And How Does That Make You Feel?…

It’s a weird situation shaking hands with someone for the first time and then immediately vomiting every bit of knowledge of what’s wrong with yourself at them.  Seeking psychotherapy is like some weird reverse dating situation.  You know how when most people date, they try their best to hide all their annoying quirks and glaring issues at the beginning, in the hopes that the gradual release method will soften the blow and succeed in convincing some sucker to spend the rest of their lives with them?  Well, therapy is the opposite in the sense that you purposely expose all your flaws since you’re not worried about scaring away or losing the person.

You’ve gone out of your way to pay someone not to run away when they find out what a monster you are.  They’ve even got a master’s or doctorate degree on their wall that says they won’t lose their poker face and make you feel like an irredeemable mess, no matter how many steaming piles have hit your psychological fan.  It’s an interesting dynamic.   

“Hi, my name is Lady. I’m slightly suicidal and prone to flights of delusionality that I like to write down and call fiction. Can you help me be a tad more functional in society without yanking out all my word-spewing bits? Thanks.”

I have to admit, when I made the decision to seek professional help several months ago, a little part of me expected to walk out of that room with a brand that read “crazy” on my forehead. Not that I’m opposed to therapy. I mean, heck, I wanted to be a psychologist at one point, so I hate the stigma that’s attached to receiving psychological/psychiatric treatment. If it’s publicly acceptable to heal our bodies, why isn’t it publicly acceptable to heal our minds?  But in all honesty, a part of me was still laughing at myself for having reached the point I had to walk into some room and talk to a stranger for an allotted amount of time, just because I couldn’t handle the weight of my issues on my own.  

It takes guts to admit that to yourself.  In an ideal world, everyone would have close enough friends and family members to talk to on the regular basis and not need a stranger to talk to.  In an ideal world, I would just have a stable enough head on my shoulders in the first place.  But this is not an ideal world, and speaking to a loved one is not quite the same as talking to a qualified professional.  So to a therapist I went.  

I ended up seeing my therapist roughly once a week for two months and it was a great experience.  Not in the sense that I walked out of there a renewed and completely whole person, entirely devoid of the thoughts that had plagued me before, but it helped.  It definitely helped.  I felt and still feel somewhat rejuvenated as a result of having a better grasp on myself.  This more intimate knowing of yourself, or just assurance that you’re not completely nuts, inevitably translates into having a better grasp on life in general.    

Therapy is not just some silly thing people who have a lot of money and time on their hands choose to engage in so that a person can ask them how they feel constantly.  It can sincerely be a big help and you might be surprised at how accessible a therapist may be to you, even if you don’t have insurance.  There are such things as free clinics and there might be one near enough you if you do some digging.  

Don’t ever let the stigma of getting psychological assistance get in the way of you receiving the help you need.  It’s not something to be ashamed of.  In fact, there are plenty of people who say they’re fine, but could use psychological attention and are much worse for the wear.  Don’t be those silly people.  Throw away your ego if you have to so you can get a better quality of life.  Seriously, which is better?  Some ridiculous sap who has his thumbs up but is dying on the inside, or a person whose insides match their outsides, even if that does mean grinning a little less because at the moment you’re not particularly happy.  At times, even people who have a stable support system can use a stranger to whisper all their dark, secret thoughts to.  

Sometimes, you grow so tired of ignoring your problems or questioning yourself about how you’re doing, that you just need someone else to do it for you for a while.  

And that’s okay.  

~LDA

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Building Walls

I’ve been battling with mild depression for a while. Mild, because I’m still functional and able to hide it. I find one of the toughest parts is making sure I keep a balanced life. Little things like getting up early, vitamin supplements, exercise and staying on top of work & hobbies become paramount to my ability to keep it together. A declaration that if I am able to manage the little things in my life that add up to big things, then I can certainly handle the huge demons lurking in the back (and sometimes the front) of my psyche, that in the end really add up to little things.

Depression, or at least my experience with it (after all, everyone’s mental health journey is as different as our fingerprints), can blow things massively out of proportion. There are many times I’m left grappling with this giant weight that becomes so suffocating I feel I might be better off offed. It becomes such a burden to even deal with the mental/emotional/spiritual turmoil that often stems from nowhere in particular, that I’d rather not deal with myself.

But of course,

I have to deal with myself.

I’m the only one who can take up the task to do so.

I can not escape myself.

Or at least not without going to some very dark places.

And this is the part where I start to feel guilty because it’s against my code of ethics to travel to such dark places. I hold the belief that I do not fully belong to myself. That the only life worth living is one where you live your life in service of others. (Which is completely different, mind you, than living your life for others, as in trying to be a people-pleaser.) You will never find true happiness wrapped up in the pursuit of yourself. Loving others, even those you don’t know, by showing that you care, is the root of fulfillment. Of course, if I’m all stuck in my head traveling to dark places or entertaining the thought of really going to even darker ones, then I can’t live the life I was meant to live.

When you feel like I have lately, you get in the habit of building walls to block out the noise of your chaotic brain. The static can get to be too much so it’s important to hone this coping mechanism in order to keep from losing it completely. The ability to quiet the unproductive negative hum that threatens to drown out all desire to accomplish anything in life is vital, but I find that the most damaging thing I end up doing is blocking out the important along with the static. Things like family, friends, hobbies, and passionate pursuits. This of course only digs you into a deeper hole. You have to be careful, otherwise if you ever even crawl out of The Pits, there will be no one left to come back to and you’ll end up having to do a lot of damage control.

Honestly, the most difficult part of dealing with depression is trying to keep myself from the counterproductive construction of walls that separate me from the people around me. The actual temptation of silencing all static once and for all is not painful. It can actually bring forth a sort of catharsis that is very dangerous when fully fleshed. The static has a way of turning into seductive melodies that enchant and cajole when left unchecked. While it’s difficult to climb out of that hole, there’s a sick part of me that enjoys the darkness, and maybe that’s why it’s so hard to fully remove myself from the slump I’m in . Some selfish part of me doesn’t really want to succeed and have to continue fighting my way through life. It wants to let myself be taken down this road of destruction. The key to not actually hitting the self destruct button is keeping an eye on all the walls I’m building, and that’s the difficult part.

It’s easy to alienate people when you don’t even want to keep yourself company, never mind other people. It can start to feel like it’s some big production to be around people since if you acted how you truly felt, they’d either be concerned or walk away because it’s not fun to have you around anymore. Sulking and simmering in solitude starts to wax real attractive.

“Why deal with people anyway? I hate people,” is a common excuse I mumble to myself.

But the truth is I don’t really hate people. I hate the shady, shallow things they often do which make me want to give up on the human race sometimes. But I don’t really hate people, at least not when I’m examining and interacting with them on an individual basis. I can see the sad and stupid reasons for why they do the things they do and empathize with them most days.

The trouble is when you have no empathy left for yourself and the unreasonably gloomy way you’re feeling, that means no empathy left for anyone else either. The thing is, if you surround yourself with the right people, none of this should matter. You shouldn’t feel like you have to hide your dark side from people who truly care about you. They will understand that you are not at your best and give you the support you need in the meantime. It’s important not to weed everyone out as an unsympathetic other. The walls we build must be to deflect static and toxic people only.

Otherwise, when the coast is finally clear to knock most of those walls down, and your face muscles remember how to execute an upward turn at long last, there will be no one left standing on the other side of them to smile at.

~LDA

If you or someone you love is dealing with thoughts of suicide please don’t hesitate to reach out to resources such as:

U.S. National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

United Kingdom Hotline: 08457909090

Canada: 5147234000

Australia: 131114

South Africa: 0514445691

International Online Help: http://www.suicidestop.com/suicide_prevention_chat_online.html

Even if you feel like you already pushed away all the close people in your life (or that they’ve pushed you away), there is always someone willing to help pull you out of that pit you might be in. There’s always hope of reconnection with people, as long as you give yourself a chance to have a future.

Silliness with Children

I used to look at people who became their goofiest when they played with children with an embarrassed side-glance.   I’d feel the need to feel uncomfortable for them, that they were doing such silly things in front of a bunch of adults.

Like, “You realize we can see you too, right?”

But in reality, it’s not like I thought any less of them. I understood that they were just doing things like making silly faces and pretending to trip on imaginary banana peels to entertain the kids. It didn’t make them any less of an adult in my eyes, so I don’t really know why I found it so embarrassing to watch them do their thing.

I think maybe I was insecure in my own adulthood at the time and so I felt like I had to overcompensate by not acting silly at any time, even if it was just for kids; in order to prove the sternness of my adult status.  Now, I’ve embraced the truth that all adults are just really big kids anyway, so what’s the use in stifling your inner child?  It’s just that now we’re big kids who pay taxes, and feel obligated to pretend we know what we’re doing.  But the huge secret is, we still don’t know what we’re doing.  Each stage of life brings new challenges that make us feel as awkward as a kindergartner, fumbling to scratch led marks between the lines we’re told to adhere to.

I find myself doing all sorts of crazy stuff these days to make my students laugh or keep them engaged. I’m not embarrassed in the least. Not even in front of other adults.

I don’t understand why we keep this lack of know-how a secret for children to find out when they’re adults.  It’s not like they’d look down on us or feel less safe in our hands.  I find they usually appreciate the honesty, to whatever extent you give it to them.  Why don’t we do them a favor and save them some insecurity & uncertainty later by fessing up?

I feel like a shadow of this truth is shown when we do things like make silly faces at small children, but I think the adolescents could use our help too.

Tell a young adult “I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m still breathing so I guess I’m doing something right,” today.

~LDA

 

That Familiar Crack

I don’t know why I even hesitate to pick up a pen or set my fingers upon a keyboard.

I never regret it when I’m finished.  Even if what I’ve written is total crap, there’s satisfaction in having put words on a page.  A certain kind of alignment of the spirit in having successfully transformed the firing of neurons in my brain into something someone else can read.  There’s a thrill in the possibility of setting off fireworks in someone else’s brain.  Even if in the end what I’ve written is so terrible and unworthy of reading that I want to burn it, bury it and have a cow poop on it just so no one ever gets their hands on it, I’m still happy to have sat down and written.

And still.

There is always this arresting hesitation born of angst that takes hold when I’m about to sit down and write.  Like if I pick up this pen the world might be set on fire, but not in a good way.  Or if I click that first letter on the keyboard I might never be able to stop.  Which in my opinion is not a bad way to die.  In fact, it would be sort of awesome to be able to say I died whilst on a literary tirade, but also kind of a stumbling block to the other goals in my life if I died so prematurely.  So there’s this hesitation to begin writing.

Of course,

I do it anyway.

On good days.

On you’re going to sit your butt in this chair and write even if it is literally the last thing you do, days.  On the world is a mystical place and you have to hurry up and get it down on paper, days.  On the you’ve set this deadline for yourself and you’re going to meet it or you basically deserve to be dead, days.  Notice how those days that smell like death came twice.  They come a lot more often than the mystical ones.

But still, I write.

Once, I thought I could let the angst win out and watch my writing life evaporate on the pavement in front of me, like so much catapulted saliva.  Slowly it swirled into the sky.  I watched it with both eager anticipation and terror.  Was this really happening?  Was it working?  Is all it takes some patient laziness?  My small pond became a puddle, and it soon was small enough to fit in the palm of one hand.

Then,

it was gone.

Or so I thought.

I turned around and began walking away, ready to throw a party or surrender myself to the nearest volcano.  To this day I don’t know which.  Maybe both.  In any case, something made me stop, turn around, and stoop real close to the ground.  There on the pavement was a crack.  And from that crack trembled a solitary drop of moisture, stubborn and hopeful.  I crouched there squinting at it for a long time.  Days, weeks, months.  I was watching to see if it too would eventually join it’s brothers in the unforgiving sky, but it didn’t.

Or it wouldn’t.

I’m not sure which of these either.

All I know is that no matter how long I stared at it, that droplet did not fade away.  And it was then that I knew in my gut that no matter how I long I watched, it would never go away.  There was something deep beneath the ground ensuring its existence.  Something annoying, and sure ,and as stubborn as me.  It let me know that there was no amount of running or hiding or overwhelming ray of angst that would burn that droplet away.

Ever since then, I pick up the pen and set my fingers on the keyboard because I have to.  Or at least I might as well.  Anytime I get too anxious about what I’m doing with this writing thing or why, I just squint down at that familiar crack.  Even if it’s too deep down at the bottom of the spring for me to see.

~LDA

Congrats! You Qualify to Become a Slave!

How is it credit card companies act like they’re doing us such a big favor in letting us become enslaved to them?  I mean, of course loans can be useful so it’s nice to know if your credit is good enough to get one, but you’re basically signing up to be a slave if you don’t have the means to pay it back.

Society is so warped in that most people are used to living above their means. It’s normal to buy what you don’t have the money for. It’s like we never outgrow the childish mentality that if I want it I should get it now.

“It’s okay if my bank account says otherwise. I have this shiny plastic thing that tells me I can buy my every heart’s desire. Weeee~!”

It’s so not worth it because eventually, it will catch up to you.  Then you’re wondering why you have enough money to own a flat screen television, the latest iphone, unnecessarily upscale furniture, and a sleek car, but are declaring bankruptcy because whoops, you forgot to pay your overpriced mortgage.

I don’t understand why anyone would willingly invite that sort of stress into their lives.

Of course, like I said, there’s a time and a place for credit cards such as if you’re making an investment into jump-starting a business or buying a house you know you’ll actually be able to afford the payments of.  But most times people get into credit card debt for the wrong reasons.  For appearances, or for their own opinion of what their quality of life should be at all times.  Sometimes you gotta slum it for a while in the present to live breezily for a long time in the future my friends.  This is the best piece of advice my father ever passed onto me.

Never forget that those pretty little letters of congratulations that invade your mailbox unsolicited and ask for personal information, are not declarations of a bank’s love and general admiration for you so “Ta-da!  Here’s some free money!”

They are little invitations into financial slavery.

Spurn them.  Hiss at them like a feral cat every time you see them if that helps you remember that NOTHING in life is free, especially not your financial future.  

~LDA

When Problem-Solving Solves Nothing

I am very much like a man when it comes to giving and receiving affection.

Giving me food goes a long way.  Seriously, if you feed me, that’s automatic bonus points and I will begin to love you on some level, even if you’re my arch-nemesis or something.  The saying should be, “The way to Lady’s heart is through her stomach.”  Truer words would have never been spoken.  Ask any of my friends.

On the other hand, when it comes to giving affection I am primarily a task-oriented organism.  If something is wrong in the life of someone I love my immediate thought is, “How can I fix this?”

This gets me into a lot of trouble in life, particularly when it comes to my female loved ones.  I’m a pretty good listening ear, so that gets me about halfway when it comes to humans of the female variety.  But then when it gets to the point where they’re finished talking I’m like, “Okay, go team.  Huddle up.  How can we find a solution to this problem?”

Sometimes that’s super helpful and people will credit me for being such a good problem-solver they can run to.  But other times that response just isn’t appropriate.  The issues of life are not always immediately fixable.  In fact, sometimes they are immediately fixable, but it’s a problem only the person in trouble can solve for themselves.  So I’m left sitting there with my lasso of truth dangling uselessly at my side because it has no villain to latch onto.  I’ll feel helpless, as though I can’t help them and that my role is complete because I can do no more.

The problem with that type of thinking is, even though you can’t always solve your loved ones problems, they don’t always need you to.  Many times they just want you to sit with them while they solve it themselves.

This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

I’ve failed at it time and time again.  Backing away from a loved one’s situation and leaving them to wrestle with it on their own because, “Well, I’m not doing anything anyway.”

That’s not to say I don’t wave encouragingly on the sidelines cheering them on, checking in every once in a while to see if I can be of assistance at a different point in time, but that isn’t enough.  I’m too far away.  Sometimes people need you to sit right up close to them while they tackle their demons, simply for moral support.

I don’t know why that’s been such a difficult lesson for me to learn.  It’s probably a breed of selfishness.  I feel uncomfortable not being able to do what I do best, (problem solving), so I choose to give them space so I don’t feel like so much of a failure.  It’s hard to watch a loved one in pain and know there’s nothing you can do about it.  But I keep forgetting that being by someone’s side, right up close, is not nothing.  Sometimes it’s the most heroic thing you can do.

 

~LDA

Radio Silence? Try Phone Silence

I never thought I’d become one of those people who get itchy when their phone doesn’t plonk with a message notification often enough. I’m largely a loner, both in person and online so I’ve never really cared whether I was talking to enough people, whether that meant I was part of a chat thread or keeping a texting conversation going.

But in the last year I think I’ve become way more aware of the silence of my phone than I would like.

Part of that is just because I’ve been really taking the time to analyze my relationships or lack thereof in the last year. Part of it is because I’ve increased my online presence and have gotten used to a certain amount of pings and dings coming from my phone. (That probably says something about my generation, but that’s another topic entirely.)

A sort of static has formed in my brain. A creeping, hovering sort of white noise that throws a pall over all my interactions. I haven’t exactly been the most mental/emotionally healthy these past several months. This constant hum, nagging in the background of all my thoughts, taunts me on the regular basis, and when phone silence ensues it sometimes can reach a fever pitch.

It’s not an actual audible sound.  

I’ll just notice “Huh, I haven’t gotten a reply on a thread or received a message from so and so in a while,” and the static rises from its subconscious slumber.

“Huh, there’s this sort of hollow feeling in my chest I can’t find the name for.”

I’ve been working out my relationships with people and trying to decide how much is too much interaction, and more importantly in my case, how little is not enough. For most of my life this hasn’t been much of a concern, but I guess I’ve reached quarter life crisis and am re-evaluating my path in life.  Hardly anybody ever talks about the dissonance that comes in your early to mid-twenties where you’re no longer a goofy college kid so you can’t act out in irresponsible ways, but you don’t quite feel like an adult either, so you feel like a fraud donning your shiny suit to work.

Like,

“Hahaha, everyone.  Not to worry.  I have my adult name-tag on, therefore I must know what I’m doing…mustn’t I?  I mean, that’s how it works, right?  Guys?…”

Everyone is obsessed with adolescence and how hard the poor teenagers have it because they suddenly want to nail everything that moves.  That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.  How about us poor saps, who maybe have our degrees, and if we’re lucky a job to match, but we’ve been stuck in our books or between someone’s bosoms so long we forgot to learn how to actually connect with people?   You know, like on an actual meaningful level.

Not just high-fiving about the killer time we had at the bar last night, or feigning pleasant small talk whilst casting lusty glances at each other’s resumes.

If you’re lucky you come out of college with a few lifelong friends and maybe even a significant other.  But even then, things happen, people move away.  And if you’re not lucky, well, good luck with that one buddy.  Now you have to go about the sticky business of creating a new inner circle of friends from scratch.  It’s like you’re neither here nor there.  You’re not really so connected to your family anymore because you’re supposed to be your own person by now.  But you don’t really have time and/or energy to go socialize after work so you get that pack animal quality time in either.

Externally, I’m quite successful. I’ve hit all the major milestones when it comes to education and career. But internally, it’s a bit of a wasteland. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. I’m very spiritually grounded and I have a great relationship with my family so those are solid things. However, life in your twenties makes you come face to face with your interpersonal skills like nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m functional.  My work relationships are cordial, my volunteer connections friendly, but a depth of connection is lacking that suddenly feels very pressing.

Some people choose to worry about finding a significant other right away.  They immediately start to preen and paint their feathers to try and snag the first sucker that comes along.  The goal is to convince them to spend inordinate amounts of time with them, if not the rest of their lives.  Me, I’m just trying to figure out humans in general.  

It seems there are few people worth really connecting with, or at least that they’re really hard to find.  I’d like my intimate circle of friends to do some expanding, but people can be really shallow and there’s not a large pool to pick and choose from.  I have a feeling a lot of the worthwhile people are busy nursing their own static, so we keep missing each other.  

You have to be so intentional at this point in life if you want to forge new relationships, because if you don’t get lucky at work, you have to plan excursions where you’ll run into new people.  Most times I’d rather stay at home and read, firmly glued to a cup of hot cocoa.  I guess I’m being an idiot because I want to have my cake and eat it too (while sipping hot cocoa).

I need people in order to feel fulfilled in life, but I’d really rather do without them if I could help it.  They come along with so many disappointments and unnecessary detours.

So much effort is required, so much re-positioning, so much pain.

I’m told it’s worth it.

Nah, actually, I’m bluffing.  I know from experience it’s worth it too.  It’s just hard to work up the courage to get on the confounded phone.

But my phone won’t start pinging on it’s own, now will it?

~LDA

You Hate the People You Love, Just Admit It

People assume that hate is the opposite of love because they are both such extreme emotions, but that is so not the case.

Think of emotions as a spectrum of human experience. On one extreme there is love, conqueror of differences, healer of souls. In the middle there is hate, a twisted form of love. Love gone wrong and dark, if you will.

So then what is on the other extreme?

Well, let’s think about it. The reason why we assume love is on one end of the spectrum is because its affects are so explosive and passionate. “Surely this must be an extreme,”we posit, and correctly so, thus placing it on one end. But then we look at hate and think “Hm, similar affects. Volatile, fiery.” And while that is true, we misunderstand.

An extreme should not be measured by how extreme it is, but by how oppositional it is to its antithesis. If one extreme is the peak of feeling and compulsion, shouldn’t the other be opposite of that? Lack of feeling, disinterest, genuine indifference? This is the reason why in reality it is not hate which is on the other extreme of human experience, but apathy.

The worst thing someone whom you love can say to you is, “I don’t care.”

Not “I hate you.”

At least with hate there is a sense of involvement and clear emotional attachment, even if negatively so. With “I couldn’t care less,” there is an acute sense of loss, a severing of a deep connection. It’s a way of saying, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

The worst kind of feeling is no feeling, numbness. Whether you’re giving or receiving it.

That’s why depressed people feel they have to do something as drastic as committing suicide. At least then they will finally feel something, even if it is a final something.

Sometimes, people feel worried when they find themselves thinking negative things like, “I really hate you,” when confronted with problems in a relationship. They’ve been told that because they love this person they should never feel anything as extreme as hate towards them. Or maybe they’ve just convinced themselves that this is the case.

Well, take heart! That’s natural.

Sometimes, as human beings we fluctuate towards the middle of our handy dandy spectrum. Conflict has that sort of effect on us. By nature we are weak when we don’t get what we want. Our intense feelings have turned dark and dour. “Wah wah, things aren’t going so well.” But most times the meter floats back to the love zone.  If we’re lucky.

It is only when you start to feel nothing that you should get worried. That means you no longer have any investment in the other individual, or at the very best, you’re on your way to apathy. In which case, your relationship is in great danger. Turn back! Unless you’re involved with an abusive person who you shouldn’t be associating with anyhow. In that case, full speed ahead.

The next time you catch yourself thinking, “Gosh, I really hate you,” about your significant other, sigh and go, “What a relief!”

Because if we’re honest, we all hate those we love just a little bit. At least some of the times. It’s because they hold so much sway over us. That extreme emotion called love has the effect of causing us to relinquish some of our self control to another person. We find ourselves doing things that are not in the least in our favor, except for the fact that it makes the other person happy, which in turn makes us happy. This power over us, though given willingly, has the tendency to make us a little bitter. We humans are really touchy about our autonomy, so we sometimes forget who made the decision to hand some of it over in the first place, once we feel things are not going quite as planned.

We all hate those we love if we’re doing it right. This means we are still invested.

~LDA

Caller ID

I think back to the time when landlines were still a thing and you were considered fancy if you had caller ID.

I mean, when you think about it, it marked the end of an era when caller ID came around. It used to be you had to pick up the phone not knowing whether or not you wanted to talk to the person on the other end. Nowadays it’s practical to have caller ID, helpful even. But it’s so boring when you think about it.

Picking up the phone used to be an adventure!

Do I want to talk to this person calling? Is it the long awaited response to the job interview I had last week, or a call from my nana who’ll most likely be nagging me about whether or not I’ve gotten a job yet? If it is my nana will I be able to wiggle my way out of the conversation fast enough before I snap at her? Should I risk not picking up at all? It does sort of have a nana type ring to it…What am I thinking?! I can’t miss this job opportunity! That’s completely counterintuitive!

Surprise. It was nana.

I feel like a lot of our daily lives have become so efficient that they require so much less of us and I’m not entirely sure it’s always a good thing.

Think of the mental and social acrobatics we miss out on in not agonizing over the identity of a phone call. This requires such mental strength in decision making, such social acuity when engaging in the roulette-esque situation of it all.

Or is that just me? Being a person who doesn’t care for phone calls, has very little tact when getting away from social situations, and generally takes 10-15 minutes when making trivial decisions like what they’ll have for dinner.

Is caller ID maybe not that big of a deal?

Hm. Maybe just me.

~LDA

Not In Kansas Anymore

I find that these days I am often surprised that I have a reflection. It’s not that I have lost my sense of self. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Recently I did experience an awakening that made me aware of what a lack of self I had. It’s not that I didn’t have an identity. I did. We all do, it’s how we get around and drink things without people going, “Hey, why’s that coffee mug floating in the air?”

It’s just that the self that I identified with did not match up with my true self enough to ring true.

Haha. That sentence was a mess.

What I’m trying to say is, I had been wearing a mask for so long just to avoid being invisible that I was surprised to discover there was actually a face underneath the mask when I took it off. And even more surprised that I don’t completely hate it.

It was difficult, shedding a mask that I’d worn for so long that it was practically chemically bonded with my skin. It was really difficult. Especially since the mask bore such close resemblance to my real face that I often forgot I was wearing one. Now this is about to sound completely contradictory, but I’m not one to be fake. I’ve hated the idea of posers and fake people since I was young enough to understand how humans often default to interacting with each other. From a very young age I understood that I thought differently from other people in the sense that I saw very little need to put on a show for the sake of reputation. I was what I was and I gave you the option to take it or leave it and that was that. I’ve never wasted my time much with people who wanted me to act a certain way or were obviously preoccupied with having me believe they were a certain way. The idea of relating with such people has always been boring to me. It’s such a false interaction. Why bother with the energy? It’s much more interesting to deal with people who accept the way they are and challenge you to accept it too.

The problem with the identity I had before is that in my attempt to stay as raw as possible I lacked the flexibility to change in response to others. I wanted people to accept the way I was but was quite unwilling to let them affect me in return, which is unfair. I think the reason I became this way is because I had experienced so many exchanges with dishonest people that I had become jaded. I had been let down so many times by the possibility of authentic people that I decided I would force people to accept me the way I was before I was willing to accept them. And I think the really sick thing about my condition was that it’s not that I wasn’t willing to take. I was completely willing to take anything people had to offer me in the way of relationship. I just wasn’t willing to take and accept them as a person in return. It was a trust issue.

Even though I’m pretty perceptive when it comes to reading people, I’m pretty dumb when it comes to reading their actions in the context of emotional and social cues. I would be able to see if a person was showing their true self for the most part, but then be very unsure of what they wanted from me. A question I often ask myself is, “What does this person hope to gain from this interaction?” People’s motives are often so double-sided and shallow that I didn’t trust that it was worth nurturing a relationship with them. And if I don’t trust what they can give me, then why bother offering myself in return?

As I encouraged this way of thinking and being in myself, I developed this thin, almost translucent mask that said I accepted myself so entirely that I didn’t need other people. It’s strange because it was a mask more for myself than for showing to other people. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and believe that I wasn’t this intensely lonely creature who longed for meaningful connection. I did a good job too, because I believed it. For a really long time.

I’ve recently gone through some serious bumps in the road that have led me to re-evaluate how I handled some of my most precious relationships (of which there are not many) in the past. I’ve gone through and am still going through this spiraling cycle of regret about how I could have loved better had I just not been afraid to be vulnerable and taken off my mask.

Even though the regret is still hitting me hard, I’ve pushed forward enough to realize that the thing to do is not to waste time reminiscing, but to strive to do better in the here and now. Even harder is to realize that I have to let go of those people I will not get a second chance with, because they have the right to say no.

So I’m all naked and gross now, like a snail who has lost it’s shell, but then realized it’s been a slug all along.

It’s nerve-wracking. I mean, really quite terrifying to try to approach the world with an open point of view after all this time hiding under a shell. And I’m honest enough with myself now to be able to admit that I’m terrified after being blasted into the sky by this tornado of a thing we call life.

It’s weird to walk past a mirror and be startled. Like, “Whoa, what was that? Oh, yeah, that’s just me. That’s how I actually look like.”

It’s even weirder to find I’m not invisible after taking off my mask. Not necessarily that I love everything I see. There’s still so much that I know needs changing. But I breathe a little sigh of relief when I realize, “Ah, I can work with that. Those frown lines can turn into laugh lines with some effort.”

It’s surprising to find I’m actually glad I’m not in Kansas anymore.

~LDA