues of income which may be beneficial to the family and finding ways to travel more because that is important to me, to be having those experiences. I am thinking about being away from my children for several weeks, every few months, which is not that much, when you consider some people’s situations. I want to travel around and do workshops and training about recovery and community building in under-resourced areas. I want to find more and better, more effective ways to use my experience and gifts to alleviate suffering in the world in some way. In considering these relatively not-shocking variations on the normative expectations of mothers of adolescents, it’s crazy that I should feel inclined to launch into sociological critical analysis of the normative maternal role as impeding of freedoms and as harmful to mothers and children in its establishing of expectations which functionally strip mothers of the ability to be and to explore who they are outside of the role of mother, simply in the requirements of time, attention, and priority that one is expected to give their children, even when their children are near grown and don’t want their mom’s hovering around in their lives anyway…?
When I Am Well
I experience sensations of groundedness – an ease and presence in being, a relaxedness.
I am able to think clearly and am able to focus.
I have ideas and inspirations.
I see beauty and have gratitude.
I sleep well and am motivated to exercise and go outside.
My appetite is for healthy foods.
I am able to laugh and be witty.
I feel in-my-body, and have sexual energies. I am curious and interested.
I feel loving toward and appreciative of people.
There is very little fear, and I am able to quickly and effectively correct for triggers.
My stress vulnerability is low.
I am solid.
When I am very well
I have a strong sense of spiritual connection and resonance with all things, and a deep appreciation for all things.
I feel sensations of lightness and grounded excitement in the center of me.
I experience poetry and synchronicity.
I feel alive in my animal body and clear in my spirit.
I believe strongly in a beautiful future, and have good energy toward doing without doing.
I am peaceful and unhurried and am able to experience deep, present engagement in what I am doing, and my observer mind is sitting back smiling watching the phenomena of being but not thinking too much about anything at all.
There is no fear.
I feel strong in my body and generally amazing.
I need to sleep for 8 hours at least 4 days a week. If I get less than 6 hours of sleep, I need to rest during the day or go to bed earlier.
I need to eat appropriately for my physical needs. Small meals, high protein, raw foods, adequate minimally processed carbs, very low sugar. 3-4 liters of water per day.
I need to maintain and work toward improving my physical environment – make bed, keep room clean, work incrementally on projects to improve living space and decrease environmental stressors like clutter and grime and old paint, dust.
I need to meaningfully connect with the people in my life in ways that are generative/nurturing of the health of the relationship.
I need to spend time writing at least 5 days a week because writing helps me to keep myself well and helps me to stay connected with myself and what’s important to me. Writing is how I am a friend to myself.
I need to spend time outside everyday.
I need to exercise fairly rigorously at least 3-4 days a week and exercise moderately 1-2 days a week. 1-2 rest days with stretching and light strength training.
I need to listen to music and expose myself to ideas that are interesting and important to me.
I need to make note of and spend time with at least one thing that creates at least small feelings of deep beauty and appreciation in me.
I need to intentionally name the things I am grateful for.
I need to review my commitments and responsibilities for the day and surrounding days and plan my energy expenditures and time to afford self care and daily maintenance.
I need to spend time with contemplation and sense of spiritual connection
Writing – connecting with myself
Connecting with people I love (esp. my partner)
Making plans for a positive future, working on those plans
Music / art
Taking care of my physical environment
Triggers -> things that create stress reactions that impact wellness or change subjective experience, things that ‘take me out of my Resiliency zone’
Not enough sleep
Not enough food
Too much sensory stress
-> how this can show up:
irritability, cognitive impairment, distractable, General distress of varying intensity, with potential tearfulness and reactivity, increased stress vulnerability and – depending on confluence of factors (e.g. how sleep deprived or underfed I am, external pressures, capacity/time for rest/self care, presence of additional perceived stressors in micro and macro life domains, hormones) ->
Vulnerability to acute severe depressive episodes that are connected to ->
Challenges and Experiences Related to What My Rudimentary Survival Brain has Experienced and Learned as Harmful and Threatening
Physiological stress responses, bolts of energy in my muscles, or slackness in my body, shivering, internal sensations of distress (‘unease’ in my center, feelings of ‘anxiety,’ sensations of grief, generally increased stress vulnerability, potential for radical shift in experience and thinking/perception, reactive affective distress that is difficult to regulate, significantly impaired cognitive function and ability to connect with and be in the present, inability to communicate well, or to speak, extremely comprehensive intrusive thoughts and images of fear-related things
Note: Even as I am experiencing these things, I am aware of what is happening and I understand rationally that I am not well and that my brain is operating from my stress response mechanisms. I am aware that I am ungrounded, and yet I can see this, and so am not entirely ungrounded.
This awareness makes things more difficult, because I see the harm in where my mind is residing and I have been able – at times – to help myself feel better, and to make peace with distress and to tolerate it reasonably well, to at least not feed into it.
If I am severely activated, and do not have capacity to cope, I am not able to feel better and that is scary and painful for me, because the feelings and thoughts that are part of that state are related to trauma and when my survival brain belches out a mixed assortment of memory, thought, visualization of possible events connected to fear and sadness, it is overwhelming and it feels like times I wanted to/tried to die and that is re-traumatizing.
I have deep learning about being a person who can’t cope and who creates harm to people and things she cares about because of the way she is and when my survival brain begins spitting out vivid memories associated with the experience of not being okay, these very detailed and affectively-loaded images explode in me and are interpreted by my survival brain as a threat, and sometimes (often) I literally wince and gasp/make wounded sounds at what is showing up in my head.
The internal distress escalates to complete overwhelm and a chaos of fight, flight, freeze, with feelings of being stunned and rushes of strong physical pain associated with emotionality.
Like how profound grief hurts.
It hurts like that. Makes it hard to breathe, makes me want to collapse and feel lightheaded. Stunned and panicked all at once.
Too much to do
Pressure (or perceived pressure)
Lack of (or perceived lack of, and if I am perceiving lack, I am already not okay) authentic positive experiences
Conflict (or perceived conflict)
Perceptions of people being angry at me or hostile toward me, being around angry and hostile people, seeing too many people suffer and not having positive experiences with people (experiences which are neutral or eustress creating, not distress creating, not being able to experience things positively)
(Again, if I am perceiving->experiencing things as distressing, I am already not okay.)
Not having time to connect with what is important to me, having difficulty connecting when I need connection (Being stressed or already not okay in ways that make it hard for me to experience ease with people -> major escalator, many feedback loops nested into this.)
Being in stress-producing environments that are loud and with threats (actual or perceived, being around legit sketchy people or people who are harming other people)
Perception/narrative cues that I am not okay:
– self criticism and judgement, negative self evaluation which shows up as intrusive thoughts and vivid messaging about myself, my capabilities and my future
(this comes from *deep* learning)
– perception of loss or compromise of important relationships
– feeling not understood or judged by people who matter to me
Warning signs that indicate increased stress vulnerability and vulnerability of challenges:
Increased sound/light/movement sensitivity
Feeling physical disgust in environments
Being unmotivated and having difficulty in engaging in action
Feeling disengaged and disconnected
Having a sense of myself as not grounded, catching myself getting carried away in my thinking, having strong feelings or no feelings at all
Not sleeping well or being tired all the time
Minor intrusive thoughts/pressures about things I “have to do”
Eating bags of potato chips for dinner, or not eating enough
Increased reliance on/use of substances
Not having things to say, feeling cognitively sluggish and uninspired
Not writing. Forgetting that I am a writer.
Forgetting what I am doing
Losing track of time
Difficulty organizing thoughts and expressing myself
Because of experiences of not being okay and then really not being okay in ways that created significant harm in my life and to myself and to people who love me, which resulted in legitimate neuropsychophysiological trauma…
(in the sense that the trauma resides in my experience not as a ‘victim’ narrative in my psychology, or as an idea, but as a complex state that apparently involves mechanisms of my survival brain that are sometimes outside of the realm of my conscious, rational control and which take over my experiences in ways that are retraumatizing because I involuntarily and with little effective power see and think about and feel all of these terrible things that I know aren’t happening and that I know aren’t real and nonetheless they are happening and real in my body and in the images in my head. I see and know that these states disconnect me from what is healthy and strong in me and I know they are dangerous and that is scary and sad and that makes it worse.)
…that is associated with experiences of not being okay, there is a rapid fire feedback loop that dramatically overwhelms me.
It is imperative that when I am not okay, I do whatever I need to do to get back to being okay as quickly as possible, by whatever means necessary, and to not try to be okay when I am not, because that never works.
Acknowledge that I am not okay. Be okay with not being okay.
(Need: Some phrase or signifier that anchors me in compassion and acceptance and a commitment to simply being with what I am experiencing.)
Remind self of spiritual/philosophical groundings that support nonattachment, trust in what is, and loving kindness toward self and others.
(Need phrase or signifier. Example: Mudita – as a phrase and as a framework of orienting to and ascribing feeling toward events that stimulate experiences of envy – has been very helpful in neutralizing perceptions that cause me harm, are dishonorable to reality, are harming of those I love, and are not in alignment with my values. Gratitude and appreciation for what is happening (whatever it is) has also been helpful, as has trusting that whatever is happening is exactly what needs to be happening and reassuring myself that I will be okay no matter what.)
Barrier to utilizing perspective grounding: If I am distressed past a certain extent, I can know these things in my head, but I cannot *feel* the peace that fully inhabiting these beliefs/perspectives brings.
Loophole: Direct these perspectives to the state itself, savor it for what it is, be thankful for it, to be alive to feel pain. Remind self that pain is connected to love, and instead of getting stuck in “I love something, oh my god, I’m gonna lose it!” focus on gratitude for having the experience of deeply loving, really center in that, and assert belief in a positive future no matter the outcomes? Accept and embrace that I will not feel immediately peaceful, that I will not feel immediately good, that I am hurting and that pain is telling me something, be grateful for the pain as a message or as information about what needs healing.
Do not incur additional harm in attribution.
Remind self of how it feels to be deeply grounded and present. Do not mourn that I am not currently deeply grounded and present. Remind self that I will inevitably feel better and that I will reinhabit the sacred circle.
Be patient with myself. Do not expect myself to be able to just be able to be okay, even though I know it is theoretically possible.
Tend to the body. Run or walk or lift weights.
Stop everything to the extent possible
Barriers/feedback loops: compulsory responsibilities and obligations, pressures. Learned complex around being a disappointment and a failure if I am not okay.
Fear: if I cannot show up for something, people will be angry, disappointed and I will become disposable
Underlying belief: if I do not meet people’s needs and expectations, they will be angry at me or disappointed in me and they will ultimately dispose of me or decide that I am a loser they don’t want to be friends with.
Do not try to show up or be there for things that I am not capable of showing up well for. There is no good reason for me to show up for anything having anything to do with other people if I am not going to be able to show up at least somewhat well. If I can’t do it, and do it being well, without causing additional stress to myself or setting myself for an impossible situation, then call it off. It serves nothing for me to force myself to try to be okay when I am not. It is “painful” for me to be around people when I am not okay and they know I am not okay. It is “not safe” for me. The way I am when I am not okay causes problems in communication and affect and behavior and that creates harm for me and for other people involved. I do not want to be around people when I am not okay. It is hard to connect with people when I am not okay. That hurts me and scares me and makes me feel alone. It is pointless and stupid to try to force myself to “shift out of it” if I am past a certain threshold of distress. It takes time to reset. I can’t just “be okay” if I am fully activated in a trauma-related state. That means that sometimes I won’t be able to talk or to do things or to be there in the way that people want me or need me to be there, which ties into potential triggers around letting people down and damaging relationships, losing people.
I need it to be okay to not show up. To not be available.
AND I believe that there are things I can do or remind myself of when I am in these states to aid in their neutralization.
First, awareness that I am in a state.
Grounding in compassion with the state. I cannot always do this with myself if I am significantly escalated, because the content of state (which could probably be summed up as vivid shame-and-loss trauma) is not conducive to compassion, even though I can see that I am suffering, the content of the state is counter to compassion. In these states, I feel frustrated and disappointed and like a hopeless fuckup.
(When these states affect my relationships or my ability to show up for things that are important to me (important for some reason or another), I feel angry and resentful toward myself as the creature I am.)
(I seriously think this is why some people commit suicide. States like this are like a hall of mirrors full of trap doors and double-backs. They are a set up for extreme existential and experiential distress.)
Recognize that when I am saying “I feel like…”
(for example, ‘we are not best friends anymore’)
I am giving information about what I am feeling and about the thought that comes up around the feeling. This is not to say that I actually believe we are not best friends anymore, but that I am having the feelings of deep loss and profound sadness and that I am having the painful thought (that I do not like and do not believe, but that is intrusively inserting itself into my experience) that a relationship is threatened or that a person will not want to be my friend anymore.
I do not believe these things, and yet I feel them as though they are actual and happening. When tremorous feels reach a 5+ and definitely when they are at a 10+ – I experience a persistent and complex intrusive blaring of thoughts and sensations re: the content of my fears and sadnesses, which create additional trauma responses because of my tendency for affective processing of mental images and mind-content, meaning that what I think about and involuntarily visualize stimulates my stress/trauma response -> my thoughts and feelings can create additional stress and trauma.
Tremorous feels represent activation of my fear, and show the attributes/characterizations of my fear.
When I am in that state, I am scared and sad, mostly about losing people that I love and fucking up my life.
Because I have “lost” people and caused harm in relationships and made some pretty grievous errors, and have harmed myself in relation to tremorous feels that become disabling consuming crises of fear and trauma responses going completely into overdrive, all of that comes up for me, even if, when I am well, i have reconciled/made peace with those losses and become appreciative and compassionate towards those errors.
So, I am basically in a trauma-affected state when I am at 10+.
I recognize that the feels represent old harms, my body remembering heartbreak, replaying it. Replaying all the heartbreaks, all at once.
What others can do to help me/things to be aware of:
Understand that I am not trying to be difficult and that I already feel terrible about the prospect of disappointing people.
Give me space if I need it. Do not be disappointed in me for needing space to take care of myself, even if it is not ideal or not what the other person needs from me in the moment. Do not take it personally if I need space to collect myself and get grounded.
Support me in following daily maintenance, esp. sleep and food and limiting exposure to unnecessary stressors.
Recognize that my communication is impaired and that pressure to speak or communicate clearly creates additional inability to speak, because I freeze and panic.
Be aware that involuntary perception of judgement, criticism, and harm-I’m-causing is heightened, and I have particularly strong fear/retreat responses to people expressing frustration, people getting angry at me because of the way I am “being,” people talking with me about how I am not handling things well and how I should…etc. etc.
My cognition and executive function and ability to implement prior learning around skills and perspectives is significantly impaired in these states, and that contributes to feelings of helplessness and frustration, feedback loops of tragic inefficacy.
When I am in those states, I am essentially under internal siege and am just doing the best I can not to roll up in a ball until it’s over.
Hug me, let me hug you. Walk with me. Remind me to look up. Talk to me about neuromechanics and philosophy. Sit somewhere quiet and beautiful with me. Breathe with me.
Aug 19 –
So, as far as a wellness tool and preventative actions I can take, I have observed over the past couple of days a tendency to get way consumed by my thinking and processing and contemplation – I think I am working through some really deep learning/unlearning processes, and reconciling some of the roots of distress in my experience, and that’s important…
However, in doing this, it is really easy for me to get totally absorbed in just sitting and thinking and feeling in this little solipsistic capsule of subjective experience and orientation toward my environment.
I need to watch out for that.
Yesterday, I had to consciously *try* to pull myself into the present, to quiet down my thinking processes.
(As I am writing this, I am wondering about contemplation as a process of thinking and contemplation as a process of deeply being present and open to and considering with curiosity what might come forth in one’s awareness. I think, for me, it’s both a top down “let me think about this analytically” and a “oh, okay, I am seeing what comes up and looking at that.”)
Sometimes what comes up in the course of a day or as a broad theme in my life stimulates an impulses (a response to noticing that something creates distress or dissonance within my experience, an impetus toward “okay, I gotta figure this out.”
My analytical process – by virtue of how I think – takes on a rapid mind of its own, an involuntary churning through of thoughts and ideas and feelings and images/imaginings an…man, that can be stress producing, to be in sustained conscious and reflective awareness in relation to mind-states and affective processes.
(Especially if am working through something that has the capacity – based on tendencies in interpretation stemming from deep learning – to create distress and especially of what I am reflecting on and making efforts to reconcile involves me feeling resistant to a certain way of thinking or feeling about something, ego dystonic and in conflict with my values or harm-producing to me -> feedback loops, which I am also working on undoing…so, it becomes this process of sitting with and looking at and deeply pondering these very uncomfortable and toothy landscapes of my shadow side and trauma-rooted experiences.)
I have been in this long process of eroding fears and deep learned limitations in what I *feel safe* in doing and being. That means that I have spent enormous amounts of time over the past few years sitting and thinking and feeling, and not being enormously present in my immediate environments and dimensional existence. Ironically, one of my ‘thinking’ motivations – a topdown, ego constructed motivation – in trying to reconcile fears is that I know that going through these processes will ultimately help me to be more present and more at peace and more connected to the most important center of myself.
I have to be very intentional in not spending too much time in that state of reflection and deconstruction of learned experience, because it separates me from my environment and severs my connection to what exists outside of me, and to my simple merging with all of that.
Being in the state of resolving distress – ‘what is this that is arising in me as a problem (suffering creating), something that I need to reconcile in the knee-jerk of how I’m seeing and interpreting a situation, because how I am seeing it is creating distortion and distress for me, how does this work and what does this mean?’ – can make me forget that none of this matters all that much and the world is a beautiful and fascinating and totally fucking absurd place, full of wonder and potential and great riches of experience right here in this very moment.
Trying to reconcile suffering by giving it attention and understanding how it works is helpful only insofar as the process by which we seek to gain understanding does not reinforce suffering or teach me to orient to suffering at the expense of my ability to interact with and engage with that immediate reality and the world around me.
My interest understanding the basic mechanics of and landscapes of my personal style of suffering lies in a) duh, not wanting to suffer and b) recognizing that the states which cause suffering are powerful, informative, and dangerous, and c) recognizing that these states sometimes exist outside of the realm of my conscious control and intent, thus d) I need to learn how these states work so that I can navigate them in ways that are less harmful to me and people I care about.
However, it is of vital importance to me that I remember that participation in and action in the world I live in, as well as intentional building toward the world I want to live in are crucial tools in responding to suffering and I understand that part of how suffering works with me is that it is painful for me to be caught in my head and heart and disconnected to what I want to be real…and so it is an obvious solution to be actively engaging in physical and material activities that connect me to the present and contribute to the present I want to create.
Majorly helpful at the moment is drawing and visual art, also thinking about the house plans – especially the map room, thinking about gear for the planned trip (the trip I am going to go on!) and taking action.
What is not super helpful for me is having a job and having to go to work, although I understand conceptually that I have a pretty sweet gig and that I ought to be able to suck it up and perform. Ugh. I just don’t want to think about anything about work. It’s become an involuntary stressor.
Speaking of, it occurs to me that things (situations, scenarios, people, places) that I have repeated negative experiences with tend to become involuntary stressors – meaning that I experience sensations of stress arousal in a particular direction around those things, based on learning and association.
This is very dangerous and impedes my ability to be at ease and to participate well and to be present for new learning because when I am scared I am experiencing fear and that is what I learn about a thing, despite other possible experiences I might be having if I weren’t scared.
So much of this is involuntary -> happens lightning quick.
Notes on biological triggers
I am at what I calculate to be a mild hormonal disadvantage, the entering into the outer edge of my ‘premenstrual’ state, where progesterone and testosterone are low. I can support myself in decreasing vulnerability to hormone related tremorous feels and activation of complexes by:
- maintaining an awareness of vulnerability
- Following daily maintenance recommendations (seriously, do these things)
- Keeping an eye on my mind and body sensations
- Use reality-centering memories and beliefs to counter distorted perception and reaction (you know what these are.)
- Draw and write as much as possible.
- Work on the house and do things that help you to feel good about yourself
- Keep on the ‘up and up’ – immediately focus sensations and energies around fears into love and peacefulness and gratitude to be alive and assertions of okayness regardless of outcomes.
- Remember what that guy with the egg at the home improvement store said: “We create what we think. Be careful what you think.”
- Seriously…you have got to be vigilant in not letting this process and tendency unfurl. You – nor anyone else – needs to go through that again. It is super harmful and it fucks up your life.
There is thunder this afternoon, but it’s still far off. I’m sitting on my porch and not on the clock, though I oughta be…
It is so difficult to not let the missing feels drift into fear and sadness feels – to keep them anchored in love and appreciation and gladness for what is, what might come – whatever that might be. I have tried to counter the stirrings of a fearful/sad missing with memories of good times and assurances – but, that makes me feel in a muddle, too, because it sets up hoped-for outcomes.
The only way I feel any peace about things is by finding ways to center in gratitude for and acceptance of whatever happens, and to tap into the energy of what I want to move toward, which are the life plans and endeavors in living well, walking happily and freely down roads, having conversations I want to have. Laughing. Being at ease.
It might be good for me to work on re-opening myself to the vulnerability of what I deeply want – which is mostly to hang out with you and get to feel that sense of camaraderie and best-friendship.
I gotta get back to that place of belief in that what I want is in the process of becoming real.
I am working on a diagram about secure and insecure attachment. Well, haha, I have a blank piece of paper in front of me.
I think that the drift toward bummed and anxious, insecure states in relation to our friendship and love has to do with attachment issues and ways those tie into fear and self-protection, my learned tendencies.
It fucks me up so much when I let myself edge into insecure attachment. It impairs my ease in being.
The solution is not to try to guarantee security by adherence to certain practices and regular provisions of assurances, but to be able to inhabit that orientation of delight and curiosity and gratitude and appreciation and LOVE that makes me happy to just be in this, and to be able to trust that there is something connecting me to my most important friends that transcends the usual, easily-broken connections.
I think there are conditional states of security – where maybe one is ‘secure’ so long as this isn’t happening and that isn’t happening, and then there are more spiritually and philosophically grounded states of security – where one is secure in the fact that they love and are loved and recognize the sacredness of that, and are grateful to be in what amounts to a momentary partnership with someone, working with them together to build a life, without any guarantees about how that will look or how long it will last.
So, this thought occurred to me today that when I am interpreting myself and the viability of my relationship in a pain-producing, suffering-creating way, I am seeing through the wrong “world eyes.” I think there is something to this that I wrote above, something to the pain that is caused by perceptions rooted in a worldview based on comparison and self-as-object/commodity, evaluated and judged to be worthy or not worthy based on the ideals of a consumerist and ultimately non-loving world, where love is conditional upon one’s values within frameworks of beauty, ‘success,’ social capital, etc.
I think that identifying the source of these garbage perspectives that harm me and separate me from the reality of loving and being loved has been a helpful step for me in establishing protections against vulnerability to getting into these head/heart spaces where I am not feeling so good about myself.
That is the mirror of a particular world – one which I don’t have much interest in existing within.
Yesterday, I had the interesting experience of completely crashing out after work. I was tired, from staying up and connecting, which was important and enlivening to my spirit, and so it didn’t matter that my body was tired. I felt good in my mind and in my spirit. I wasn’t exactly on fire about work, and the things I needed to do for work, but I was able to do them, and didn’t experience distress in doing them. I knew, however, that my energy was elsewhere, or just quiet – a little disconnected from the vibe of urgency and excitement amongst my coworkers relating to spaces and grants.
As I am thinking about this, reflecting on the somewhat peculiar experience of falling asleep so hard – a clean, hard, sincerely tired sleep, a demanded rest – I am also considering the mechanics of energy and what sort of energy I might need to bring to my tasks – by ‘energy’ – in this case – I mean the openness and orientation to the action at hand, and the general body/mind state that results from whether or not I am in flow – which, here, means ‘present and engaged in the process one is participating in, not resistant, not generating of resistance feels in the body, but, light and present in what you are doing whatever it is, appreciative of and open to being a part of the process.’
I think of the conveyor as an unceasing progression of compulsory activity and energy expenditure towards activities that one perceives must be completed due to
- a) objective life-death necessity of activities that ensure basic physical survival needs are met
or b) perception of necessity rooted in values, beliefs
(related to ~>)
- c) threat of social or economic consequence
The feeling of the conveyor – for me – is one of fatigue, physical and mental weariness, an awareness of ‘not wanting to’ that requires energy and focus-consuming assertion of openness and willingness in experience and ‘attitude’…requires practicing acceptance and gratitude for what is <~ very challenging sometimes.
Related: an internal conflict in will and motivation, deep questioning about what the point is, ethical and practical concerns about complicit or misguided participation in things that a) conflict with my values, b) undermine my personal needs
I’d like to reconceptualize the conveyor from a reductionist procession of tedium and depletion in accomplishing tasks throughout the day to an unfolding flow of present, engaged action that I learn and grow within…that I trust to be precisely what needs to be happening…
(^such a blaring voice in me about what utter b.s. this ‘trust what is’ sentiment truly is sometimes, when atrocities unfold.)
Nonetheless, in my life, nothing that is happening to me is remotely terrible, and most of it is fairly wonderful – actually amazing – and…so, I want to be able to enjoy all of what I am doing, because it is what I am doing…?
…but, sometimes it feels like a conveyor, the tasks and deadlines and errands…and I have to wonder why I am doing all this?
The motivation/impelling force comes from love and commitment to people I love and to maintenance of life as we know it, and the need to earn wages to maintain (and “improve”)* life as we know it, and to be able to adequately demonstrate my love and commitment to people I love through the language of quality groceries and provision of material goods which represent “taking care of” and “caring about” in a capitalist culture and social economy.
*The way “improve” shows up in my head is in ‘making the house nicer’ and ‘earning more money’ – the de jure American capitalist synonymization of improvement with wealth accrual, having a nicer house, better stuff…but, what I really think ‘improvement’ might be is more along the lines of laughing more, and everybody getting to be who they are, and not being stressed out and tired and pulled in a lot of different directions.