Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Work in Progress

My dead grandmother put me up to this. Charlene, this feels so crazy. I mean, it feels RIGHT, but my ego is not happy. Will I have the guts to publish this? To lay myself bare for the world to see?

*****

I am a narcissist.

Well, my therapist says I am not, just because I am worried about being one, and then there's the whole problem of my tendency toward empathy.

But the internets just informed me that I might be a vulnerable narcissist, so it must be true. Okay, the internet didn't inform me that I might be a vulnerable narcissist. It sent me articles on the subject because I love psychology and read articles on it every day. And if I am anything, I'm a bit of a hypochondriac.

But, I mean, I just wrote about my experiences with rape and sexual harassment. If that isn't a publicity stunt, or a plea for love and validation, I don't know what is!

Except, I know there is another layer to this onion, and that layer is the reality that putting all that pain out in the Universe, for anyone to know, means I don't have to hide that stuff anymore. It doesn't have to be part of me anymore.

Writing about my #metoo experience gave me peace. So maybe writing about this stuff will, too. Maybe, like my Grandma Charlene hopes, it will help someone.

*****

People know my trauma. As a vulnerable narcissist (or whatever I am) early on, I collected friends through sharing my stories. While I talk a good pity party regarding isolation, I have had marvelous connections with amazing people all over the country and even all over the world. If my lifestyle were freer, I would like to visit them all, and spend a few magical hours or days together enjoying what it is to be human. I have been fortunate to have lots of Anthony Bourdain - like experiences in my life, whether traveling or just in the grocery store in my own town. I love people and what I can learn from them.

Over the years, I became a lot less sensitive about the various traumas I suffered in my life, and even my depression and anxiety diagnoses. I think, in talking about these things, I was able to finally not feel like they defined me. But I always had control over how much I could share, in the moment.

If these things got out, they could affect my ability to be employed, potentially, I thought. For example, my PTSD and/or Major Depressive Disorder diagnoses. I don't know if these are current. I only found out about them when I had to get my records for our medical insurance back in 2009. I don't know if they're real, or just a code my previous therapist had to enter to bill my insurance.

And then, I just realized, maybe one negative effect of the Internet is that we all have to worry about being truly known, because it could affect our livelihood.

And that is one way that capitalism has facilitated shame, and thus, narcissism.

*****

When I first started my genealogical research, I found, in the 1929 Colorado Springs city directory, a listing for my great-grandfather, Grafton Ellison, at the Modern Woodmen's Association of America sanitorium. I knew that he had tuberculosis, and was under the impression for most of my life that he died of tuberculosis in 1934.

That was one long battle with tuberculosis.

Grafton had been a housepainter in Denver. My great-grandmother Adah's father, Clarence Wilson, was also a house painter, and he died the next year, after falling from some scaffolding while painting the interior of the Paramount Theater. I wonder if Adah met her husband Grafton through Clarence's activities as a house painter?

This was at the height of the Great Depression. Adah and Grafton wed in 1924, and by the next year, on August 1, 1925, little Charlene Ellison was born (There you are, Grandma! See, I'm doing it!). The very next year, he was at the MWA Sanitorium in the Springs, and by the time Charlene was 8 years old, he had died. For at least five years, during the Great Depression, he battled TB, like many, many other people in this country. His illness, and the stigma of it, would affect my family to this day.

I would more profoundly understand what my family was going through after I watched the PBS American Experience episode on TB. It was like having leprosy. It was extremely shameful.

Grandma Charlene, I am sorry for the isolation you must have felt.

*****
When I was a child, I always said I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and that was because I felt like the mind contained multitudes. I remember I was probably six years old when I said to my father (an avid reader of science and science fiction) "I think maybe there is a universe inside of me, and a universe inside of you, and people in that universe, and universes inside those people."

His response was, "Yes, some people have said things like that before."

While most people comment on my optimistic attitude, the reality is that I am prone to very negative self-talk. So when my Dad said that, I thought, "Oh, I thought it was a special thought. But I guess it wasn't. So I shouldn't bother thinking about those things anymore." I could have just as easily thought, "Wow, I wonder what else those people have realized that I might find interesting?"

It only dawned on me recently, when I finally was introduced to the concept of the multiverse, that I could have used the opportunity to learn about Sir Isaac Newton. Maybe that would have dawned on me had I been a child of the internet age.

But the Universe has its own plan, and instead I would end up investigating the nature of existence through the earthly plane, first. I went to Tulane University because, in order to get into medical school, I felt I needed to have the most competitive major, which was Biomedical Engineering. So I applied to the four top Biomedical Engineering programs in the US, which at the time were the University of Pennsylvania, Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins, and Tulane. Tulane, actually, was an 11th hour addition to my list because my good friend said they had the best scholarship programs. I was very disheartened over my rejection letter from Johns Hopkins. I didn't get very good financial aid to Penn or Case Western. I chose Tulane because I got a huge scholarship there, which covered my tuition. So the Universe decided for me.

*****

The first time I ever seriously considered suicide as a parent was when my kids were 5 and 2 years old, in the winter of 2006 after we first moved to Loveland from Monument. My husband had been working in a very abusive employment situation. Um, actually, two jobs in a row. The first place is legendary for being an abusive work environment, and happens to reside in the Modern Woodmen's Association building in Monument (no kidding - my life is full of coincidences like this, and I'll try to mention them when they come up). He actually left before anything negative befell him directly, but the stress he experienced from watching his coworkers suffering made us both think it was just a matter of time before it was his turn.

In 2006, the real estate market was super slow, and so after a few months of living at his brother's apartment in Broomfield, commuting to Loveland, and me struggling to clean up the house in Monument for random house showings with a 2 year old who needed a nap, we got a tiny 500 square foot 2 bedroom apartment in Loveland. We used one room to store most of our belongings, and I had a king size mattress on the floor, next to a twin mattress in the other bedroom. The kids and I spent most of our time in the little living room and adjacent galley kitchen where I would stand all day, looking for help for my son's sensory issues online, and also looking for houses.

I looked at 130 houses before our house in Monument sold and we moved to the home where we currently live.

The days were interspersed with feeding children five meals a day, getting my daughter down for a nap (so the multiverse didn't implode), taking them to the coffee shop to meet other homeschoolers, and the aforementioned standing-kitchen-internet time.

At some point in February, around my birthday (of course), I started seeing auras, not being able to recall words, and having intrusive thoughts about ending my life.

*****

I wonder what really happened. The newspapers at the time, The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, have conflicting stories.


May 27, 1934, Denver Post:

JOBLESS SALESMAN ENDS LIFE WITH GUN

Victim of a nervous breakdown. Grafton R Ellison, 33, of 4441 Utica Street, an unemployed salesman, shot himself to death Saturday night. He had been bed-ridden two months.

Mrs. Ada Ellison, his wife, said he appeared cheerful Saturday afternoon. Shortly before 7 p. m. Mrs. Ellison, her 8 year old daughter, Charline, and her mother, Mrs. Clarence Wilson, 4412 Stuart Street, went to the kitchen to eat supper. They heard a shot and rushed to Ellison's Room. They found him dead.


May 27, 1934, Rocky Mountain News

ILL, TAKES OWN LIFE

Wife Returns From Work to Find Husband Shot Dead, in Bed

Illness of many months caused Ellison Grafton, 34, of 4441 Utica Street to end his life yesterday.

He was found in bed at his home with a bullet hole through his head and a revolver in his hand.

His wife, Mrs. Ada Grafton, found him when she returned from work and notified police.

Mrs. Grafton informed police her husband had been despondent because of his continued illness.

*****

Here's the funny thing about genealogy. People talk a good talk about being related to Charlemagne, but the fact of the matter is, the value of it is in helping us understand ourselves better.

The reason my mother and I went to the Denver Public Library's Western Genealogy section to look up the newspapers for the day of Grafton's death is that a few weeks earlier, I had received his death certificate in the mail from Colorado's Vital Records division. I was expecting it to say that he died of tuberculosis, of course, but what it said was that he died of a "revolver shot wound head" and suicide was clearly circled. 

When I opened the envelope and saw that, I knew in my heart that this was a significant find. I knew that it would be something that everyone in my family who was descended from him would want to know, because it explained a lot.

This finding would be the first of many I would find while researching my own and my husband's genealogy, which would explain exactly how we got to where we are now.

*****

Where are we now, anyway?

Our son is 17 and is 12 credit hours from the completion of his Associate's Degree. He did this with very little to no formal schooling.

My daughter is 14 and is a very talented artist who helps edit her friends' novels and loves caring for animals.

Both of them keep up on politics. They help around the house without my asking. They are kind, compassionate, and humble, but also highly competent and confident in what they have taught themselves. I get lots and lots of compliments on my kids, and I love them more than anything in this world. I would do ANYTHING for them.

They hate it when I talk about them - it makes them uncomfortable. And honestly, I am reluctant to write anything about them at all because I feel like it is important that they tell their own stories someday, and that perception of them is not clouded by anything I might say.

And that is another reason why it is so hard to be vulnerable and transparent on such a big scale. I don't know who reads this.

Maybe someday we will more consciously appreciate the challenges people have overcome rather than valuing the idiotic idea of perfection. Maybe my vulnerability can help us get there. Not that I see myself as particularly special - just that I see other people being vulnerable, and how it is helping.

In fact, a few years ago, a like-minded homeschooling scientist mom I know asked if authenticity was a good thing, and I think authenticity as vulnerability is good. Authenticity as being mean is not good. It's all in the intention, as it is with anything. Is it self-serving, or serving love?

*****

The living circumstances were wearing on us.

"Oh God. It's Caillou again. I cannot deal with that kid's voice!" I thought, wishing I could go far, far away from the television. But if I left the room, the kids would surely follow, and then I would have to entertain them.

I just could not bring myself to do whatever the thing was "AGAIN! AGAIN! AGAIN!" My brain railed against me. I had no business becoming a mother. None. At. All. I don't like doing anything over and over again, especially not cleaning up human waste. And that is a LOT of parenthood in the early years. Throwing away uneaten food that was demanded, or that you thought necessary in order to prevent a tantrum. Changing diapers. Picking up food from weird places. Wiping up poop from weird places (especially the slots around the seatbelts in a carseat).

Just a few years prior, I had devised a very legitimate experiment to uncover the molecular mechanism by which estrogen influences memory in mice and carried it mostly out. I left graduate school with about six months of experimentation left to complete my PhD in molecular biology and neuroscience. I think it was about $3500 in funding that I needed to finish, which I didn't get, because I had the "wrong mentor."

I don't have a lot of regrets in life, and if I were to have one, this should be it.

Except the Universe gave me two daily reminders of why I was rewarded for quitting, and why I can't quit now.

And the thing about these kids is that I learn so much from them. They were born with a knowing, a wisdom, that was undeniable. I think most children are. Children bring about our capacity to love, if we listen.

*****

So, to be eight years old, Grandma, and I am sure that house wasn't very big... maybe you, and Adah and Edith were in the kitchen? Did Adah just return from work at the bindery? Did you run in when you heard the shot?

Did you see it?

Is that why you drank yourself to death?

Were you able to be with him when he was sick, or was he quarantined? Did you lose him that day, or had you lost him a long time before?

*****

My earliest memories include being pushed off my mother's lap when she was pregnant with my sister, and also feeling disappointed when my sister was brought home from the hospital as a newborn. In fact, one of the favorite stories my mother likes to tell of my independent nature is that when I was three years old, I packed up her overnight bag with all my doll clothes and walked right out the front door. What she didn't know was that the sentiment behind that action, which I clearly remember, was, "I've had enough of this shit. I'm out of here." To this day, when I feel boxed in, unappreciated, unheard... that is my instinct. To get the hell out of Dodge.

I feel terrible for these feelings, which my therapist says is a problem. Not that I have those feelings, but that I can't forgive myself for them. Maybe writing about it will make it better. It has made a lot of things better for me.

I love my sister. She's another very private person, so I cannot say too much, but I just want to say here that she has a tremendously positive impact on my life. She is so strong and compassionate, and she does things for all the right reasons. She busts her ass to help a whole community of people in ways they can't help themselves every single day. She even helps her coworkers. She gets a lot of help from my parents, and I am glad for that, because whatever love they put in, she puts out to the world one hundred fold.

I wonder if Edith, her namesake, was so strong.

I know she worries about being a working mother. Her kids are at that hard age where they require a bit less attention, but it's imperative to be around because it's the make or break years for parenting, from an attachment perspective. Ages 6-8.

Thankfully, like you, Grandma, they have their grandparents around for support.

*****

In Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help you Find - And Keep - Love, which was recommended by my therapist, Amir Levine describes how adult attachment style influences our relationships with other adults. My husband and I had both taken an online test which indicated we scored almost identically as anxiously attached.

What that means is that we both answer people promptly and worry about saying the wrong thing. We worry if we haven't heard from the other person in "too long." I haven't finished reading the book yet, because I got really upset when I read the part about people with avoidant attachment styles.

Avoidant attachment styles are the people who put up walls. They control the flow of the relationship. They are absolutely toxic for people with anxious attachment styles.

We have several extended family members with the avoidant style, and had several friends, too. Obviously we have choices about the latter, but not about the former. All we can do with our family members is try as hard as possible to communicate our feelings effectively when given the chance, and be mindful of the uncomfortable feelings that come up when they exert control over the relationship. For the friends, well... I let 'em go after writing them a poem that came to me in the middle of the night. Letting them go allowed for a tremendous reduction in stress, which helped us to bust through a few other problems we were having in our marriage which we just weren't getting to because of the constant issue of avoidant people in our lives.

*****

when your heart
has had
all it can take

do you retreat

we are all in this
alone
together

*****

A lot of my philosophy on psychology revolves around my deeply held belief that although I have had a lot of trauma in my life, other people have suffered worse, and often, they're the people you least suspect. Some people, I can look at and I know, because of the mirror touch synesthesia.

My therapist asked me last week what it was like to have mirror touch synesthesia, and that made me realize I forgot to include the part about how easy it is to lose myself. Sometimes I feel like a chameleon, or shapeshifter. After spending time with people, I sometimes have no sense of myself. Something funny about having no sense of self is that it is easy to achieve that feeling of detachment the Buddhists talk about, because when I can't make sense of myself, the natural sequelae of learned helplessness is that I have to stop caring about identity. I let go of my ego. I just am. It doesn't matter.

That kind of detachment makes compassion a heckuva lot easier. When you've felt all those people on such a deep level, you realize how very little really matters.

All we really need, it turns out, is love. (But food is a form of love, as well as clothing, shelter, diversions for the mind and avenues for self-expression).

*****

Charlene would call us, drunk from New York, asking me to call her "Grandma." I wouldn't. I grew up without grandparents because of her mistake. I grew up without knowing my cousins because of it.

She died August 6, 2004, soon after the birth of my daughter, and five days after her 79th birthday. She had a long, long battle with esophageal cancer, during which she took her vitamins religiously, washing them down with cases of vodka (my kind of woman - she knew how to balance the good and the bad). My mom and her half sisters stopped by my house to take Charlene's ashes to her burial site where my "Uncle Fred" was interred in Colorado Springs. A psychic medium would tell me this year that she said her death was so long and awful that it, "Would have been better to be hit by a bus!" in a distinctly New York accent. (Yeah! I saw a psychic, and it was so amazing!)

Troubled she was, clearly.

I'm sorry it was so hard, Grandma. I owe you, big time, for everything you went through so I could have this amazing life.

My mother grew up believing that Charlene was her sister, and found out that Charlene was actually her mother after the death of her adoptive father, while helping her adoptive mother (Adah, Charlene's mother) clean out files. This was in late 1978. I was just shy of four years old, and my sister was one.

*****

The hardest times when we were living in that tiny apartment waiting for our house to sell were when my husband would come home late, and the kids were cranky and fighting.

I had gone through the La Leche League Leader training, so I had read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, Alfie Kohn, Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication, Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber & Mazlish, books on Sensory Integration, and books on Childhood Development (Gesell Institute). But at the end of the day, suffering from exhaustion, it was hard to mindfully employ what I knew in my head.

I was sure my son had oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD - which is funny, because he is ODD, but definitely not oppositional or defiant). He had just turned five and had his world turned upside down by a move. It came out in his behavior in a big way. Anyone who knows my son now would have difficulty imagining him as either oppositional or defiant.

Sometimes they would hit each other, and although I had read all those books, my inner instinct was to hit them. I didn't. I want to make that very clear. I hit my daughter once a few years later after lots and lots of warnings. But these feelings of wanting to hit my children were so torturous to me that I ruminated on the thought of suicide, a lot.

I ended up seeing a therapist for a short time and after we moved into our new house I felt a lot better and the kids calmed down a lot. I also discovered I was estrogen dominant, and started using progesterone which got rid of all my visual migraines and word recall issues. I also noticed that the migraines correlated with the use of Tide and Cascade detergent, and discontinued their use. I never ended up having the EMDR therapy the therapist recommended, but being settled in our new home, having access to good home cooked meals, and leisurely days with plenty of personal space made my emotional life a lot more stable.

*****

I have a good friend who I have had since I was three, so yes, that means that this year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of friendship.

Our kids are about the same age, and although her kids go to public school and mine are homeschooled, we still talk a lot about parenting and motherhood.

When our kids were really little, I used to just breastfeed mine if they were acting up for any reason. As long as it wasn't a diaper issue. Boob juice really did fix everything. I got much, much better at this, and patience in general, with my second child. I tried to reason with my son when he was just a wee thing.

I felt badly because at one point my friend mentioned that shoving my boob in their faces might not be the best approach because the kids would not learn to process their own emotions. I worried about this quite a bit, wondering if I was just a big human pacifier, but also way too traumatized and exhausted to do anything else.

But as it turns out, I was doing exactly what I needed to do. I was responding with love. I welcomed them when they were at their worst, when other adults shrugged their shoulders. I held them, and stroked their hair, and looked them in the eyes while they kicked me in the face and kneaded my other breast (that drove me nuts). And the peaceful look they had while doing that gave me the immediate reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

*****

Gratitude journaling was recommended to me in 2010, a year after my husband started working from home. I did it for a whopping week, I think, and felt better and stopped.

Five years later, a significant health event in my husband's life would turn everything upside down, and I would begin journaling again, although not particularly regularly. I would do it when I would feel the compulsion. I think maybe I became better at recognizing sorrow setting in, because I remember feeling a strong need to say something to someone about what was going on, but I didn't know who to talk to. I was not under the care of a therapist at the time, and worried about the expense and shame of seeing a therapist. Writing, however, settled my mind and headed the suicidal thoughts off at the pass.

I have so many entries where I have just literally spent the time talking myself out of suicide.

"Sylvia Plath thought journaling would save her." I wrote one day.

It was shortly after this, in the winter of 2016, during the holidays, that I would take it upon myself to get us to a couple's therapist.

*****

It was, I realized through genealogy, all of the secrets the families kept that perpetuated the trauma across so many generations. The pride.

I thought of the movie Seven, and pride being considered a deadly sin. The more I got to know people, the more this particular characteristic turned me inside out, because I realized the full effect of pride and narcissism on my own life, on the lives of my friends and family, and the lives of states and nations, and the world. I felt surrounded by people acting in self-interest, not acting out of love. Much of the parenting I witnessed was guided by a single agenda - "I want to be able to be proud of my child" - rather than out of unconditional love. The kids of these parents know they are not loved unconditionally. It shows up in their attention-seeking behavior. This is the genesis of narcissism.

"I love the evil man who knows he is evil more than the righteous man who knows he is righteous. Of the evil people who consider themselves righteous, however, the following is said: "They do not even turn away on the threshold of the underworld." For they imagine that they are being led to hell in order to redeem the souls there." - Tales of the Chassidim

So many secrets were kept from children throughout history, in order to not affect their opportunity in this life. But those secrets kept them from understanding the generational trauma that would provide the root of every obstacle they would ever face. They would be shamed. They would be blamed. In the name of pride. Hiding wounds. We all know people who were rejected from their families of origin because of their mistakes. What a profound act of love it is to welcome a child back into your arms, at any age, when they have made a huge mistake and have nowhere else to turn.

You brought this child into the world - this child is your responsibility forever. This child's energy. Help the child to love themself wholly, and you help the world. In the absence of parents, we owe this to our siblings, too. Forgiveness is the ultimate act of love.

*****

Ancestry.com notifies me of new records for my ancestors with a little green leaf in the corner of their profile. Because I have done extensive research on my known ancestors back to my great-grandparents, new records for these generations rarely come up.

Speaking of that - I need to put a countdown timer for 1/1/2020, because WOOT! I am waiting for that 1950 US Federal Census!!! ALL UR SECRETS ARE MINE!!! Sorry, I have a little thing about "singing over bones" as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in her Jungian Feminist book, Women Who Run With The Wolves. It's one of several reasons I got a bracelet that says "Well behaved women rarely make history." This is a relevant paragraph because one of my favorite poorly-behaved woman friends is helping Ms. Estes with her genealogical research. My friend is singing over Estes' ancestors bones! Bone singers unite!

The Social Security Death Index was released by the Social Security Office a few years ago, and that was where I learned that Charlene had several other names. Aliases.

Grandma!! I still have one more name to figure out! I figured out who my grandfather was, and I even found the baby boy you gave up for adoption. My uncle is an artist! A good one! All those house painters in your ancestry, and your son and granddaughter end up being painters, too. What are the chances? But seriously, what were you up to?! What did you need to hide so badly you took the secret to your grave? If I do the writing, will you tell me?

Well, Charlene wasn't the only family member I had with an alias. My father's father also had an alias.

So yeah, this girl who grew up middle class in Denver had two grandparents with aliases.

Secrets.

*****

My interest in psychology started very young, because when you are the oldest daughter of a woman who lost her father and learned she was adopted when she had little kids, that's what happens.

I forgave my parents a long, long time ago. They never fail to love me. I know how deeply my parents love me.

Through genealogy, and my own experience as a mother, dealing with generational trauma, I continue to forgive them and love them more and more each day. I recognize how the life my parents gave me is so much better than what either of them had. Both of them had alcoholic parents, and their mothers were battered.

So it makes sense that corporal punishment was the order of the day for them discipline-wise. Plus, it's what everyone did. It was fashionable. But they never drank, ever. When I did my little teenage rebellion and invited some boys over, we had to drink the Cherry Kirsch they purchased to make some dessert for a pot-luck. (That's why your dessert didn't taste like cherries. Because you just put water in the dessert. Ha)

To this day, if I do something I feel shame about, I feel the hairbrush on my bottom. It keeps me very honest. It keeps me a "good person." It also tortures my soul.

But I want to tell you that although the beginning of my parenting journey was harrowing, because I didn't know a better way, watching my parents grow as grandparents and in-laws has shown me that it is possible to heal the deepest of wounds. It is possible to forgive oneself and move on, and through the act of forgiving oneself, it is possible to manifest abundance through love and generosity.

I'm sorry it was so hard, Mom and Dad. I owe you, big time, for everything you went through so I could have this amazing life. But I also know that what you want is for me to be an agent of love in all that I do, so that is what I will do. Because it is the right thing to do.

*****

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have a real need to be alone. This need poses quite a challenge for my mental health and my marriage, especially since my husband and I are both anxiously attached.

I found just as much stuff about his family as I did mine. And it all made things make sense. It was all stuff his family was eager to hide, because they were highly stigmatic events like divorce, mental illness, abandonment, alcoholism and even murder.

I want to write about these things because I think they will help people see how historical events and generational trauma affect them personally. I also am considering becoming a professional genealogist so I can help people heal from generational trauma.

My husband and I both suffered significant psychological loss between ages 6 and 8 as children. This is the time period when the "narcissistic lesion" can be formed if a secure attachment is not formed with an adult caretaker.

I don't see what happened to us as special. I see it as a sign of those times. Our story isn't that unique. It just happens to be the one I have to share.

We were part of the latch key kid generation.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Indeed.

Fatherless, too. Many of our fathers fought in Vietnam.

*****

Lawnmower parent? Whatever.

"How do I reconcile the narcissistic side of feminism with the attachment needs of children?" I asked my psychologist.

"The children just need to know that their parents are there for them emotionally no matter what. No matter when." She said.

"That makes sense." I mused.

I was wondering, privately, if she secretly laughed at my choice to live a 1950's era existence when I could have put my children in someone else's care. I wondered how she could care so much about adult attachment, and leave her new baby with someone else. I imagine it is both a relief, and a stress.

But I also knew from watching my parents help raise my niece and nephew that grandparents can be good parents, too. Maybe even better parents, because they have a longer perspective, and tend to fuss less over little things. Well, that is certainly the way my parents are. I am sure my niece and nephew know their grandparents will do anything for them. ANYTHING.

And then I thought how I inherently knew that the educational system was not a good substitute for a secure attachment object because of its pitiful failure to do that for me and my husband, but I just didn't understand that the formation of secure attachment didn't have anything to do with quantity of time spent with the caregiver, but QUALITY of time.

It is my observation that modern life for most people consists of waking way too early and having to usher unwilling children out of the house WITH A LUNCH conforming to certain standards of the day, going to work 40 (or more) hours a week, shuttling kids from one activity to another (if one is well to do, anyway, otherwise the children are self-parented), feeding the whole bunch, keeping grandparents happy, and doing it all over again. What I like to say is that "most people get the ass end of each other" because everyone is spending the best part of the day away from the people they love.

So modern life is about processing the trauma endured during the work and school days during the time together. Supporting each other through traumatic events. At best. I do not know if our little family would have made it under those circumstances.

That lawnmower parent has helped that child have less trauma. Less stress. The lawnmower parent is a secure attachment object. As long as the parent is acting out of love, and not self interest. There's the rub.

*****

I realize now, that through my vulnerable narcissism, I was looking for a secure attachment object.

The realization was a really painful one.

"Next week we'll talk about 'Father Hunger'" my therapist said. That was three days ago.

I Googled it.

Oh yeah. I have that.

That's why, over the course of a 22 year marriage (we've been together for 25 years), I have had crushes on other men for 18 of those years. I am still looking for my inner father.

Or maybe, as my friend from Algeria said all those years ago, I am just a "healthy girl." Maybe monogamy can be an oppressive, anti-feminist institution.

Perspective is everything.

*****

Attachment disorder, I believe, can manifest as a number of different childhood illnesses which cause classroom disruption.

It seems to me that classes for "regular" kids these days, if the accounts I am hearing from friends whose kids decided to go to public middle- and high-school are any indication, end up containing a large percentage of disciplinary time rather than useful content for the students.

Whenever I hear about behavioral issues in children, I wonder if they have a secure attachment style. What was their home life like for the first eight years? Were their families constantly relocating due to corporate America's treatment of its workers? Were their parents struggling financially due to divorce or medical bills? According to Elizabeth Warren, these are the top two reasons for bankruptcy filing in the US. What usually happens is that a family is dependent on two incomes (either by lifestyle choice or necessity), and then there is either a divorce or a medical emergency that makes it so bankruptcy is necessary. In households with one wage earner, but two partners, this is less likely to happen, because the non-working partner is like an insurance policy.

An insurance policy is putting it lightly. This insurance policy is also available for small claims like picking vomiting children up from school, taking cars for maintenance, volunteering in the community to spread good energy to people who need it, figuring out logistical nightmares like vacation planning, taking grandparents to the doctor, moral support, and generally making life sweeter. If I do say so myself. Oh, and being the secure attachment object.

Feminism is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Women should be able to do anything a man can do, without judgment (I have a little thing I got for camping which enables me to write my name in the snow, and have changed tires on the side of the interstate by myself while pregnant). But in every single thing that exists, there is both good and bad. I propose that the expectation of women being able to work which started in the 1970's gradually lead to the abandonment of children (since largely, fathers weren't picking up the invisible labor for a generation and a half or so, and still lag behind in that area), the explosion of narcissism, AND, especially, the great divide between the wealthy and the rest of us. We have two incomes, so we can have bigger houses, so we can fill them with more stuff, and the cost of everything has gone up because now a household earns a lot more than it used to. Do we really need to be so productive? Don't we have a huge problem with waste? Who gets more and more wealthy from our purchasing stuff to validate ourselves?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have some shopping habits which I still need to get under control, especially in the realm of books, clothing and shoes - the latter two are improving).

Men can actually lactate. I think it is a lot of work, but it is possible for the extremely determined. Now we have laws so that breastfeeding mothers can pump while at work. I think, in order to get out of a lot of our problems, we have to recognize that men can be nurturers, too. Men can do invisible labor, and they can help aging parents. (Props to my brother-in-law who is the Invisible Labor rock star). There have been a few stay at home Dads in our homeschooling group over the years. My husband once told me he was jealous that I got to stay home with the kids. I do have to say, the way we did it, it was pretty awesome.

Also we need to be okay with less for a while. I do realize this is really easy for me to say, because according to Pew my household with one income is in the 50th percentile in our area. So, it wasn't the sacrifice for us that it was for many of our friends. But they made it work, and if I had to live on a lot less, I know I could do it, because they showed me how.

I think the millennials inherently know this. They are less likely to buy houses, and more of them are working from home or having a parent stay at home.

*****

"I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT TRUMP ANYMORE. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT ESPECIALLY BEFORE I HAVE HAD COFFEE. NO TALKING TO ME ABOUT NEWS. I PROTECTED YOUR HEAD SPACE FOR YEARS WHILE YOU WORKED FROM HOME, AND NOW I WANT SOME. I WANT TO USE MY HEAD FOR MORE PRODUCTIVE STUFF." I yelled at my husband.

I probably did yell. Yelling makes this story sound super awesome. Because, I hardly ever yell. When I yell, I yell mindfully, something I have probably rehearsed over and over again in my subconscious.

I had to break nearly completely to have the courage to ask my husband for space. I wrote about that breaking already, in my last post.

When he started working from home, a homeschooling friend warned me that she knew some people who got a divorce right after they started working from home together. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but it kind of was. There were really great things about it, and also some not great things. I am still processing it all.

Last January, we sat in couples therapy and I talked about wanting to move my computer away from where our family has all their computers. To my own space. It was a scary thing for me to request. He saw it as a rejection of him. And I saw his reaction to his perception of my rejection as rejection. And so, we walked on eggshells. The both of us. Sometimes it felt like the house was full of eggshells. I think he felt like that, too.

There were other reasons, too, related to ongoing family issues. I have decided that the families that "look" the most perfect are probably hiding a lot.

"Why can't I get anything done, creatively?" I kept wondering, after the 2015 health crisis. But then I took a class and had to do the work for a grade, and so it was easier for me to get away. If I had a reason, I could get away. But this semester, and over the summer, and last summer, I wasn't taking classes. So it was like All Trump All The Time.

This is a Public Service Announcement: IF YOU WORK FROM HOME AND/OR SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH A SPOUSE WHO HAS MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM AROUND AND REMIND THEM REPEATEDLY THAT A 'PUSSY-GRABBING' NARCISSIST NOW RUNS THE FREE WORLD.

And there was the reminder that the other option during the election was a woman who stayed married to a man who denied sexual acts with his female intern. HE GASLIT HER IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. OVER AND OVER. Bill Clinton was an abuser. That is what hurts the most about any sort of abuse, sexual harassment and rape. It's a he said/she said kind of situation, and he's denying it, and the victim is like, "Did that really just happen? Am I losing my mind? There is no way that just happened. That only happens on TV."

Notwithstanding the issue of consent is that it's okay for men to cheat on their wives. We laugh it off - "Oh, he's a healthy boy." But women are called sluts, whores, harlots, etc. Both candidates, to me, are a reminder that it is still very much a man's world. Women are still treated like possessions.

Where is our progressive female candidate? The one with all the lovers?

*****

"Dear Diary," my crush said, mocking me, "Today he and I talked about..." I sat in the school lounge with my journal every day, half hoping to get some journaling done, and more than half hoping he would stop by to talk. He usually did.

"Nuh-uh!" I said, shaking my head. I had just written about him, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with all these complicated feelings.

I had found journaling to be very powerful. There were things that had happened over the 25 years of my marriage which are like little whisps now - just figments of memories. When trying to remember them, I would be told that they didn't happen, or that I was remembering it all wrong. It wasn't intended to make me feel crazy, even though that was the effect. It was meant to repair my perception - to cover shame. It was meant to try to get me to forget, since there was nothing we could do about the past, anyway. But it became very apparent to me, lack of awareness just let the problems persist. It enabled them to get bigger. Ignorance is not always bliss.

At one particularly difficult time this year, I sat in the rocker chair in our sitting room, staring, not knowing what to do with myself, because I was so depressed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my old journals from my childhood and years as a young woman, detailing everything about my rape, all of my crushes, boyfriends, you name it. It was a regular Mortified Nation. I shared the funniest ones with my family, since we enjoyed the show together so much. I wanted my kids to see that crushes and sexual feelings were normal, because I was raised to feel shameful about my sexuality, and I don't want them to feel that shame.

That shame gives other people power over us.

It was then that I realized that it's just the way I am. I fall in love really easily, get hurt, and somehow pick myself up, dust myself off, and live to love another day. Sure, it's a liability for a married person, but probably an important and benevolent energy to spread. Love. Attachment. I'm wired for it biologically. Especially when I am healthiest.


*****

The latest crush was like my Dad, but an artist. What they all have in common is they are nice guys. And I don't mean the "nice guys" like on reddit who are all "Why can't I get me some pussy? I'm such a nice guy. The problem is that women are all bitches and hoes!" No, these guys I fall for worship their mothers and sisters because their mothers and sisters love them, and support them, too. They push my understanding of feminism forward. They encourage me and build my confidence, recognize my intelligence. They are charitable, forgiving, kind and graceful. But also, they know how to be present when I am feeling deeply. They also know how to control themselves and honor boundaries and not withhold love to get their way. They are humble. I can tell they know how to love. And they understand that life is a learning process. They are broken, but working on themselves. They are people to build a dream with. Away or together, I never worry about where I stand with them. They know the power of forgiveness. That, to me, is attractive. That is handsome.

Maybe it is not 'father hunger.' Maybe it is just smart. These are the qualities we should foster in our sons. People like this are infectious, in a good way. Their presence alone is healing.

Infatuation eventually, after significant pain, gives way to a warm love and concern which never ends.

I use those interactions to spread connection and joy to others. Because, ultimately, those feelings are useful if in the end they promote love in the world, and hopefully I have not hurt anyone. Flirting can be good, right?

I'm worried I did hurt someone, though. I worry about it a lot. It keeps me up at night. And generally, I am a pretty good sleeper.

I really don't want to be the person who hurts someone who has already been hurt enough.

Even if hurt is an opportunity for growth. Some people don't know how to heal from such hurt.

*****

Was it like that for you, Grandma Charlene? Your mother had been working since your father couldn't. And then he was gone.

Did you have mirror touch like mom and I? Did you look to men to fill your father hunger?

You were married at least four times, and had a child with yet another man. This was a surprise to all of us.

Were you drinking to forget it?

Did the men ever help you find what was missing?

It doesn't seem like they did.

*****

The Universe led me to my love, my husband, at Tulane University. Over the years, we learned and grew, as we built something bigger than ourselves, with love. From two broken people, we replaced ourselves with two children who love each other and both their flawed parents. They are forward thinking. They are encouraging and help raise others' confidence, recognizing intelligence and kindness. They are charitable, forgiving, kind and graceful. They are humble. But also, they know how to be present when others are feeling deeply. They know how to control themselves and honor boundaries. They know how to love. And they understand, because we were transparent with them, that life is a learning process. They will never be too prideful to work on themselves.

What are we going to do next, honey? I still have things to do to help others. I need your help. Please let go of the news. It is a poisonous distraction from our mission here, when viewed in excess. We need to help heal the people around us through proper use of our love and attention. I see you changing and growing, mindfully. I see you healing. I love you. Thank you for your forgiveness of my 'father hunger.'

*****

I know now that to heal myself, I need to continue on this path of authenticity, vulnerability, journaling, making art, and meditation. I need to do this to close my wound, to heal my narcissism, so I can help others, regardless of who I am with.

*****

Please Universe, Grandma Charlene, so far the bread crumbs left for me have been amazing. I have always tried to act out of love. Please let sharing all of this help me to let go of this. I hope it helps someone.

Oh, and by the way, the word is VAGINA, not pussy.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Necessary Evil

I have a special relationship with Darkness. Well, I don't really know if it is special, honestly. Maybe everyone has this relationship, and I am just late to the game, figuring it all out. When I was working or in school, I didn't notice this relationship; it was only after deciding to stay home that I noticed. During the summer, my life (and thus, the kids' lives) was extremely busy. We had visitors from out of town, we traveled, we hiked, we swam, we played at the park, we improved our homes, and I felt energy abundant enough for those tasks.

However, in the winter, we would become ill more easily, had less energy for activities, and generally, less tolerance for socialization. Perhaps being a mother exacerbates the minimum and maximum energies expended, but I think some of the delay in my realization relates to how one's perception of things change when one is inside vs. outside a system.

When I was growing up, we attended church regularly. When I say "regularly," I mean we were there All. The. Time. It was, and still is (as far as I know), an extremely liberal church, and low on the dogma scale. So, although I typically went to church twice a week or more, I ended up with a very open-minded view on religion and spirituality in general. After my confirmation class, I identified as Agnostic, recognizing the value of spirituality and a belief system, and later eschewing organized religion in general for its hypocrisy.

But back to my point - we lived at church. Of the four members of my family, three of us served as Elders on Session. My parents each served multiple terms.

The holidays were the busiest times, and that busyness reached an apex in early December. We all sang in the choirs, my sister and I were in youth group, and we attended multiple services a day during the holidays. This was all on top of work for my parents, school and extracurricular activitIES for my sister and I. I always had at least two or three extracurricular activities. And homework. And regular social events.

Really, it wasn't much different than what I hear many kids do these days.

Then, I went to college, switched majors twice, and still graduated in three years.

Then, I went to graduate schoo for three yearsl, and was 6-12 months from finishing a PhD in Neurobiology and Molecular Biology when I completed a Master's Degree.

What's funny is that I had more time to myself in graduate school than I had in any other part of my life. But I still didn't have enough time to notice any patterns in my mood.

*****

For the last 16 years or so, my body has been in relatively good sync with the moon. There have been a few exciting exceptions (two in particular I can think of right off the top of my head), but generally, for half the year, I ovulate with the new moon, and for the other half of the year, I ovulate with the full moon. In January/February and July/August, I go through a transition, which can be either a short or a long anovulatory cycle. Typically, these transitions are preceded by a tremendous amount of activity, and typically stress.

January/February and July/August are the months when I am most likely to face serious anxiety and/or depression.

Besides being exactly 1 month after the winter holidays and equinox, February heralds my birthday.

Besides being exactly 1 month after the summer equinox, late July heralds two birthdays, and two anniversaries in one week.

These are the times when I'm most likely to want to pretend I'm in a psychogenic fugue, walk out the door, and never come back. And it's not because of my little family; it's because of social pressure, which makes it even harder for me to spend time with my family, because I'm physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted.

*****

I kind of think everyone is on this schedule. Why do I think that? Because right as I'm having delusions of joining the circus because I am already fried, other people seem to be feeling stressed and typically enter our sphere looking for support.

And this is usually the thing that pushes me, head first, over the edge.

What's the edge?

The edge is when I think about disappearing myself, through whatever means.

Last month was really bad.

Through the Spring and Summer, I dealt with some very serious emotions related to things going on in the lives of several close friends who had approached me for help. Also, I lost a "friend" because she just couldn't hang with me through my midlife crisis. It's been a doozy. There was a lot of family stuff (including finding several lost family members through DNA testing). I had a few potentially serious health problems.

Any one of these things would have been difficult to handle, but they all came down on me at once. There were quite a few times when I wasn't sure what the point of it all was anymore, and last month was one of those times.

I knew I needed to be alone.

*****

Five days before my period should start (and usually does), the Flo app notifies me. And again at three days. At three days, I usually look at it, say to myself, "No shit, Sherlock!" and dismiss it. I can tell, because my fuse is way shorter than usual.

After this past month, the Husband now has it on his phone, too.

I was diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) back in 2005. That was the year that started my real personal health journey, because I was having severe visual migraines. That was also the year I discovered bioidentical progesterone, which eliminated them.

Later, I also supplemented vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate) to help with my symptoms, because I learned there was concern about progesterone use masking a vitamin B6 deficiency.

Every cycle, I take Progest-E from days 12 to 26. The progesterone in the formulation is extracted from wild yams and delivered in a suspension of mixed tocopherols. I do a number of other things nutritionally to help with this disorder, and for most of the year, these approaches are enough to keep me adjusted. I will write about those other things some other time, in case they help someone. But the point of this post is something entirely different, and something that was missing from my holistic health perspective for all these years. It was something I suspected, but now I know for certain.

*****

This August, I had hopes that my PMDD would be controllable. But as the day approached, I had this niggling feeling that things weren't okay. I had taken the meditation class, and earlier in the week had a particularly groundbreaking session, reaching a huge realization that made me feel, deep down, that I was done with people-pleasing for good.

It wasn't even a day later, the Universe decided to give several tests of my new resolve, including a huge fight with my daughter (we have only had one disagreement before, when she was six years old, and I still have tremendous guilt about it, even though she doesn't remember it), misunderstanding my therapist (leaving me wondering if I needed to go find a new therapist, or if I could even ever trust a therapist again), and also still processing the aforementioned stuff.

Then, the family came. Both sides. For one, I reluctantly accepted a self-invite, the other uninvited.

I think they got what they needed. I didn't.

Not for me, later, when I would again wonder why it is that I am so worthless that requests to be alone are constantly ignored. Maybe if I suffered from some physical symptoms, they would take me seriously? Instead of something I have "control over?" (I don't have control over it).

Why can't people understand? When it's dark, I need to go Dark.

*****

The thing about being busy, for me, is that I do not have time to process my feelings about things. I am highly adept at smiling, nodding, and then processing pain later. I maintain the appearance of someone strong, and can be strong, through having enough time alone. The time alone, is, for me, a necessary evil.

For many years, I would go over and over conversations in my mind, worrying that I might have said something wrong. I worried a lot about inadvertently hurting other people, because I learned a long time ago that people can misinterpret my shyness as aloofness, and my intellectual passion as snobbery. So, I try to be really mindful of my interactions with people, so that I do not come off as critical.

I have a lot of guilt about stuff that other people probably don't even notice or care about.

When I am in a good place - 25 out of 27 days a month, not too busy, replete with sleep and food - I can allow myself to think that if a person were upset with me, they would say something.

When I am not in a good place, my mind believes I have hurt others.

And being someone who feels so deeply, the thought that I might have hurt someone else, hurts me terribly.

*****

I read in Christiane Northrup's Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom a long time ago that it is normal for women to turn inward around the time of the menstrual cycle. In researching various spiritual modalities, I have found a wealth of information and support for accepting the natural emotional cycle that women experience during their fertile years.

On the Natural Shaman website, Cat Stone writes:

"The Autumn (Pre-Menstruation) is a time of harvest and withdrawal.  This energy can be really tough for some women.  During this phase, our focus begins to turn inwards in preparation for menstruation.  We can feel disconnected from life and our mind can become negative and critical.  We harvest and complete projects and tasks, ready to withdraw from the outside world all together, like the Autumn Equinox, we remember the past.  If the pressure is on to remain in the outside world, we can become even more confused and irritable.  This phase slows us down and brings our attention back to our own needs.  It is during this phase that women can feel out of control, and suffer from PMS or PMDD." - Cat Stone, The Magic of the Menstrual Cycle

It gets worse for Winter.

These are times when I MUST have time alone. I need time alone to think and process a lot of awful thoughts about myself. I need time to process the grief about who I thought I wanted to be and accept who I really am. I need time to process uncomfortable feelings like not wanting to be alive, so I can cry about it, and move through it. I have my own little Hero's or Fool's Journey every month! It's something that keeps me evolving.

Why can't people understand? When it's dark, I need to go Dark.

*****

"Why do you avoid your emotions?" my therapist asked me earlier this Spring.

I had just read Jung's Undiscovered Self, and I knew that he believed that the cure for most neurosis was in bringing thoughts and emotions into alignment.

"Because if I didn't," I said, "My life would be a shit show."

*****

A few years ago, I went on a feminist reading kick, first reading Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women, and Betty Friedan's seminal work, The Feminine Mystique. I would learn from Friedan that I suffered from the "Woman Problem."

"Sometimes a woman would tell me that the feeling she gets is so strong she runs out of the house and walks through the streets. Or she stays inside her house and cries. Or her children tell her a joke, and she doesn't laugh because she doesn't hear it," says Friedan.

"I've tried everything women are supposed to do-hobbies, gardening, pickling, canning, being very social with my neighbors, joining committees, running PTA teas. I can do it all, and I like it, but it doesn't leave you anything to think about - any feeling of who you are. [...] There's no problem you can even put a name to. But I'm desperate. I begin to feel I have no personality. I'm a server of food and a putter-on of pants and a bedmaker, somebody who can be called on when you want something. But who am I?" says another mother in Friedan's book.

In the interest of curbing any arguments about my choice to homeschool, I want to be sure to say that having the kids at home was a great antidote to my "Woman Problem" for a number of years, for the most part, at least when we were at home together, because the kids are always changing and growing, and it is a delight to see them maturing. As they require less and less from me, however, my activities are more and more mundane. My contribution seems less and less "special."

The things that, over the years, contributed to that feeling of wanting to run away were the things that never stayed done. Dishes, laundry, paying bills, weeding, mowing, picking up pet poop, dusting, mopping, BUYING GROCERIES. The last one is my current bugaboo, with two teenagers. Sometimes I personally skip eating because I just don't want to have to go to the grocery store any sooner than necessary.

Again, we are almost out of groceries. We made it exactly one week on a $375 trip to the grocery warehouse. We ate at restaurants multiple times because everyone is sick and tired of cooking.

This is totally why fathers push their teenage boys out of the house. (Props to my kids who totally say, "Thank you for buying me food all the time!" and clean the kitchen without being asked - this isn't a rant about them, it's a rant about misogyny and the lack of a "Village" mentality).

*****

My mother told me once that a psychologist friend of hers asked when I would go "Supernova." I wondered what the hell he meant, and my mom explained that I was such an overachiever, there is no way that amount of effort could be sustained very long. I was a senior in high school at the time.

It's true - I did go pretty "balls to the wall" on everything I did, getting very close to a PhD by the time I was 24. And although I went to school in New Orleans, and have several really hilarious stories to share about Bourbon Street related shenanigans, I think that was kind of the last young person variety fun I had for many, many years.

I was 21 when I got married, my husband 22. We lived in Ohio for the first 2 years, then California for 3, then we moved to the Colorado Springs area for 4 years before settling in Loveland 12 years ago. I learned that it takes a while to make friends when I'm new to an area (and that has made me fairly outgoing), and I have also learned that children help you make friends. But I have also learned that the nature of the friendships I had before and after children is wildly different. Painting the town red hasn't really been in my lexicon. But then, it's only been about 5 years since I have been able to have an uninterrupted conversation.

Babysitters and the funds for concert tickets were right out. And, once I passed the 40 year mark, hangovers were significantly less fun. Not that they were ever fun, but even less so with kids to feed in the morning.

These are the things they don't tell you when you hear your clock ticking at 24 years of age.

"It's not a clock," the male standup comic's girlfriend had said, when addressing his fear of commitment, "It's more like a fuse."

Boom.

Do supernovas have fuses? I think my biological clock just broke permanently.

*****

I would like here to sing the praises of women comics. Watching Jennifer Kirkman*, Lynne Koplitz, Amy Schumer, Iliza Schlessinger, Ali Wong and others on Netflix has been a balm for my soul. They are the antidote to the superego. They're like a Jungian Adjustment. I knew, through having mom friends, that some struggles women face are universal, but there are things even mom friends don't discuss with each other. Especially if there are kids within earshot.

But these amazing women are opening up that dialogue.

Through their raunchy monologues, they're helping me see that the Darkness inside of me that needs acceptance is normal.

In fact, I noticed some time ago that during my "mood swings" I am much more likely to recognize and come up with effective solutions to real problems. I'm more likely to write philanthropic letters to correct unfair situations at that time. I'm more likely to make art that captures an emotion. I'm more likely to deepen a relationship with a friend by being more vulnerable than usual. I'm more likely to undergo some sort of beneficial psychological transformation during this time. But these things are more likely to happen if I am afforded the very necessary time alone, and if I am allowed to slow down.

This is another place where I have felt like "less than a woman" due to the feminism of my mother's generation. Talking about emotions, sexuality, fluctuating energy levels - all of this was still taboo until very recently. It helps to be able to laugh as I look back at when I got my first period, almost exactly 31 years ago, at the Gove Middle School Halloween Social, while I was dressed as a bride. All in white. Yep. I had to wait until after my parents got home from choir practice, after the babysitter left, to ask my mother if I was going to die. I don't remember if I was relieved or disappointed when she told me it was my first period.

Lack of discussion about this topic, I feel, keeps women from full acceptance of themselves, and perpetuates the misguided notion that needing a little more sleep or some alone time for part of the month is some sort of pathological state. Or understanding the natural fluctuations in sexual appetite! Growing girls need to know about it so they can better care for themselves when they are menstruating. Growing boys need to know about it so they can be more sensitive to the needs of female family members and future partners.

Discussion of this topic is a necessary evil.

*****

When I'm in this place, sometimes it is not solitude that I need. Sometimes I need radical acceptance. I think I'm just now finding the friendships where I feel like I can be myself, where I can share the Darkness inside of me without fear of criticism. The kind of friendship where I can laugh at raunchy jokes or dance to soul-shaking music, and want to do it again. The kind of friendship where we have secrets we would never share with others.

The kind of friendship which understands that there are necessary evils.

The kind of friendship that reminds me why it's good to be alive.

*****

I refuse to apologize if this piece lacked in "flow." My mind is jumbled; I'm writing out of emotion. I was interrupted four times while writing this. In a few days, again, my thoughts will "flow" and then I'll be back to my usual happy, horny self. Don't you worry.

Where can a girl find a nice Red Tent these days?

*Jennifer Kirkman on Netflix. OMG. Watch both her specials, but especially the newer one, Just Keep Livin'?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I feel you

I have a condition called Mirror Touch Synesthesia (MTS). I don't know how long I have had it. I didn't know that I had it until I listened to the Invisibilia Podcast on NPR back in 2015.

All my life, my family members have complained that I am "too sensitive," but really, none of them knew exactly how sensitive I was.

In the Invisibilia episode, a woman named Amanda suffers from MTS. She becomes housebound due to her condition.

How could synesthesia make a person housebound, you ask?

MTS, scientists think, happens when there is confusion between the touch and visual systems. People with MTS can, simply by looking at a person, understand what that person is feeling with their body. For instance, I can look at a person using a fork and feel that fork in my hand.

What this also means is that I can look at a person's face, and feel their expression - feel what they are feeling.

It is a condition, psychologists claim, of extreme empathy.

*****

Apparently, there is some comorbidity between having various types of synesthesia and being an artist and scientist, so much so that there is an organization for such individuals called The International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists and Scientists. I learned this fact after discovering founder Dr. Joel Salinas' book, Mirror Touch, at my local book store this Spring (2018).

Dr. Salinas is a Neurologist, which I found fascinating considering my own professional rabbit hole - neurobiology. Much of what he described in his book in his experiences from childhood onward were familiar to me, even down to what it feels like to watch someone die.

I'm thinking it must be pretty rare to  have had two near-death experiences and also have watched someone die, and have MTS. Dr. Salinas describes the feeling of watching someone die in the first chapter of the book - and since I had the same experience in February 2015, seeing my neighbor in cardiac arrest, I could feel it all over again. I can feel it now, just writing about it. During my working career, I had to sacrifice numerous animals for medical research, and the feeling was the same for me.

Last week I went to a concert with some friends at a local venue. During the opening act, around 9:30PM, six people carried another person toward the door. They put the young man on the ground, and he was unresponsive. I just stood there. I couldn't stop looking. I was having the feeling - the feeling of The End. A tightness in my chest that wouldn't go away.

I looked over at my friend. "It's ONLY 9:30." Was all she said.

"Huh? Yeah, it is only 9:30, but I have never seen that happen at a concert. Never." I was feeling old, as I haven't been to a concert in over two decades. But the last ones I went to were surely in New Orleans, and I don't recall seeing anyone near death back then.

"Oh, that happens all the time. But not usually this early." She replied.

"What the fuck." I shook my head. It was a Thursday night.

Another guy who was with us said he was certified in CPR and went to check on the victim. He came back and informed us that the guy had track lines and that it was probably a heroin overdose.

Not much later, an ambulance came. I was still standing there, eyes like saucers, unable to shake the feeling of death, until I saw a foot move. Only then did the odd squeezing feeling in my chest subside.

*****

"Om namah shivaya" is my preferred mantra for meditation. It is a salutation to the Lord Shiva, god of yoga, meditation and the arts. According to Wikipedia, he is often depicted slaying demons.

I am a very highly accomplished navel gazer. That comes of necessity when one is feeling all the feels. Of all the peeps.

In an initial discussion with several people who know me well, when asked if they thought I might benefit from meditation, they said, "Yeah, most likely not. You don't suffer from lack of self-awareness." And such things. I decided that shelling out $1000 for a meditation course was not really a responsible use of my money, even though it has been shown to reduce blood pressure.

A few months later, however, I started going to contemplative yoga with my artist friend, due to a lot of stress and a shoulder injury. Many of the class participants are dealing with chronic pain. Part of the contemplative yoga are two guided body-awareness meditations, one at the beginning of a gentle yoga practice, and another at the end. The first time I went, I was amazed at the amount of time spent moving blankets around (seriously, there is a lot of blanket rearrangement), but afterward, I felt the most profound sense of calm I had felt in a very long time. I felt like I was in a Bubble of Peace.

When I went home from class, I had the presence of mind to tell everyone swarming me in the kitchen, "Um... so... I feel this amazing sense of peace, and I would like to hold on to it for a bit. I am going to go sit outside."

"Whatever you just did, you need to do it more," my husband and kids all said.

*****

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time happily playing alone. I wasn't particularly imaginative - or at least I haven't thought I was. My favorite games were "Librarian" where I organized all my books by the Dewey Decimal System and wrote call numbers on their spines, and "Elizabeth Stevens" where I was a grown woman named Elizabeth Stevens with her very own (homemade) checkbook, purse made out of notebook paper, and a job in an office! I don't remember feeling lonely, although I do remember feeling disgruntled about interruptions. Hmm... that hasn't changed... although now I have too many books to organize, Costco makes my checks, my purse is made of vinyl, and I have several jobs at home.

The thing nobody tells you about marriage or motherhood is how your primary function is to protect everyone else's head space, and that you almost never have any of your own. Well, that's not entirely true - you just don't have any control over when you get that head space, so when it randomly comes up, you fail to think "I really need head space, too! How can I make sure I get productive head space?"

"Head space?" You're asking. "What's that?"

Head space is what produces brilliant people, like Einstein, Sagan, and Hawking. In fact, Einstein was a notoriously bad husband because he had strict rules for when his wife could and could not interact with him. What a douche.

A brilliant douche.

*****

I am surrounded by brilliant people. I can only attribute this to the values my father instilled in me - to protect the solitude of my loved ones. Anyone who knows my father will agree, he is one of those surprisingly brilliant individuals who accomplished such feats as graduating from high school at age 16 and winning a full-ride scholarship to any college he wanted to attend in New York State. He continued such successes through adulthood. Recently, I learned another interesting thing about him - he taught himself meditation and self-hypnosis early in life. And he fiercely defended his head space when I was a kid. In fact, I was pretty sure my parents didn't like each other, but now I see they did, and do, very much. They just protected each other's solitude, as the poets Gibran and Rilke both advised.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”- Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
 
*****

Dad shared some more of his wisdom with me, when I used to come home from high school with headaches from not eating enough. He would have me lay down on the sofa and he would do a guided body awareness meditation with me, while massaging my temples. It worked, every time. Because of that experience, I have always been reluctant to take any sort of headache medicine. I can usually rid myself of headaches by laying down and working through awareness of my body, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

When I let go of one desire (say, a $1000 meditation class), something even better often comes to fill its space. For example, one that costs a lot less, is closer, and just feels "my speed." My contemplative yoga instructor ended up offering a meditation course nearby. Close enough that I could walk. The Universe is wonderful that way.

*****

Sometimes when I am meditating, I feel like I am in a time machine. I meditate for 10 or 15 minutes, and it often feels like less than a minute. The first time this happened was in my second day of meditation class. When the instructor told us to start wiggling our hands and toes and take a deep breath, I was so disappointed it was over. But when I sat up, I felt profound peace. The peace was so enveloping that I looked at her and noticed that I could not imagine how she felt.

The following week, she would announce that she wanted to talk about synaesthesia, and asked what kind I had. She had been on my website, and knew I was an artist, so maybe that's what influenced her guess that I was a color-sound synesthete. "No," I said. "I have Mirror Touch."

"Oh," she said, seriously, "I wish I had known that before we started class."

*****

Another part of being a mother is having to interact with a lot of other kids and parents. If homeschooling, it might mean even more interaction with other kids and parents than one might have if one's children attended school, because one is being proactive about socialization, since that's what everyone will ask about when they first are shocked by the announcement that the kids within earshot are not attending school.

So, hauling them to at least one - no two, because more is better - "Park Days" every week becomes an imperative. On top of that, there are probably one or two private "playdates" at friends' houses, and then on the weekends time with extended family. In a week, a homeschooling mother might see, on average, fifty people, most of whom she has some level of personal knowledge. Maybe she even has some "thing" she talks about with each one of them, and since she is a neurobiologist, it is something along the lines of nutritional or psychological well-being. Technical, but simultaneously emotional stuff. Lots of the moms are worried or flustered when talking with them because one of their kids has some difficulties. Many of them are exhausted. That's a lot of contact. That's not even counting the internet forums, where one is feeling, either correctly or incorrectly, the words spewed forth by people from all over the world.

Maybe this mom had taken a personality inventory when she first got out of graduate school, during the interview process to become a technical recruiter, and the psychologist had said that she "Would be a great recruiter, except [she is] too empathic and it will be psychological torture." Maybe she was offered the job and had the wisdom not to take it.

She said, "No thanks!" and went on her merry way to dirty closets at the Veterans' Administration where she would be degraded by her boss for her ineptitude at being unable to keep 60-70 plates of Henrietta Lacks' cells alive (Hey - her cells are supposed to be immortal!). And that experience would be so insanely isolating that when she became a mother, she wholeheartedly embraced the community of fellow mothers, many of them also empaths.

*****

The thing about Mirror Touch is that sometimes it can have the effect of amplifying emotions, especially in the context where I'm with another empath.

This can be really fun, because it means I make a happy get together even happier!

Or it can be really horrible, as all non-happy feelings get felt deeply and transmuted into despair.

It means that if a person has a convincing mask, I really believe it, unless they clue me in otherwise. Because of the profound empathy I feel, it takes me a long time to give up on a person.

This is precisely the reason a few of my friends told me they didn't want me to do meditation. They were worried I would lose my empathy. That I would be a different person. The kind of person who gives up on others easily.

But what they didn't know is the intensity of my sensitivity - the enormous burden I was carrying. Before I started making art, I remember having the conscious thought that I was giving away little pieces of myself all day long, and that I didn't have anything left for myself. I actually had the thought that this must be what a sex worker feels like. I felt like it was my duty to make life richer for everyone else, without concern for myself.

*****

Invisible Labor is the type of work primarily handled by women in our culture. It consists of all of the thankless (and uncompensated) tasks of motherhood that make life richer for families, like paying the bills, planning vacations, taking care of the automobile maintenance, replacing broken dishes, weeding, shopping for birthday and holiday gifts, making dentist appointments, emptying all the trashcans in the house, going through household stuff to get rid of things... okay, I am going to stop because the point here is that it is all the stuff that someone has to think about, and regularly do.

The commonest complaint among my mom friends, kids in school or not, is lack of time to themselves. I can't even imagine, really... because I try my damndest to have time in Ye Olde Mind Palace, specifically through being fairly heavy handed with my evaluation of whether various "Invisible Labor" tasks are Worth It or not. And frankly, over the years, Elizabeth Stevens, office worker, has decided that All Work and No Play make her a VERY dull girl.

Luckily, play can just mean being alone. It can mean journaling. It can mean drawing, painting or any act of creation. As long as the mind isn't being directed.

And recently, I found, it can mean meditating.

*****

Yale Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that we, as human beings, should do away with empathy. He claims that compassion is superior because it does not incorporate unconscious motivations. With empathy, the feelings of another are felt - unless we are incapable of identifying with the other, for some reason. Prejudice and internal biases, for example, can prevent an empathic reaction. However, it is possible to have compassion for people, because it is a conscious response and can incorporate the conscious decision to ignore our biases. Compassion, therefore, is empathy evolved.

My meditation instructor would argue in favor of compassion in a different way. She explained that profound empathy was due to a loss of the life force, prana. Throughout our lives we are to learn karmic lessons, which essentially help us to reach higher states of consciousness. In Mirror Touch, and empathy, one takes on the karmic lessons of others. We were not meant to take on the karmic lessons of so many other people. Certain Saints were capable of doing this to heal people, but, she said, it is extremely rare.

So, the pain empaths feel for others are the karmic lessons of the other people. The pain manifests as samskara, which are repetitive behaviors, thoughts and emotions. Compulsive repetition of unhealthy behaviors, thoughts and emotions are due to an unconscious desire to avoid a certain pain.

During meditation, as visions are seen (like in my particularly quick trip in the time machine), and symbolize the burning of these painful karmic lessons. During our recollection of our time meditating, I apologized because I thought I might have vocalized, and the class said I had giggled. My instructor thought it was a manifestation of the burning of a samskara. This is precisely when I noticed I could not feel her as I gazed at her.

*****

"There’s some evidence that meditative practice and mindfulness meditation makes you into a sweeter person. There’s no definitive evidence of this, but the argument is that mediation makes you more compassionate by diminishing your empathy, so you can help without feeling suffering." - Paul Bloom, Yale Psychologist

*****

I had figured out, over the past two years or so, how to turn my MTS off and on. So not being able to tap into it at all was - weird. One would think it would be disappointing, but since the inability was accompanied by a profound sense of calm, I was thankful.

I always thought, when someone said, "I feel you," that they really meant it. It's not something I have ever said, but something I have felt deeply for most of my life.

Don't get me wrong - it hasn't been all horrible. As my mom said, once, because of my deep feeling, my life has been full of the highest highs, and the lowest lows. That's a gold mine for a creative person.

I feel like meditation has unlocked the ability for me to have power over whether or not I feel another. Maybe it is the power to fly too close to the sun and come back stronger than ever - one of my very favorite pastimes. So, look out Sun - here I come.

Monday, September 3, 2018

#metoo

I was just barely 16 when it happened. For the last 27 years, I have gone back and forth between wondering if he had been a stranger, taking me at knife point, would the experience have been less traumatic? Maybe then, the effects would have been limited to just being afraid to walk alone at night. But this was someone I knew - who I thought I knew well. He was the first person I felt safe opening up to about my childhood trauma. He was 19 and was volunteering by helping our creative problem-solving team, so we stayed up late many nights, building things together, talking about all manner of things. I was attracted to him, but never imagined he felt that way about me. So when my friends warned me about him, I did not listen.

There was, in my mind, no reason he would think of me like that. Certainly not, because my ballet teacher had shamed me when I was 5 or 6 years old for my abdomen, which stuck out much more than the other girls'. Certainly not, because in elementary school, several boys called me "Amy McBunnyfreak" for my large incisors and love of rabbits. Certainly not, because my close friend's mother had expressed concern for her daughter's weight when we were in middle school, and I was even heavier. Certainly not, because that one guy in middle school called me fat in front of my peers. Certainly not, because just the year before, in dance class at school, a classmate had asked me if I was pregnant. Certainly not, because I was one of the only girls in my high school with braces and glasses.

I have wondered, over the years, if he knew the full effects of what he did, because I was not the only one. He liked virgins. Someone told me there were 14 before me. I knew two of them. Did he get to know the soul of every girl before he degraded and discarded her? Did all of them say "no" like I did, under the influence of alcohol, and unable to defend herself? Did he prey on the ones with insecurities?

*****

I remember the day when the #metoo movement started. I remember thinking that it was great that women were finally speaking up, and also thankful that I had left social media, because I didn't have to concern myself with solidarity over an issue that was still actively eating me on the inside. A few months later, I would tell the only male friend I have had in twenty-five years, in the context of a discussion about the movement. It was terrifying being this vulnerable, even though it only took a minute. I am sure I was shaking.



The details I shared of my life with this guy - my hopes and dreams - my personal struggles - I had never shared with anyone before. So, when he used me for whatever validation he was looking for, and then discarded me - the effect was that I felt fundamentally broken. Fundamentally unlovable. Fundamentally worthless.

*****

Last week my husband was walking alone in the park by our neighborhood at dusk. He came home sad and upset that two women he encountered on his walk were clearly uncomfortable when he passed them. One had stepped off the path to dial on her phone, keeping a close eye on him. The other stepped well off the path with her dog and watched my husband pass. For years, my male doctors kept suggesting that I walk several times a week not just to lose weight, but also combat depression. It took a hypertensive crisis on January 11, 2017 to get me to face Fear of Walking Alone Dragon. Two weeks later, I began attending community college with my son, and so I felt safe walking around campus by myself when he was in class.

I still had trouble wanting to walk around my own neighborhood - one I chose for the safe feeling it gave me - by myself. So, I started walking regularly with a girlfriend. One day, I thanked her for walking with me, sharing that I realized I was afraid to walk alone because of several things I witnessed over the course of my life.

The worst of these was when I was 17 years old. I was fueling up my pickup truck at the Conoco station a few blocks away from my house when a homeless man offered to wash the windows on my truck. Well, he didn't so much offer as he started to actually wash them. I told him, "No, thank you," but he continued. I barely had money for gas, let alone money to pay him for washing my window.

"Leave her alone!" I suddenly heard. I looked up from the pump and saw another man, pointing a gun at the window washer. A gun. I can't remember if I paid for the gas or not, honestly. I got in my truck and drove down Colfax a few blocks, where I knew I would find a police officer. He immediately called dispatch and left for the Conoco station, so I don't know what happened after that.

That was the closest call, but I also witnessed two assaults from the front windows of my homes - one as a teenager, and another as a young mother when I first moved back to Colorado. For some reason, people yell when I'm walking, even if I am with my husband. Maybe it is not at me (although it has happened enough when I am all alone, I always wonder).

So, just walking alone feels like an act of bravery to me. This fear has impacted both my physical and mental health in a profound way.

It was interesting, last weekend, seeing my husband finally "get" how it is to walk through the world in fear. As a woman.

"Are women just always afraid?" He asked.

"Yes," I said. "I am, anyway."

After a few months of walking on campus, I felt confident enough to walk around a nearby sculpture park while my son was at class in Windsor. I walked there weekly on Sundays. Sometimes I would call my friend on the phone while I walked, and other times I would enjoy the sound of nature. One week, I became aware that there was a man walking fifteen to twenty feet behind me. I tried to walk faster to stay ahead, but quickly realized that I couldn't keep his pace. We were in an area with no other people, and no cars. If I could just keep up the pace until the trail came out onto the main road, I would be okay. There would at least be witnesses, I thought. I walked on the main road, passing two women and their children taking photos on the bridge. I rushed through their picture, apologizing. Then, I got to a fork in the road where I could either turn to continue the trail loop, or stay on the sidewalk along the road. I looked over my shoulder.

"I'm not following you," the man, who was now only about 10 feet away, said.

"Oh," I said, feeling like a tremendous idiot. "Sorry - past life experiences!" I shrugged. My mind was swimming. What if that man had been my son?

Or my husband.

Neither one would intentionally hurt a woman, I am sure of it. They are both acutely aware of the extent of the damage done to women by men.

So, for years, I have avoided men as much as possible. It's not hard, really, being a stay at home mom. Exposure to men occurs so much less - the ones I see with any frequency are my friends' husbands, and ones in a professional capacity (doctors, dentists, mechanics, store clerks).

For some reason, I didn't worry about older men. If they looked like my grandfather, and worked with lots of people physically every day, certainly they must be safe, right?

*****

I have gained and lost weight over the years like the tides. The first time I lost a lot of weight was through walking and counting calories, over the course of about two years from 1998-2000. Then I became a mother. I then slimmed down again through breastfeeding from 2004-2006. The weight came back as I threw myself into cooking nourishing meals for my children, and so in 2009 I lost it all again with a regimented exercise program and a low-carb diet. The weight came off so fast that my hair was falling out, and an extreme depression set in, so I added back carbohydrates in order to heal, and in the process, got up to my highest weight ever.

This time, I decided, I would take a moderate approach. The word "sustainable" became the cornerstone of my health routine. It has been challenging, where I live (everyone is on a diet and belongs to a gym, it seems), to dig my heels in and defend my sustainable approach. If I am tired from not enough food, lack of sleep, injury, too much drama, or because I am getting sick, I take a break from exercise. I try to walk 3-6 times a week, getting at least 6000 steps a day. Six thousand isn't very many, but it's enough that I have to put some shoes on and get out of the house.

I think often of my female ancestors who didn't have gym memberships, knew nothing of intermittent fasting, and lived to be at least 80 years old, despite exposure to significant lifetime stress and lots of second-hand cigarette smoke. They weren't concerned with what their long lost acquaintances from high school were thinking.

After my moderate routine was fairly well established (it is difficult to maintain over the holidays and the hottest months of the year), I found a physical trainer to give me a routine.

I chose my trainer specifically because I knew she and I would see eye to eye on nutritional requirements, but also I knew that she was not in the business of getting people "jacked" but trying to help people heal. Still, though, I expected she would give me a routine that would keep me busy while my son was in class, so I could use the rec center. What she gave me was so sustainable, it was ridiculous. The first time I did my exercise routine at school, it took me 45 minutes to change into my clothes, do the routine, add interval training, shower, and get dressed again. So, I decided to just do it at home, to make it a lifelong habit.

The struggle here has just been eating enough, and getting the right food, and feeling strong enough to do the very simple routine. Last spring, I made the mistake of pushing myself to do it when I was frustrated about something, and I hurt my shoulder, badly, trying to work out some stress.

My personal trainer helped me deal with the shoulder pain using some energy healing and hypnotherapy, but it was stubborn and kept coming back. So I went to see my chiropractor, who I hadn't seen in years.

This is when I would learn that even Grandpa sometimes isn't safe.

*****

I thought I was asking a professional question when I inquired if the size of my chest could be causing the shoulder and neck pain I was experiencing. I mean, he's a doctor, right? The weight had melted off the rest of me, leaving my breasts larger than they had ever been, so it seemed like a reasonable question.

The conversation got weird, fast.

He started talking about his own chest, and the chests of his friends. He asked me if I was thinking about getting a breast reduction.

And then, he sat down beside me and put his hand on my upper thigh.

"What?" I thought. "Is this really happening? This isn't happening. It's all in my head."

*****

A female friend recently talked to me about responding versus reacting. I had never really thought about the difference between these two things, because I realized I do neither. I realized, when she was explaining the concept to me that, "Oh, I am a freezer."

"A freezer?" she asked.

"Yes, a freezer. I do nothing." I explained.

In talking to other women about what happened with my chiropractor, they were all surprised that I did not do anything. But this response, or lack thereof, is common for survivors of abuse, I learned. Furthermore, the personal and private nature of most abuse makes survivors end up questioning their sense of reality. I now see a therapist at least once a week so I can tell her about my life, what happened, and how I responded, in large part because some of the things that have happened to me are so unbelievable I worry that it is all in my head. That's why they call it "crazy making."

In the months since this has happened, I realize how my silence over the years has enabled abusive relationships on many levels. And, thanks to therapy, and witnesses, I know I'm not imagining these things.

I looked at my silence as a way to remain easygoing and likeable. Maybe, on some level, it helped me feel lovable, at least consciously. But I wasn't loving myself, so I really wasn't lovable.

*****

The Universe is funny. Sick funny, I think, but still wise and wonderful. One of the ways I have been able to work through this tremendous pain, and still accomplish anything, is by being a life-long learner, and looking for lessons in my experiences.

When I was born, my mother was sure I was going to be a boy. She knew that she would name me "George" after my two grandfathers, George Graves, and George Robert McMullen. I always felt like I had escaped a fate worse than death since I didn't like the name George. But now I see how I have a little bit of St. George in me, and it probably would have been a great name for me, had I been male.

So many times in my life I have had the sensation that in following my intuition, questioning the status quo, I have been both foolish and brave. When this happens, I feel both exhilaration, and terror.

Writing this is one of those times.

*****

The last two years have been the most psychologically difficult in my life so far. One of the things I learned during my homeschooling years is that keeping busy helping others is a way for me to avoid facing my Dragons. Since my inner St. George actually loves the business of slaying Dragons, I am really good and finding unsuspecting Dragons to slay.

But when I finally slowed down a few years ago and had to be content just being for a while, the Dragons got a lot bigger, and a lot scarier. Like this #metoo Dragon.

Several situations, all at once, would force me to look at how focusing on pleasing everyone else was robbing me of my self worth. I made the decision to speak up. I spoke up for my kids, so they could see how to advocate for themselves. And, over time, I finally started speaking up for me.

I lost several friends, with whom I had abusive relationships. In trying to please these people, I gave them all the power in the relationship. There was a common thread - if they needed my help, they were aggressive and even forceful in their use of my time, which I enabled. But when I needed reciprocity, they were nowhere to be found. The relationships were slowly eroding my sense of self worth. My own needs were unimportant, it seemed, because their problems were worse, and I was not even deserving of an answer when I would reach out for connection.

I have thought, "I should have been voted most likely to be ghosted when I was in high school."

It was just a pattern, right? Sharing myself completely with someone, and then being ignored. Actively ignored. Avoided. Sometimes silence can be violent.

In these friendships, I constantly felt like that fly in the blue guy's soup on Sesame Street. An annoyance to the blue guy, and to Grover (the most lovable monster - who wants to annoy the most lovable monster?), and to the kitchen staff, and even to the contents of the soup, which were going to be wasted.

When I feel like that, I know it's time to speak up and let go, and that that is also an act of love, because letting people behave in abusive ways without speaking up lets them continue behaviors that absolutely make them hard to love, and make it harder for them to love themselves. Life is full of difficult discussions. I think it's important to have them.

*****

I developed early, so the comments about my breasts also started early. My middle name is Elizabeth, after my biological great-grandmother who raised my grandmother and mother after her husband committed suicide during a very long battle with tuberculosis during the depression. Adah was a gentle-hearted woman, standing not even 5 feet tall, with a generous chest. Her mother, Edith, for whom my sister was named, was slender and tall. My sister and I resemble our respective namesakes.

In high school, my sister was popular, always had a boyfriend, and a very close-knit group of friends.

I kept myself busy with clubs and after school activities, on the periphery of the various groups. I had one close friend from most groups, and was rarely invited to things, unless a friend needed a sober driver.

I was Miss Congeniality. For real. I participated in a pageant in high school and won Miss Congeniality.

So it is interesting to me that the majority of my body image issues have nothing to do with my relationship to men, and everything to do with my relationship to women. Being around women all the time for the last 12 years has done a real number on my self-worth.

Why?

Because, I swear, women hate their bodies. It is almost impossible to spend time with a woman socially without her complaining about how she has recently gained weight, or how she is bloated because it is her "time of the month." Discussions of what constitutes healthy and not healthy food is always a favorite subject. I have been very careful about what I say about myself around my daughter because I do not want her to have the same insecurities I do. But I have two family members who would regularly discuss dieting, juice fasting, and one of them even refused to eat anything but celery for a whole weekend while visiting. I was always nervous that my daughter was in earshot, and I worried that she would pick up their insecurities and hold herself to some ridiculous standard the way they did. They are both thinner than I am by several sizes, and so when that was going on regularly, it was nearly impossible for me to come away from being with them without totally hating myself, because in my mind, they were way more beautiful than I was.

Here is the really disturbing thing. Like I mentioned before, I am used to being ghosted, being treated like I am invisible. I mean, who wants to spend time with a pathetic SAHM who doesn't know how to have a good time? Everyone clearly wants a MILF! During the times when I lost weight, the craziest things happened. People I had known for a long time didn't recognize me. Certain people seemed intimidated. They called me beautiful. They wanted to know what I was doing to lose the weight. The cashier at NAPA hit on me when I was buying washer blades. The tire guy flirted with me. Women were kinder than usual. The tour guide in Prague suggested a kinky rendezvous under his breath. A guy bought our couple friends and us several rounds of drinks, while going on and on about my dimples in front of my husband. An older man in Australia in a bar went to a liquor store and brought me back a bottle of wine from his home town. I hadn't even exchanged words with him. Everyone was flirting with me, telling me how nice I looked. It was weird, because I was the same person on the inside. I can see how if one was accustomed to this treatment, it could be quite confusing if the treatment suddenly stopped. For me, all the attention made me confused, and a little sad. That is the hardest thing to accept about life, I feel - that ultimately people subconsciously treat you in proportion to how beautiful they think you are, and could care less about who you are on the inside.

And so we do this to ourselves - judge ourselves by our outward appearances, rather than by loving our whole selves. It is a terrible shame.

*****

So, to deal with the burning junkyard of existential crises in my mind (thank you, dragons, for setting everything on fire), and also my screwed up shoulder, I turned to contemplative yoga and meditation.

Soft woolen blankets, Indian meditation music, and my instructor's soft voice would help my soul, breath, and body finally relax. For a while.

My instructor looked at my website and decided to ask me if I would do line drawings of the yoga poses for her. I was flattered, and it seemed like an easy task.

We got together before meditation class to take photos of the poses. I thought maybe she would do the poses, but when we got there, she was wearing her baggy pants, and my fear was confirmed when she asked me to set up in shavasana.

"I must not look that bad." I thought.

Later in the week, she sent the pictures, and I was mortified. Mortified.

I was laying there, spandex-clad, little left to the imagination. None left to mine, that's for sure.

"I cannot do this." I thought. "No way. Is this a test? This must be a test. She must know. She's a guru. She wants me to push through this pain and fear." She probably had no idea.

Several other really difficult things happened that week when I was bloated and needed to be alone. The week before, I had been contacted about the acceptance of some of my writing into a book, but the pain of having to face the reality of pictures of my body in spandex, and several other intense psychological developments overshadowed any joy that brought. As the moon became fuller, the shadows took over my mind.

The funny (not funny) thing about mental health issues is the tremendous amount of guilt associated with just having those issues. Anything hurtful I have ever done has been at a time when my Dragons have hold of me somehow. Those Dragons - Fear of Failure, Fear of Rejection - tend to rear their heads when I haven't been taking care of myself. They really like to come out and play at the end of my menstrual cycle when I need most to care for myself. Because I am a caregiver, I desperately need this time to be alone. Maybe if I had a red tent tribe to sit around with, eat ice cream, and watch sappy movies with, I wouldn't need to be alone. Being alone allows me to have a little heart-to-heart with the dragons. It helps me to accept they are there, and that they are not all of me. If I don't get time alone, the worst dragon of all comes out, Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids. This one is the worst because it tells me that my mere existence is screwing them up. When Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids comes out, I know that I am in the state I call Not Fit for Public Viewing.

Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon is much, much less likely to come out to play if I have been doing things that make my heart happy. When the Obligation Meter is near full, and the Satisfying Experiences meter is low, Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids is ready to burn the whole house down. Feeling rejection while simultaneously having committed oneself to drawing pictures of one's own body falls squarely under Full Obligation Meter territory. So, I did not handle extended family obligations on top of all that very well. Lets' just say that Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon was like, "Let's do this thang! You have some kerosene, right?"

So, instead, I sat with Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon, and we had a little heart to heart about how whenever it shows up, when I win, I am stronger for my efforts. Ultimately, I feel tremendous guilt for bringing kids into a fundamentally screwed up world where they will be judged for their looks and used for their kindness, and think how great it would be to clock out, but then realize that each second here is a damn gift, and that with the great pain is always great joy. And I have so much left to learn. I locked myself in the guest bedroom for a whole day and studied something new, spent lots of time laying on the sofa in the quiet, and also meditated. When I felt strong enough, I worked on some art. I know, when I can bring myself to work on some art, that everything is going to be better.

*****

Having vanquished Fear of Permanently Screwing Up My Kids Dragon again (thankfully its arrival is not a regular thing, since I keep a close eye on the Obligation and Satisfying Experiences meters), perspective fully restored, Fear of Rejection and Fear of Failure Dragons were way easier fights.

"How do you eat an elephant?" a friend once asked me. "One bite at a time."

Humor often helps me feel a little braver, so I thought of something funny to draw to help myself feel better. A yoga hippo. I drew it in my head, doing warrior pose. It made me happy. I imagined Martha from the children's books George and Martha, doing yoga.

Then, I realized, a line drawing abstraction like what my instructor wanted was not going to give away too much. I just had to open the files again in my art program, swallow my pride, and start.

I told a few good friends what I had to do, and they responded in ways that let me know it would be very difficult for them to do. I am pretty sure they aren't survivors of sexual assault, but I know most of them have body image issues of some kind. One friend asked me, "So, what are you going to do?" And I said, "Well, I am going to have a good stiff drink and get to it."

So that's what I did. And, most importantly, I breathed.

It was terrifying. Every step of it from opening the file, to selecting the tool I was going to use, to tracing the first curve of my body. This body, that gave life to two people. This body that has known both pleasure, and pain, and nearly died twice.

But with each line I drew, I saw a beautiful me. I saw the peaceful me, who loves herself, who cares and feels deeply. I saw the me who will drop everything to be there for a friend when that friend is experiencing pain. I saw an Empress, The Divine Feminine, in myself. I was a freakin' Fertility
Goddess. Take that, Fear of Failure and Fear of Rejection!

I realized that the rejection, the ghosting, and the abuse I experienced over the course of my life are not a reflection of who I am. They are a result of the insecurities of others - those behaviors are how other people protect themselves from rejection, ghosting and abuse. It's a power play, an act of self-protection, for them, and they don't realize how it propagates that same behavior through society. And, I saw that the way to break that cycle is to learn to love myself. Loving myself makes it easier to let go so I don't fall into the same behavior pattern.

As long as a person is actively trying to better him or herself, in the attempt at self-love, I can forgive them for mistakes of all sorts. But if the relationship is like Einstein's definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results), then I have to honor myself. Otherwise, it is just a dragon-feeding exercise.

And I'm here to slay dragons, not feed them.

That's what makes me worth it. That's what makes me lovable.

#metoo

Namaste.