Friday, December 4, 2020

Hey Weirdo

I share a lot about my personal struggles. Sometimes I'm just having a yucky day, other times I might be dealing with a PTSD trigger, or pulling myself out of a depressive episode. I write about good stuff too, but this post is not about those posts. 

I started sharing things online in part because writing is one of my big tools for processing, but the main reason was because a large part of my trauma involves carrying secrets and pretending things are okay when they were not.  Writing about what I was feeling, putting it into some sort of tangible form, and then sharing it with someone else helped overcome that, but there was a side benefit I didn’t intend or expect.

Over the years I have had a variety of reactions from people. There are those who just click on the like, love, or cares emojis. Some share their stories of dealing with similar things. Others offer hugs, kitty pictures, or general words of support.

What no one has ever said in response to any my posts is, "Hey you weirdo. You must be the only person on the planet who has EVER felt this way."

One of the things that depression, PTSD, anxiety disorder, low self-esteem, self-loathing, or even crappy days are particularly good at (and that our culture is soooo great at reinforcing) is telling you that you are the only person who ever felt this way, that you are the only person who feels this way now, the only person who will ever feel this way...AND it's all your fault because you are surely some broken, overly emotional freak of nature.

You are not. Whatever you are experiencing someone in this vast world, offline or on Facebook, has felt it too.

I know that for me, just knowing that someone else has felt something similar helps me to confront those inner voices that try to convince me that I what I am feeling is somehow wrong or “not normal.” It reminds me that those voices are not telling the truth, and that my experience is not an isolated one, but a human one. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Fuck everything. I'm grumpy.

Grumpy leaves me feeling annoyed with everything. 

The world. Humanity. You. Me. Everyone and everything. 

Grumpy turns minor things into giant, teeth gnashing, monster issues. 

Is that a sock on the floor?


Grumpy arrives at the party carrying unannounced discontent; glad to be here but the dip could use more salt, the chair is lumpy, and are you struggling financially because it's a bit chilly in here. 

I never remember if I invited them or not. Or why.

Grumpy eats a package of tiny white powered donuts, a double-decker oatmeal cream pie, and a bag of Fun-Yuns out of spite. Spite for who or what...doesn't really matter. 

and Grumpy 

Grumpy will sit here with a broody furrowed brow, answering all questions with one syllable. 

Grumpy.  Takes. EVERYTHING. Personally.  . 

Grumpy walks around with stompy feet, full of sighs, wishing someone would just FREAKING ASK ME HOW I'M DOING BECAUSE NO ONE REALLY CARES...AND...

"...oh me? oh...I'm just fine really.  Oh yes.  No...that furrowed brow? Oh...just a lot on my mind. I'm fine."


Grumpy is contradictory.  

Grumpy only stops to pet the cat.

Grumpy really only hears what Grumpy wants to hear. 

Grumpy does not want to participate in today.  

Grumpy will be staying in their room until Thursday...

 ...or maybe 2022. 


Thursday, October 8, 2020

27 Days...

When I watched the video of surfer Matt Wilkinson's close encounter with a shark my first thought was, "Oh myyyy woahhhhhh!!"

After the woah factor passed, my thoughts turned to how each of us likely comes this close to being seriously injured or killed on a regular basis, but we never know it because there isn't a drone hovering above us, watching what goes on around us. Our focus is generally on whatever is right in front of us, with our thoughts centered on whatever is upcoming. 

We operate under this illusion of sameness, and control; believing that we will always be here tomorrow or that things will go as planned. .  
But we won't ever know how choosing to cross a street in a different place prevented us from being hit by a car.  
We won't ever know that we narrowly missed getting a COVID positive Uber driver. 
We won't ever know that we were almost bitten by a mosquito carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis. 
Our minds create the illusion of certainty because we can't function if we live on guard 100% of the time (ask almost any abuse survivor, hyper-vigilance is exhausting). And because our beautiful brains are capable of taking in information, calculating risks, and making predictions, we believe we have control. 
I find this weirdly comforting right now, knowing that there has always been uncertainty, there has always been the unknown. I find it comforting because this means that it is possible to function without knowing the outcome. We are unaware that we are doing this every day. It is the knowing that the uncertainty is coming that gives room and time for the mind to play out all sorts of possibilities, for me it is usually ones of the apocalyptic sort, and our bodies respond with stress and worry. Our minds know that is coming, but our bodies believe it is here now. 
So I talk to my body.  I breathe into it.  I tense and relax muscles. I check-in.  Slowly, with these and other tools, I pull my body back from tension, back from crisis mode. I remind my body that this new unertainty has not arrived yet. 
I do this again, and again, and again. Not to deny that a crisis is coming or to convince my body that the illusion is real, but so that I can respond to what is to come from a place of groundedness and relative clarity, instead of fear and anxiety. 
These tools won't spare me from feeling fear or anxiety, but they will help put me, mind and body, in a place where they can be utilized as one more source of information, and not as the only one. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

29 Days...

I am sitting on the edge of the porch in the Autumn sun.  

I pause to watch the Autumn leaves drop from tree to ground. 

As I ponder the falling leaves, a horsefly lands on my journal on the entry from yesterday.  The fly lands on the word between. 

Yes, my little fly friend, we are indeed about to enter the time of between; the place of not being one thing or another. 

We are entering the pupal stage of the year of the year.  When, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days grown shorter, nights longer.  The cold comes and we shelter.  

Unlike the fly we can't make a haven out of our own skin, so we wrap ourselves up in other things - we cocoon.

We cocoon in our homes in sweaters, slippers, woolly socks, and drawn curtains against the draft. 

We cocoon outside in hats, scarves, layers of long underwear, and snow crunching boots. 

We cocoon inside ourselves, wrapped up in our minds and thoughts. 

Yes, little fly friend, we are also entering a time between in our culture. 

And our cultural cocoon is a painful one. Inside our culture is dissolving, breaking down.  

Unlike the turn of the seasons, or the birth of a fly, the outcome of this is not easy to predict and its timing is not certain. 

Unlike the seasons, the old way of being does not give way easily to the next. 

Unlike the seasons, this change will happen only with our own efforts. 

I want to ask the fly, "Did you know, as a tiny maggot, when your skin formed your pupal case...did you know you would emerge as a fly? Were you afraid when it was happening? Did it hurt?"

What kind of world will we emerge into in the spring?

What kind of world will be build over the coming years? 

Friday, October 2, 2020

32 Days...

Last night one of my housemates and I watched the moon rise over the sea. The fog and bit of haze made the moon a red orange ball that was reflected in the water. It reflected its orangey red self in a moon trail across the bay.  It was beautiful...

As I sat there watching this beautiful moon rise, it struck me this moment I was experiencing felt like a look back moment; the ones you see at the beginning of a show or movie where an older character starts to tell a story about the past.  They pause, and they say something like... 

"I remember watching the moon rise over the sea in early October that year. The Pandemic has been going for over six months, the election was looming and everything felt so uncertain...but we really had no idea how bad things were going to get..."

Everything feels very now. Something inside me knows that we are on the edge of something monumental - it may be good or bad or some mash up of the two, personally I vacillate between the WORST possible thing and the only slightly less pessimistic slow collapse and even longer recovery, with a lot of pain an suffering - and there is a call to pay attention, to notice things. 

Maybe it is so we can look back and remember how we got to where ever we end up, or maybe it is some broader, cosmic hypervigilance; a coping mechanism that substitutes awareness for control - not to control the shift, but to know when it happens.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

33 days...

33 days. 

One lunar cycle plus five days. 

One month and three days. 

Four weeks and five days. 

It is proving difficult for me to focus this week.  I feel this nervous energy, an anxiety that doesn't know what to do with itself. I do my weekly planning, complete my calendar, and then stall. I have written quite a bit, both here and on social media, about how the pandemic has put most of us is a very now place, one that can inhibit long term planning, but this feels different.

When I try to envision the future I come up against a wall when I hit midnight on November 3rd.  I see the days on the calendar rolling by one by one, and then nothing.  My mind sees it as fuzzy, gray static; kind of like what you see when you rub your eyes or you feel like you are on the edge of fainting. 

Just nothing.

And this nothing is what feels paralyzing.

I really don't know what will happen after November 3rd.   My mind plays out dozens of scenarios that could happen from a drawn out legal battle over the vote with neither side agreeing who won, which is probably the most benign of my thoughts, to outright collapse and war. 

And truly, it isn't even my government that I fear the most, maybe if it was just that it would be easier to frame, easier to plan for, but it is the people who feel empowered by our president to intimidate and attack people who differ from them that I fear. And, those who will turn their heads away, as long as they and theirs are still feeling some sense of "normal" and have little disruption to their lives.  In some way I fear those people the most. 

I see a Trump/Pence sign on someone's lawn and I think, "That person wants people like me and my friends dead." I don't think that a non-christian, non-binary, pansexual femme has much of a place in the Trump/Pence world. Neither do black people, indigenous people, people of color, LGBTQ people, poor people, people with disabilities, immigrants, anyone who is not white, straight, and professes to be Christian.

My work motivation has devolved into, well I should get this done just in case the world doesn't fall apart in a month. 

My life motivation has become prepare.  I don't mean in the dig a hole, pack away beans, and stock up on bottled water (though I do much of that anyway - I grew up in New England and being prepared for a week of no power in winter is just what we do). I mean finding a way to mentally and physically prepare myself for facing this great unknown. Trying to find someway to convince myself that I am ready or at least as ready as I can be. 

I am not 100% sure how to go about it, though eating right, sleeping enough, and moving more are a part of it, and I want to stay connected to my friends, my family, and my community. I plan to spend the next 33 days doing those things and whatever else I need to.

I have lived through personal trauma, and I know I can survive pretty awful things. I know that there is a strength in me that I can tap into.  I know my community is strong and I won't be facing this alone. I have to keep reminding myself of this

Whatever the outcome of November 3rd, there are difficult times ahead.  I've no doubt about that. What are you doing to be ready?


Friday, July 31, 2020

Gaslighting, prednisone, and a shampoo bottle...

I’m sharing this as an example of how experiencing years of gaslighting can mess with your perceptions of reality.  Some people will read this and thing I’m nuts, others will likely relate.

I think just about everyone experiences gaslighting at some point in their lives.  Heck, we’ve all been the victim of it from the man in the white house for the past several years, but at least most of us know that is what is happening.  When it is happening in a personal relationship – be that a romance, a friendship, a parent, or at work – over a long period of time it can leave you questioning your own reality long after the gaslighting person is out of your life. If you have also had the experience of someone knowing this was an issue for you and they then take advantage of that fact, it is even more crazy making – because here is a person you trusted with a very real trauma and their response was to use it to manipulate you, it can be crazy making (and I’m using that work very intentionally, because it will make you feel utterly crazy).  A few months ago, I ended a long-time friendship for just this reason.

As I mentioned, the effects can linger long after the person is out of your life and it can manifest in some really strange ways…

This morning I took a shower. I only shower about twice a week. If you want to know why, it is because water conservation is important to me as is trying to protect my skins microbiome.  I only wash my hair about once a week.  So, my use of shampoo is minimal. The last shower I took was on Monday morning.

This morning I got into the shower and reached for my shampoo.  When I picked it up it wasn’t in the position it usually is, which is not a big deal as I live with two other people, stuff gets moved around. But it also felt lighter than it should, so I looked at it and it looked like it had less in it than it did on Monday. I thought this was weird but decided to pass it off to having a crazy week of health issues and that I must not really have been paying attention.

But then the crazy kicked in and I found myself having the following conversation with myself in my head.

Joie brain voice 1: “Why does it seem like there is less in there is less shampoo in the bottle?”

Joie brain voice 2: “Hey, it’s been a tough week, I probably didn’t notice it when I used it last.”

JBV1: “No, really…why is there less shampoo, maybe someone was using it.”

JBV2: “Will you stop? I don’t know if anyone used it, and this line of thinking is just going to make me feel crazy…please stop.”

JBV1: “You know what you ought to do? Start drawing lines on the bottle each time you use it, so you’ll know if anyone is using it.”

JBV2: “Please stop. Even if someone did use it, I have said that it is okay ask long as my housemates don’t use the last of it and they let me know.  I trust that they will do that.”

JBV1: “Yeah. But what if they didn’t. You know what you should do?  You should call a house meeting and demand to know.”

JBV2: “Please stop. It’s just shampoo. And if they forgot it sucks but it probably wasn’t intentional.”

JBV1: “Rage walk into the living room and start screaming…”

JBV2: “Okay.  THAT is the prednisone talking. I’m already emotionally on edge because of the pandemic and watching the country fall to pieces and the prednisone just makes my emotional filter less stable. Shut up.”

JBV1: “Yeah but…”

JBV2: “Stop…please. Or we are going to have a prednisone induced frustration cry here in the shower and its going to just make the asthma problem it’s meant to fix worse.  Just be quiet.”

JBV1: “Okay…fine…but how about just not keeping your shampoo in the shower anymore? Just take it back and forth to your room, like if you were in a dorm.  Then you won’t question if you are crazy or not…”

JBV2: “Fine.  If it will get you shut up…”

JBV1: “Oh goodie!  Can we get one of those cute little shower caddies to transport everything back and forth? Oooooh…and maybe shower shoes?  I always wanted a pair of shower shoes.”

JBV2: “Please stop being weird. I’m washing my hair now…I can’t hear you over the bubbles.”

JBV1: “…fine…but you are no fun at all.”

I honestly have no idea how much shampoo was in the bottle on Monday and as long as it is there when I need it, I don’t care. But experiencing long-term gaslighting can make you question reality any time your perception doesn’t seem to match what is in front of you – even with something as simple as a shampoo bottle. It puts you in the place of not knowing what is real and what isn’t.  You start to look for ways to make sure your perception matches what it actually happening.  You want to do things like put lines on the shampoo bottle not because you think your housemates might be inconsiderate, but because you want to affirm that what you remember matches what you see.

As noted I share these things in the hopes it gives a small window into how trauma can impact people, and to help those who might sadly relate due to their own experience feel a little less alone.  Peace.

And for anyone who wonders – I really do talk to myself like this. Mostly in my head, but if I can’t get my brain to shut up, I’ll do it out loud or I’ll write it out. Working through things verbally step by step is a tool that works for me. And yes...that voice really wanted to go shopping for shower caddies.