Monday, July 29, 2013

The Search for Self Worth

“Crazy people don’t sit around wondering if they’re nuts.”

It’s a line from Proof, the play I’m currently in where I play the older sister to a potentially crazy potential mathematical genius, and daughter to a mathematical genius who truly was crazy. It is my job – my character thinks – to gently or not so gently convince my sister to move to New York now that our father has died, so she can be near me, where I can watch her, take care of her and get her help…because I think she’s crazy.

“I think you have some of his talent…and some of his tendency toward…instability,” I tell her.

I am undermining, condescending and even somewhat manipulative. I talk down to her, tell her what’s best for her, try to interest her in the mundane and materialistic world that I want to pull her into, and I treat her like a child who cannot possibly know what is best for herself, even though she’s 25.

Call it what you want. As of last Friday, Mercury Retrograde ended, which is one of three periods a year of a three-week window where astrologically Mercury appears to be moving backward in the sky. According to astrologists, the ability to communicate effectively moves backwards with it.

Whether or not this is true, it’s been a hell of a couple weeks for me. Not only did I find myself misunderstanding and misunderstood, I found myself fumbling around in my head, trying to figure out what my actual perceptions were and what my ego was insisting was the truth – how I was protecting myself and whether I was simply refusing to take the blame for something – many things – that were or weren't my fault.

I know that seems vague, but really the issues at hand weren’t what was at the root of the problem, it was my feeling about them. Was there something wrong with me? Why was I finding it so hard to find my footing; to acknowledge my own role in these situations and yet still be able to recognize that despite my faults I was an ok human being; that these faults did not completely define me?

Let me be clear here: I am not hearing voices, I do not see people who are not there, and I have yet to have anyone tell me that I might actually be courting mental illness. Yet in my own head, I was the sister that I talk down to in Proof. I am Catherine, struggling to find footing, vacillating between truth and fiction, between fighting for normalcy and fighting against lunacy, and finding both sides to be a slippery slope. I found a part of me telling me that there was no way what I was saying or thinking or even feeling could be true; that I am incapable of anything; that I am, in fact, crazy for thinking that my life might work the way I’ve been living it: that it is crazy to believe that I can live a happy productive life in any way, shape or form that I choose.

In the last week, I’ve found myself stuck there: my brain insisting that I am wrong, worthless, while my heart screams that the world is what I make of it; that the world I want does exist, and even if it’s not coming about in the easiest and most comfortable way possible, it is coming about nevertheless.

The other day I went for a long walk that turned into a series of short jogs interspersed with walking. I’ve been wanting to run for awhile; run, or swim: some more active form of exercise than the long periods of walking I’ve been doing. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my epiphany came about as the result of the release of some endorphins, and it reminded me that it’s my job to take care of myself and do the things that make me feel good, physically and mentally. I was fighting with these two sides of myself as I came back up a long hill, trying to figure out what the problem was, and finally, even though it’s been there all along, even though I had been staring at it in the face, alluded to it constantly and even acknowledged it to some extent, the answer finally showed itself in full glory: I think I’m crazy because I don’t think that I am believable: because I don’t believe me. And I don’t believe me because I am lacking the self worth to believe that I could possibly have anything good to say or offer, even to myself; because, unlike what I had previously believed, low self worth doesn’t mean only that I am lacking in the confidence to know that I are lovable regardless of what I am doing, it also means that I don’t think that my ideas, thoughts, feelings and intuition are worth as much as everyone else’s...not even to me.

(Writer's note: before you panic that I am losing all perspective, please read my last post, Writer's Tourette's, about how I write about my feelings as they happen as a way to release them.)

By realizing that self worth is at the root of the issue, I have finally realized that the answer is not in asking again and again if I am justified in feeling the way I do, but instead in taking the steps to develop the self worth that will help me know that at a deep visceral gut level, without having to ask.

I can now look back at a lot of my life and see it: see this lack of ability to trust myself in situations where I might have been right; perhaps not in how I handled it, but right at least in my feelings about the situation in the first place. I would cast about for the opinions of others and ask them if my view or feeling was worthwhile; made sense; didn’t seem crazy. Every time, they said yes: that I had a reason to feel as I did, that I was right to take the step I had taken, that I had a right to my own happiness. And yet, I still found it hard to believe.

This is not to be mistaken with an egotistical need to always be right. I think for most of my twenties I angrily insisted that I knew the right way that everyone should live and would tear someone down for disagreeing with me. I don’t think I’m there anymore…most of the time, anyway.

I would like to think that the phase I have been in -- where I am struggling to see where the bullshit lies and what I actually believe -- is a step between the angry, Always Right Morgan and the Confident Morgan who can fully accept responsibility for what she did wrong, but also know what she did right, and why neither of those things really matter in the long run of who she is, only how she acts and evolves.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m a work in progress. What I know today is that something set me free on that walk: it was knowing that the answer was no longer in asking if I am crazy, it is asking what I can do to improve my self worth to the point that I know when an idea I’m entertaining is the stupidest thing I could possibly act on, the best way I could handle the situation -- not for anyone else, but for me -- or somewhere in between. 

It is being able to trust the gut feeling and the logic, and knowing that it will work out for me if I follow it, because my ideas, my gut feelings, are worth just as much as everyone else’s, and because – ultimately – they need to be worth even more to me.

Love and self worthy kisses,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writer’s Tourette’s, Also Known as Word Vomit

“You write like I talk,” he said.

He is a now long-gone ex-boyfriend, who had to get used to getting emails from me instead of having face-to-face conversations about whatever was bothering me about our relationship, or important things that I needed to tell him in general. The subject of each of those emails to him was “Verbal Diarrhea Part [X.]”

The last email I wrote to him – that I wrote but did not send – was called “Last of Verbal Diarrhea,” and never made it farther than my writing folder.

When he said that I wrote like he talked, he meant that I could say things in writing that I could not say out loud – and that many times, there were things written there that I wish I could take back, but some part of me refused to edit and rewrite, because writing that email was the most authentic thing I could do. If he couldn’t take back hurtful things he said to me in the heat of the moment, I sure as hell wasn’t going to censor myself in my emails to him…even if I often went back and corrected the grammar.

I am a writer. I write every day, for my own good, for my own sanity, and my own peace of mind, but even if I didn’t, I would still be a writer, because regardless of what is happening to me I find myself trying to find the words for it in my head; to best describe it; to best apply prose to my feelings, thoughts, emotions and adventures.

This sometimes gets me in trouble. Aside from my need to write, I have a need to write OUT LOUD: to an audience, so someone can hear me, read me, know that there is a part of me that fits best into the words that I have just strung together in a sentence, that may be prosaic and painful, but goddamit, so is the feeling I just had.

It has to come out or it rots. Yes, there is some part of me that wants to share my story so that it can possibly help others to know that they are not alone, but that part seems to be shrinking by the day, leading me to become more and more hesitant about wanting to publish the book I came to Panama to write. It is so personal, so vulnerable, and cuts so deeply through the muscle, the bones, the very marrow of who I am, that I am afraid to show it. I am afraid that people will think that I have not only lost my mind, but that I will never get it back – that if I have felt as low, stuck and depressed as I was during the time I was writing about, it means I will always feel that way. The first writing that lasted in society was written in stone, and it seems that that is the impression: that I took a feeling, painted it with words and stuck it up on the wall, and the people who came to look are looking at a single, raw moment in time, and mistaking it for a long term state of being.

I write because it is the easiest way to clear an emotion. If I am angry and I write about it as if I were tearing the flesh off of someone, the act of creating those flesh-tearing sentences eases my anger. If I feel alone and adrift in a sea of nothing and I can describe that in terms of an ocean of tears below me, I suddenly find that there’s a life raft; that I am no longer drowning but buoyed. If I write about my happiness in terms of the sparkling starlight and standing naked in the full moon, I may or may not have actually been naked, but I was happy nonetheless.

It is not transient, this writing. Even as my emotions flee in front of me as my pen meets paper or my fingers clatter over the keyboard, the words stay, and they are bigger there; they do not dissipate into thin air like my ex-boyfriend’s sometimes hurtful speech, with only the ability to paraphrase later, depending on what I did or didn't want to hear and what he did or didn't want to say.

Do I feel more deeply because I’m a writer, or do I write because I feel deeply? I don’t know. All I know is that the best way for me to let go is to hold on: to grip the pen, put it to the page, and let the ink tell my story. Once it’s out, I have to push send. Not because I am seeking redemption, approval, or even to help someone. It’s because – much like an artist friend says about her work – my writing just happened. It often doesn’t feel like something I could have consciously produced, more like something I stood aside to let my unconscious unleash. When that’s the case, I don’t really feel like I own it anymore: the writings are not mine, and neither are the feelings that sparked them. If it’s not mine, I don’t own it, and I have to let it go. Like a songwriter, a painter, a sculptor or a child throwing a tantrum, sometimes the best, most healing, cathartic and authentic thing you can do is share what it is, because even if it started out as yours, the only way to prevent the rot is to let it out into the light, wishing it well as it floats away.

Love and writer-freed emotions,

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Matter of Perspective

Last week I wrote about how uncomfortable I sometimes feel when I don't know what role I'm supposed to play in a dynamic or a relationship; what, specifically, I am supposed to give. I got a lot of really great and supportive emails from friends, telling me that they have always simply enjoyed my company, and also that my description of my new (straight) male friends was hilarious, since I basically stated flat out that I very rarely considered the kind of cooperative, thoughtful and respectful attitude my new friends have to be normal compared to my other male friends.

But you know what? That's a lie. The more of my friends I thought about, the more interactions I remembered, the more I realized that it's not true: that for a really long time, I have been surrounded by men that are respectful, capable and helpful, but I was too busy focusing on the the douche bags to notice.

In a mass communication theory class in college, the teacher spoke of The Marketplace of Ideas: essentially, every idea, outlook and point of view is available for us to peruse, but we tend to go looking for information based on what we already believe to be true, therefore strengthening our case and proving that we're right.

It doesn't have to do with just men, either. Recently I was discussing codependency with a friend of mine, and she told me that she knew she was codependent when she realized that if 100 people told her how wonderful she was and one person told her she was stupid, she would believe, listen to and internalize what that one person had said because it came closest to what she thought about herself in her own mind. It made me realize the same thing: that for all the wonderful, supportive, helpful friends I have, having a conversation with one person who misunderstands me will send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and disbelief. Because I was so focused on being afraid to hear that kind of feedback, I would find myself much more capable of glossing over all the great things people had to say and instead waiting, flinching, for the blow that would come and prove I was right -- that no one understood or supported me.

I saw what I wanted to see, invisible audience; my reality was the one I created. Not only am I guilty of judging all men as equally incapable, I would take the capability out of their hands to better prove my point: I would take a capable man and reshape his role with my disbelief that he could possibly be anything but a video-game-playing meat-no-vegetable-eater, then gloat with glee when he became what I told him he was...right before I lamented self-righteously that there were no good men out there.

For all the great friends' boyfriends and husbands, all the amazing fathers out there that I know, one idiot douche bag who won't take out the garbage was enough to send me running to the hills, screaming that all men were like children and not a single one could put the toilet seat down to save his life, let alone wash a dish or avoid peeing all over the seat. 

I don't think it will come as a surprise when I say this has been a tough week for me. It's tough to realize that you've been making your life harder than it needs to be, and I've been having a lot of those realizations lately. Two small pieces this week made it hit really close to home. One, a Panamanian friend of mine asked me if I had left a boyfriend behind when I came here. "Wow, you must REALLY like to be alone," she said when I answered no: no, I hadn't had a boyfriend when I left; no, I did not have one here. The second came the next day, when an emotional man talking about his alcoholism said that his daughter had told him, "Dad, you're supposed to raise me, not the other way around."

I had to stop myself from sobbing -- stop myself from letting the hard knot in my chest over my heart rise up into my throat and come out in a keening wail. At first I didn't even know why it hurt so badly, and then I realized why: I don't actually want to be alone, but in the reality that I had created in my own head, my only choices were be alone, or care for a man who was less of a man and more like a child: in my own head, there was never any equality or autonomy; instead, all I did was give, and all he did -- whoever he was, the poor pre-programmed sap -- was take.

Someone was recently talking to me about the idea that the Universe will give you what you need, if you just ask for it. This person was talking about what a load of crap that was -- that it was delusional and ridiculous. While I don't necessarily agree with him, I am also unsure how much of it is actual serendipity, and how much could be a simple change in perspective. If you believe there are jobs, you'll look for a job like there's one out there for you -- leading you to a job that you optimistically think could be the one. If you think that you'll never be happy, you won't be, because you'll be so busy focusing on the reasons you're not happy that the potential for happiness may walk right by.

Most importantly for me, if I am focused on what is missing, I'll have to focus on the people that it's actually missing from. With that sort of concentration on the problem, I'll never see the responsible, respectful, mature and toilet cleaning solution, even if he's staring me in the face; even if he's offering me a scrub brush as if it were an olive branch.

Love and perspective kisses