Adult Disequilibrium

In parenting classes, we learned about the phases of child development involving periods of time when calm behavior alternates with unpredictable behavior. It helped explain periods of growth between acquiring new skills and practicing them, marked by feelings of uneasiness and struggle. I am in my own disequilibrium phase right now, triggered by a death in the family, the onset of winter, and hormonal shifts. The dark gloominess is starting to thin out a bit and I am thinking about how to get back into the game after this particular round of Life.

canstockphoto41721441Disequilibrium, this falling apart, collapsing inward, feeling simultaneously disheveled and uptight, is uncomfortable. I begin not to trust myself and I look externally for answers. This is the phase where I research exhaustively and write and follow the threads of thoughts. It feels a little desperate, trying to find a palliative for my uneasiness.

My internet search history of the last few weeks runs something like this:

  • What does it mean when my RHR (resting heart rate) is elevated
  • How to handle toxic relative
  • How to transition to gray hair
  • How to help teenager with grief
  • How to deal with heartburn at night
  • Eco-safe unplug sink drain
  • How to get cat with kidney disease to eat
  • Why are box elders suddenly in house in winter
  • Why do caskets get put in vault
  • Average lifespan of woman who reaches 50 (FYI: 85)
  • Late life writing careers
  • Pre-paying cremation
  • Dry hands remedies

canstockphoto8705409Yeah, I’m in the super-fun stage of pondering mortality and random bugs in the house. I did you a favor and left out the weird medical shit. My internet searches are only the tip of the iceberg and I suspect many of our search histories are a reflection of every niggling anxiety our busy brains can conjure.

During a phase of disequilibrium, there is no worry too small that it doesn’t require Googling or a night of tossing and turning. A couple of nights ago, I dreamt I was in a Geo Prizm (a car from a couple of decades ago) and there was a warning light I’d never seen before. I couldn’t get the engine to shut off. That was the entire dream – me sitting in the car in a parking lot, trying to figure out how to shut the car off. I’m not skilled in dream interpretation except that the feeling of being stuck in an untenable situation feels fairly realistic to my waking life.

So I did what I always do. I wrote lists. I met my life coach friend for coffee and went over the lists. I needed to say things out loud to another human, who could assure me that I wasn’t a complete nut job.

One of the steps towards finding equilibrium again, is differentiating between self-care, self-comfort, and simple numbing behaviors. Some of these things overlap, but over the last few weeks, I’d overeaten, binge-watched, gave up any pretense at exercise (apparently just wearing a Fitbit doesn’t count), spent a great deal of time in fleece-like materials – alternately doing internet searches while scrolling through my Twitter feed for things that would piss me off. Sometimes any feeling is better than none at all.

Initially, some of these things might have been comforting, but as soon as you start canstockphoto10730093feeling the backlash, they’ve crossed the line from self-comfort into numbing behaviors. My jeans became uncomfortable, I had trouble focusing when reading or writing, my communication began to consist of various grunts and whines, I had to search out news items to feed my anger addiction, and I could not handle the most minor of domestic mishaps without feeling like the ceiling were about to collapse.

It is finally time to trade in some of these things for self-care. Getting back to exercise, good nutrition, doing work that is meaningful to me, sleeping well, connecting with people who elevate and don’t depress. Tomorrow I’m going to decorate for the holidays – a weird set of rituals from childhood that look a lot like Christmas without the dogma. But shiny things. And trees inside. And lights outside. And online shopping. None of it really makes sense, except that I will take time to think about the people in my life and what I could say, write, or gift to them that expresses my gratitude for their presence in said life.

canstockphoto15596557Returning to life, as it were, requires a lot of fake it until you make it motions. If I waited until I felt like getting my shit together, that would be a special kind of long term purgatory. I’m not going to fully spring up into a high functioning adult tomorrow, but I need to make my way in that direction. I think of that song from that kid’s holiday TV special. Put one foot in front of the other…

 

 

This Month at The Green Study

The last couple of months have found me desperately trying to keep my introverted self from going off the deep end. I made my local cable TV debut. I talked to a zillion people about voting rights, attended candidate forums, and wrote a lot of semi-political posts. But November is here and with it, some changes to help me regain my center.

Writing to My Heart’s Content

After convincing quite a few other people to do it, I felt compelled to join in with the NaNoWriMo crew and knock out 50K words this month. I’m writing a second novel – this time I’m going all in on a sociopolitical novel about immigrants in the Midwest.

canstockphoto15046720The joy of this is that I’m trying some things I haven’t tried. I was inspired after reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (thanks Ross for the recommendation) as well as Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing to think about the use of magical realism. Fiction is one of these amazingly bendy things that can have the most fantastical elements while still retaining the elements and core of truth. I feel compelled to experiment, to dispel the myth in my head that I can only write straightforward, rather plain narrative. You know –  actual creativity. But also because I just need to have some fun.

I was fortunate to attend lectures by writers Amor Towles (A Gentleman in Moscow) and Min Jin Lee (Pachinko) last month. The critical things I learned are the things I always learn. That good writing takes time, there is guarantee of rejection and not of success, and that you do something because you love it, no matter what the outcome. Very few writers are overnight sensations. Behind all the interviews and awards, there are always years of work and persistence.

So I persist in writing, because there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

Leaving Politics to the Pundits

With midterm elections less than a week away, I have decided, that whatever the outcome, to take a break. Let the pundits and chowderheads of cable television and Twitter begin prognosticating about 2020 two seconds after the results are in for the midterms. I’ll leave them to their graphs and charts and post-election quarterbacking.

canstockphoto36285409Politics have, over the last year, infected practically every venue of discourse. I’ve engaged in local activism over the last couple of years and I’ll vote next Tuesday. The next couple of years are going to be worse. It’s going to require more work, more attention to the details of government and more effort to stop human and civil rights abuses. It will require the ability to research news stories and suss out the truth. It will require more tests of character and personal integrity. There are no laurels, regardless of the midterm outcomes, to rest on.

And so, I will take a brief reprieve. The month ahead is for reading, writing, and a lot of walking so that I can get characters and plot points sorted out in my head. Politics will still be chugging along without me, in all its vainglorious ineptitude.

An Atheist Goes to a Prayer Breakfast

My daughter’s chamber orchestra group played at a city prayer breakfast and as a dutiful parent, I bought tickets. I focused on keeping an open mind, to hear any messages worth pondering, and to be respectful. The prayer breakfast included speakers from numerous religions: a Rabbi, Father, Imam, Pastor, and some preachers from churches with innocuous names.

My husband, a Lutheran and better-than-average human did not once chide me, so I’m assuming I kept my whispered asides and eye rolls to a minimum, even as I began to twitch inside with all the mentioning of the Wondrous Him in every religious tongue. Despite my fundamentalist upbringing, this has always been a sticking point with me – that in practically every religion, the deity is Big Daddy. Only humans would assume that a spiritual being would be a reflection of sociopolitical and cultural power. We do tend to have limited, narcissistic imaginations at times.

canstockphoto29686331Still, the first surprise to me was how many people I knew at that breakfast. Despite my antisocial inclinations, I’m also a huge believer in community and civic duty, so I knew a lot of people from various volunteer gigs I’d done over the last twenty years. In these contexts, many people assume I’m a person of faith. It’s only in the last few years I’ve been more upfront about being a nonbeliever of religious dogma. People are sometimes taken aback, but part of me hopes that it broadens their perspective. Religion does not confer inherent goodness and eschewing religion doesn’t mean that one is without a moral compass.

The second much-needed surprise were the topics by the speakers. Kindness, compassion, unity, diversity, connection, community. You see, I’ve been on Twitter for about a month now and going by the conversation and profiles there, it would be easy to assume that self-identifying religious followers were complete and utter assholes. The same goes for Libertarians, Crypto currency fans, Constitutionalists, Bernie followers, and loving mothers of six who hate other people’s children, but apparently adore emoticons. The sheer numbers of people who willingly out themselves as unkind, uninformed, paranoid, and unpleasant humans can really twist one’s perspective.

That’s not to say that people can’t mouth one thing in person and then turn around to sound like unhinged bigots online, but in the interest of this cluttered, chaotic mess we call humanity, it’s good to seek out examples of our better selves. What I liked most was how much work people were actually doing in the community. To me, this is putting your faith in action. Forget all the piety, the genuflecting, the calls to prayer – none of it means anything if you are not generous of spirit and compassionately engaged with other humans.

canstockphoto3881163Perhaps it was a reminder to someone like me who is constantly in critical thinking mode. I can easily suss out problems with the intent of finding solutions. But it’s important to teach the brain to see the good as well, to acknowledge that we humans are capable of great love and kindness and that we need to pay attention more to those who model decency, rather than to those who don’t, regardless of political or religious beliefs.

The Month in Blogging

Despite feverishly typing away on the next novel, I will still write here as well. My hope is to bring a little more focus to the topics of writing, kindness, and general well-being. It’s not to say that there aren’t big problems in the world and that I don’t recognize the privilege of being able to retreat from them, but the reservoir needs to be refilled before jumping back into the fray.

To my fellow NaNoWriMos, happy writing! To those of you who choose to remain coherent, showered, and not compulsively checking word counters, I hope you find a respite of your own design.

That Oxygen Mask: Self-Care When You Feel Like You’re Drowning

canstockphoto17316349For some people, self-care is reflexive – a function of healthy esteem and respect. I am not one of those people. On a sinking ship, I’d lower the lifeboat and wait for everyone else to get in. It’s not altruism. It is that I tend to put myself low on the list of priorities. Everything and everyone else comes first. There are scenarios where this is lovely and heroic, but in most cases, it just means at some point I’m going to be drowning and I won’t understand how I got there.

I tend to learn the hard way, but as I round the corner to fifty, my self-care skills have improved. Not stellar, but improved. I have a cue card on my desk to remind me of daily self-care habits. It seems strange that an adult woman who is fairly confident and self-aware would need to cue herself to floss or read a book or take vitamins, but I am easily convinced that doing the dishes or volunteering an extra shift is more important than taking time for my mental or physical health. It’s a bug in my system and it’s too late to rewrite the whole program, so I find workarounds.

daily-self-care-habits
This is my cue card. It’s laminated. I’m weird.

I’ve used this card off and on over the last six months. It took me a long time to figure out priorities. The red ones are critical for me. When I don’t do those, my brain and body functions decline and my judgment is impaired. I imagine that this card would look different for each person. I don’t do everything on the card every day, but I do more of them than I would without the reminder. It’s about bringing mindfulness to one’s life. Lately, I’ve been forcing myself to really adhere to it, just to right the ship.

A lot of people are experiencing anxiety right now. I ingested the toxicity of politics and it left me depressed with bouts of anxiety and insomnia. I tried to counter with action and will continue to do what I can, but the detachment I’ve begun to feel from my country and fellow citizens tells me that the grieving stage is over. I’m stepping back, re-orienting myself and getting back into the fray with more thoughtfulness and less fruitless engagement.

canstockphoto469949That being said, I unraveled quite a bit. Sleeplessness and anxiety will do that to a person. I had to remind myself that I’m no good to any person or cause if I’m letting myself fall apart. My self-care dropped to minimal standards. Good job on that shower, lady.

As someone prone to depression, listening to and reading all the hostility and feckless commentary meant that it was internalized and became universal in my thinking – the world seemed full of horrible, hateful humans. That thought would bring anyone down. Detaching from everything sounds suspiciously like not giving a shit, but I’ve come to understand that space and boundaries are critical to one’s mental health.

When I was in the Army, one of the training exercises involved reacting to a flare attack under direct fire. Flares turn night into day and can be very disorienting. The key strategy is to move out of the illuminated area through a series of rushes and crawls. Once out of the lit area, you regroup and reorient to continue the mission.

canstockphoto13687973Regroup and reorient. It’s mission critical, whatever your mission might be. There’s a lot of disoriented people running around striking out at any moving target. Even the proverbial winners of this election seem a little discombobulated, still hollering campaign insults and meming away.

On a personal level, rest, decent food, exercise, connections with the people we love (who aren’t still acting like politically deranged assholes), this is the way forward. We don’t owe our mental and physical health to political entities or causes. Get off Facebook and Twitter. Take a moment to breathe. Go outside. Take a shower. Get some rest. You can’t save the world if you can’t save yourself.