Friday, December 2, 2016

Thoughts about thoughts


A very clear memory from my childhood is of doing the dishes. Once my oldest sister got married, I was assigned to a night of dishes, just like my other sisters. I can remember being bewildered at first, and it didn’t really improve from there. 

My mom didn’t skimp when it came to meal time. She used as many pots and pans as needed to create a main dish, one or more side dishes, and a vegetable. We all sat at the table together, which had been set with plates and silverware in their proper placement, a butter dish, filled glasses, and salt and pepper. We served our meal from the table as well, which meant serving dishes and hot pads and anything else that was necessary.

After a meal like this, doing the dishes meant doing everything – clearing the table, rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, putting away the leftovers, washing the pans, cleaning counters, and sweeping the floor. And most of the time, it was really just up to whomever was doing the dishes to get it clean. My parents or sisters (or me, when it wasn’t my turn!) didn’t take pity on you and pitch in. It was just you and a very dirty kitchen for the next 45 minutes to an hour.

What I remember from this chore isn’t really the amount of work involved, even though it was a lot. What I remember is standing at the kitchen sink, angrily washing pan after pan, and ruminating on how unfair it was that I was left to do them. I thought about what jerks everyone was for not helping me, I railed against my mom for how many pans she used, I would internally complain at the latest way one sister or another had been mean to me, or I would think about how I was the best dishes-doer in the family and that no one appreciated it.

I’m sure that all kids have these exact thoughts when doing a chore (in fact, Ben said just as much to me this morning when I asked him to clean out the dishwasher!), so I realize I’m not really unique in this. The important thing about this memory is remembering how loud my thoughts felt, and how those thoughts made me feel such anger towards my family, and yet: I never spoke those words to anyone. Oh, I might complain here or there, but I had real, honestly painful feelings or thoughts that I would ruminate over but never felt safe saying them.

Which is really fucked up.

I didn’t feel safe telling my mom my feelings. I couldn’t tell my sister I was angry with her. I didn’t have words to express any negative emotion. I didn’t have confidence that it would matter to them or that it would get solved. I taught myself to think about my feelings instead of feeling them. I taught myself to bottle up my words, which caused resentments to build that could have otherwise been worked out without much trouble.

Rumination became my way to “solve” my problems. Ironically, tasks that occupied my hands like dishes or cleaning freed my mind to wander in all the places that it wanted to. A slight from a friend was irresistible thinking fodder; all of the words wanted to use to defend myself could be thought over and perfected; their words could be imagined, although often, ironically making the point that really showed me how it was my fault, just so I could justify myself again. I would replay situations over and over, wishing for a different outcome, playing all the roles of myself, the other, and the morality judge (an internal moderator who was never on my side because they could always point right at the element of guilt that I was really at fault.) It was automatic and I never made any attempt to corral it or think it irrational, untrue, or undeserved.

This approach to life would have been great if I could have locked myself in a cabin where I never interacted with another human being. This inability to let someone know that they had hurt me was later extended to friends and boyfriends and coworkers and pretty much anyone with whom I eventually had conflict. And I never saw any reason to change it.

It served another purpose to work out my anxieties. I say “work out,” which is completely inaccurate. If I couldn’t find something that I had done wrong, I would find loved ones to worry over, replaying their situations and thinking up better solutions that would make them happier or safer or whatever-er. Often these worries came with an extra dose of internal guilt at my own feeling of failure in not being a better (insert relationship here) to this person, because obviously, I could save them, but was too selfish and caught up in my own life to do so. (I told you a few paragraphs ago – it’s fucked up.)

It was the perfect forum where everyone was fair game, and no one, including myself, got off too easily. 

Enter midlife crisis. Enter an internal dialogue that already turns to over-examining each detail of painful events and thoughts. Enter panicked event that eroded my faith in my physical well-being and ability to be safe in both my thoughts and my body.

It was bound to turn on me eventually.

To be continued. And sorry for the swears.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Right now gratitude, day 6

Last week on the way to the gym, a beautiful sight met my eyes: giant piles of leaves littered all through the parkway in front of the gym. And I realized after seeing them that all I wanted to do was walk through as many of those leaves as I could.

So I did.

They were gorgeous and crunchy and healed a little of the roughness in my soul. Where I live, there aren't many trees (which makes me really sad.) I took a few pictures and then I just walked back and forth through the largest piles I could find. And even through I looked crazy, it was perfect.

Sometimes I think that I think about experiences - writing them in my head, thinking about how they could look if I could just photograph that view, actually taking photos with whatever device available - and it gets in the way. I don't experience an event - I narrate it. And so even though I had attempted to narrate, I also put away my phone and just experienced.

I hope that I can all find more experiences in the next few weeks and months and years that give me peace, that remind me that no matter who is speaking loudly in the news and on my phone, I can decide what gets in. I can choose to be kind even if the world gets more cruel.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Right now...something...possibly despair

Our problem solving focus must be on bringing in the light - not trying to conquer the darkness. - Deepak Chopra

But I have no faith right now that we will elect a sane person. There is too much darkness attached to one candidate and I just can't.

I can't find any light in this.

8:33 pm on election night.

I guess I'll be grateful it's over. But I can't imagine 4 years with that idiot.

Maybe I will wake up tomorrow and this post will be irrelevant.

We shall see.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Right Now Gratitude - day 5

2016 has been a strange year for running. I had ankle pain that started in late April and never really went away. It was an annoyance, but about a month ago my ankle started hurting all the time, and just walking around doing my normal activities was hard. Despite this, I did a few more dumb things in October - ran up a hill long zigzagging instead of just running straight - the same act that gave me plantar fasciitis about 10 years ago. Another day, I did a cardio sandwich at the gym on my already tender ankle. Finally, I did a long downhill run from my house to the high school one day after work. No bueno, not a happy ankle.

So I stopped running for two weeks and fretted about what to do about it. After the two weeks when it wasn't any better or worse than before, I decided to go to the doctor. Once I decided to go to the doctor, I knew I could start running again, which shouldn't make any sense, but it does. So last Monday I saw a podiatrist. He was really nice, and even kept trying to help me after I told him I might kick him in the face if he pinched my achilles one more time (I have achilles issues.) After an xray, he offered me a cortisone shot in my ankle to combat what he thinks may be arthritis. I really wanted to get the hell out of his office as soon as he mentioned the shot, but he was very persuasive and I relented. I was super proud of myself that I didn't hyperventilate during said shot. Go me.

So now I'm 8 days post-shot. My ankle feels so much better! The feeling that my foot might break off each time I walk down stairs has dissipated, happily. It still hurts a little bit in places, but mostly it just feels and looks like my foot again, which is a relief. I didn't realize how swollen it had been until a few days ago when I realized my socks suddenly felt roomy. I've been running a few times since, and I just love being back to it.

Fall is my favorite time of year to run. I admit that I slog through the summer, watching my running splits get slower and slower as it gets hot. It's always a relief to get to that magical morning that will come around every September when the air is crisp and I can run fast again. And even though I always know there will be a few more warm runs, I know they are numbered.

Tonight was a perfect autumn run. I left just as the sun set behind my mountains. I watched the shadows grow across the valley. The wind was there, just as it always is when you live on the west side, but it was manageable. I needed long sleeves and an ear warmer (sadly, there weren't thumb holes, which are the best invention ever - Amy and I were texting about earlier!) I ran a route that was part happenstance, part determination to encounter as many paths covered in leaves as possible. I felt like I could run forever. It was gorgeous and perfect and I was just so grateful to be running, to be feeling like myself, to be crunching leaves under my feet.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Right now gratitude - day 4

Hello again, dear blogosphere. I haven't blogged 4 days in a row in...well, a long time. I'm really enjoying writing these posts because I don't feel any pressure to make them anything they aren't. Being grateful sometimes seems like it has to be a grandiose gesture. I like making it simple.

I keep talking about Gretchen Rubin and her Happier podcast because it has so many great tips and tricks to know yourself better. I listen to them on my way to work and since I'm late to the party (her podcast started in April 2015), I have a lot of episodes at my disposal. I think it's possible to listen to 2 or 3 just during my driving time. Which sometimes can dilute the power of the episodes - I hear a great idea, and then move to the next episode and hear another great idea and I forget about the first. But nevertheless, I love her advice and humor and content every time I listen.

One of my favorite ideas came in the August 26, 2015 episode (go ahead and listen - I'll be here when you get back.) But before I talk about the episode, a story. When my mom invited me and my sisters to go to Italy, it was a life decision that wasn't easily made. It was really, really hard for me to chose to go there. The whole idea of leaving for 10 days felt so overwhelming and foreign to me. It was a choice that I almost didn't make because of the sheer anxiety of it all. It felt like another person's life to chose to go to Italy. I felt guilty about leaving my family. I felt guilty about spending the money on myself. I was this close to not going. But I got brave and went, and had an amazing experience. It wasn't easy all of the time to be in Italy - remember my Mary story? I was an anxious mess on some of the days I was there. And I used to feel that since I was so anxious while I was there, it meant that I had failed.

During the episode, Rubin talks about choosing the bigger life. She says that when you are conflicted about making a decision, choose the thing that opens up your world and brings you a bigger life. I think about my choice to go to Italy, and for me, it was choosing the bigger life. I feel like since I've turned 40, I've taken many more opportunities to live the bigger life. When I take a day and go on a hike with my sister, I'm choosing the bigger life. When I ask my husband on a date and tell him a few things that I've never told anyone about myself, and  I squirm in every way possible because I'm uncomfortable about those things being out in the world and therefore out of my control, I'm choosing the bigger life. When I see an interesting seminar on using yoga for anxiety the day before the seminar and I sign up (like I did yesterday!), I'm choosing the bigger life. It's not easy. Sometimes it's uncomfortable.

And I know that there are ways that I'm still staying safe in my little life because I just haven't expanded enough to be able to incorporate everything. But I'm trying and pushing my boundaries and working on being authentic to myself more and more, and I'm grateful for the growth that it brings me. I'm trying to see these attempts at authenticity as attempts, not successes or failures. And I look back at my Italy experience and realize that part of what made it so hard was that I was choosing the bigger life. I'll always be glad I did.

How do you choose the bigger life? Is this a concept that resonates with you?

And, since I've posted a link to the Mary post, I'm going to post this photo. I wrote to San Petronio a few months after I got back and they were kind enough to send me a photo of the Mary statue. Isn't she so beautiful?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Right now gratitude - day 3

I didn't grow up in a very political party. I think there was a time when we leaned Democrat for the mere fact that my dad worked for US Steel, and therefore belonged to a union. But as far as being party loyal or believing one party was inherently better than another? Yeah, there was none of that.

What I mostly remember is my parents voting for the person. Frequently, their votes would cancel each other out. Probably many of their beliefs cancelled each other out, too; my mom's feminist slant was evened out by the NRA card in my dad's wallet. With the way I was raised, I didn't realize how passionate people could be about their political party. I was short of shocked when I became a teenager and I had a friend who was ultra Republican - she not only believed that her party was right, she also believed that everyone else was wrong. That kind of absolutism - I just couldn't relate. (In case you wondered - I am a moral relativist. Nice to meet you. Please don't be offended.)

So now, without talking about any of the candidates specifically, I want to put this semi-political post out to the world, just so that if I ever want to look back and wonder what I was doing during this crazy, f-ed up election, I can remember. I have hated this election more than any I've ever been through. I'm disgusted and semi-traumatized at some of the events, particularly the ones that occurred early in October. I feel...overwhelmed at our future, because we are so divided, and everyone wants to point fingers and blame and shout how wrong the other person is for their opinion and beliefs. It's all just shit. America, I love you but you've got some issues. Have you considered therapy?

I'm so grateful that it will be over in 3 days. Even if the worst-case scenario happens (you pick! Both candidates, according to the other side, are going to cause the world to end as we know it.) I want to wake up on November 9 and know that we are still super divided and half of us are unhappy and know that whoever won, we did this to ourselves. And so then we can start the clock for the next 4 year cycle to conclude and then, hopefully, God-willing, please-oh-please-oh-PLEASE we will have someone who can end whatever madness we endured.

And, because I think it's funny, and, because even though I wasn't going to talk about it, I'm going to include this video plea to Ivanka Trump. It's hilarious. Sorry for the swears and bad words it includes. It's just so timely.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Right Now Gratitude - Day 2

Strangely enough, as I get older, my kids are tending to as well. Gone are the days when I could get them in bed before 9 and have some time to watch a show that wasn't kid approved or friendly. A couple of years ago, we started watching Modern Family together, and it's become both a standby and a shorthand. Most of us can come up with a MF quote in almost any situation. But it's hard to find shows that we can all watch together.

For your viewing pleasure, enjoy one of my favorite scenes from Modern Family.

For today, my right now gratitude is the nights that Shane, Ben, and I sit together and watch a show together. If we start a show, then I'm more likely to get engaged and put down my phone for the duration, as opposed to watching reruns of HGTV where I don't. I love when we are all actively watching, and then at the end are excited to watch the next week.

This year, we've started watching two shows, Timeless and This is Us. And while Thomas is usually entertaining himself on his Xbox, Ben watches these with us. Timeless is pretty good; the writing isn't stellar, but the story is easy and, since it's about time travel, Ben really looks forward to it. This is Us might be a bit grown-up for Ben, but he's still game to watch it. It's the show that I look forward to watching most each week.

What shows do you watch? Are there any that you watch all together?