Monday, March 28, 2011

Ruining My Coping Strategies

Ruining my coping strategies

I made a resolution awhile ago that I was going to work on facing things instead of coping with them. This may seem like minute point, but basically I decided that for me, facing things meant living with them while coping meant dealing with them.
Still confused? Let me see if I can explain. There are many things in my life that I simply deal with, or better yet, I ignore them and hope they will go away or at least the feelings surrounding them will ease. These aren’t even all necessarily bad things: I have recently discovered that I am as freaked out by incredibly good feelings as I am by bad feelings. The point here, however, is not the feelings themselves or the situations that bring them on, but what I do with them.
I would prefer not to deal with feelings. They make me, well, feel. A feeling is something I can’t control, so it scares me. When something scares me, I don’t face it, I cope with it.
My coping strategies? Gossip. Self-justification. Self-validation. Eating when I’m not hungry. Drinking without regard for the taste. Watching movies or TV I’m not interested in in the hopes of drowning out my thoughts (there’s a reason you burn more calories simply sitting still than you do while watching TV).
It’s not that impressive of a list, but there’s a problem: now that I’ve identified my coping strategies, they aren’t working as well for me anymore. When I open the fridge in search of some self-validating sweet comfort food, I know why I’m doing it, and it ruins the comforting effect. When I sit down to watch a movie to shut off my brain, it insists on chugging along, wanting me to face my fear instead of simply coping with it.
What does facing a fear look like? It looks like calling up someone who has hurt you and talking about it. It looks like sitting with the pain and feeling it instead of putting it in a drawer. It looks like opening the wine bottle because I want something tasty to drink, not to drown my sorrows. It looks like regularly checking in with myself to see if I how I’m feeling and taking care of my physical and emotional state on a regular basis instead of waiting until I’ve made myself sick.
It looks like a lot of work, but work I need to face.

Love and facing kisses

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Emotional Clutter

Every time I finish a bottle of supplements or pills, I have to fight the urge to keep the bottle. I can think of a million uses for each one: other pills, vitamins or supplements, seeds, spices, paper clips, thumb tacks, etc. My contacts come in adorable little glass bottles with screw-on lids, and I always have to force myself to throw them away after I’ve harvested the contacts out of them. The reason for this is very simple: no matter how many ways I imagine I can use these little containers, the truth is that I won’t use them at all and they will just end up adding to my clutter.

It seems to me that the universe has been trying to send me a message lately: every blog I follow, many people I talk to and a lot of the books I read have mentioned the cathartic effect of reducing clutter. Initially I thought that these messages were meant for someone else; like there was someone that I should pass the message on to. The truth is, however, that the message was for me: the more I looked around my house and my life with clutter in mind, the more clutter I saw.

The reason I didn’t see it the first 100 times I looked was because my clutter is invisible to the naked eye: my clutter is mental. Inside my head are rooms full of stacked junk that needs to be sifted through or simply thrown out. As much as I purge myself of empty pill bottles and contact containers, I stuff the drawers of my memory with useless information that does me no good and actually hurts me when I find it. I’ve been holding onto to memories and their emotional attachments for so long that they’ve become a part of me, as if I were wearing a vest that I have tied these tidbits to as they happened, until I am so weighted down by them that I can hardly walk upright.

With the realization of my emotional clutter came another one: I am so caught up with the clutter in my mind that at some point I began procrastinating on what was physically in front of me. I don’t consider myself a dirty person, but I hate doing dishes so I put them off. My clean laundry pile overwhelms me, so it lives on my chair until half the clothes are dirty and I am unsure of what I’ve washed and what I’ve worn.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not condemning the untidy person. I am simply saying that in my case, my clutter started to physically pile up because my emotional clutter inbox was full. I started viewing simple chores as just another drain of my energy and attention, when the truth is that my attention and energy had already been drained by what was going on inside my head.

I didn’t realize how much more difficult I was making my life until a friend of mine told me about an article she had read about reducing clutter. The article suggested that you set a timer for 10 minutes, and work on reducing clutter – or doing your dishes or folding your laundry, etc. – in 10-minute increments. I discovered – much to my chagrin – that things I put off doing for days because of the time it would take were easily completed within a 10-minute block of time. This is a little disturbing, especially considering that I am notorious for thinking, “Oh that will take FOREVER. I’ll just hop on Facebook for a little while first,” and an hour later I would be strangely frustrated and the dishes would still be dirty in the sink.

Realizing that I could reduce physical clutter so quickly lead to another realization: instead of stuffing my problems into the drawers of my mind, what would happen if I actually dealt with them? I tried it, and you would probably not be surprised to learn, invisible audience, that dealing with my problems makes them disappear: when I open up that drawer now, there’s nothing in it. That’s right: there’s room for today because I’m not constantly confronted with the yesterday.
I am now one drawer down, thousands to go. As overwhelming as that sounds, it’s invigorating to know that I don’t have to open a door and slam it shut again for fear that the contents are going to fall out on top of me, crushing me under their weight. Instead, I can open the door, snatch out a box, rummage through it, and throw it out, knowing that I don’t need what was in it anymore. It will take awhile, but the clutter is already diminishing; there’s now room for sunlight to stream in through the windows.

Love and uncluttered kisses

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Me vs. My Body: Giving Up the War

I was telling someone recently about my exercise induced heart arrhythmia – basically, my heart speeds up to far beyond normal levels during and after exercise – and he said, “Wow, it must be hard to feel like your body is fighting against you.”
This struck me as a strange thing to say, and it’s taken me a long time to figure out why. The reason that I find it strange, I’ve discovered, is because I have always felt that my body was working against me.

I am not the only one who thinks this: ask most American women, and few of them will admit to being best buddies with their bodies. We’re constantly wishing they were different than they are: thinner, smaller, taller, shorter, more petite, less cumbersome, more graceful, more able to fit into cute shoes, skinny jeans and single digit sizes. We wage war against our bodies every day because of this frustration that we have with what nature gave us or our love of potato chips has granted us: hours of exercise, anti-wrinkle creams, diets, diets and more diets, and pushing our bodies to do things that we want it to be able to do, or that someone else’s can do.

I know, I know: there’s a difference between a heart arrhythmia and a diet. But trying to ignore my heart arrhythmia isn’t the only place that I have tried to force my body to do something because someone else's can: I have starved, dieted, poked body fat, studied wrinkles, shaved, waxed and wailed at the body that I got, that always seems to give out on me when I want it to do just one little thing for me: be perfect and do what everyone else’s does.

I started waging my war against my body when I was about 13; the war and all its battles have been going on for more than 15 years. Not all of the battles were out in the open, and some of them looked like peace talks, but in the end I always undermined the trust that my body put in me and tried to push too hard. And damn it if the bitch didn’t fight back: despite the fact that every muscle and tendon in my body was screaming at me not to, I ran a half marathon, and pinched a nerve in my neck in the process that caused me excruciating pain for six months. I had a cough for 9 months as a result of depression and unhappiness, and my body entrenched for long warfare on that one with 40 extra pounds because I wouldn’t just stop and take some time to figure out what I wanted and, more importantly, what I needed.

You wouldn’t know that I shouldn’t eat wheat or dairy because I’ve never told you, because I don’t want to be different than everyone else like my body wants me to be, but guess what? My gall bladder gets pissed and starts to hurt whenever I eat either, and especially if I’m stubborn enough to try to eat them together.

Yes, there are a ton of things wrong with me, but I’ve come to realize that the biggest thing is that I am trying to force my body into something it can’t be: someone else. As much as I have moved away from starving myself, my body still has needs that I have been ignoring, and it’s like a screaming child whose pitch keeps getting louder the longer it is ignored. It’s not like I get another one once I’ve broken this one beyond repair: this one is mine, and I should treat it like the unique being that it is. My body should be free to tell me what it wants and have me listen. This doesn’t mean simply not dieting or lying on the couch all day, either: listening means knowing that my body needs exercise and rest, healthy food and plenty of sleep, regardless of whether it fits into my social schedule. It means perhaps asking for the meal without cheese even if I know it will taste better smothered in melted smoked Gouda. It means not doing whatever causes me pain instead of taking a pill to help me ignore the pain. It means listening and acting on my body’s behalf instead of against its wishes.

Perhaps, if I listen at the peace talks this time, the war will wane and we can start to rebuild. Perhaps, if I raise the white flag and really surrender, my body will stop holding me prisoner and we can start fighting on the same side again. Perhaps, if I become a better listener, someday I won’t be fighting wars at all.

Love and surrendered kisses

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Used To Be Funny

NOTE: This blog was first posted on Haley Whitehall's website on March 3 when I was her guest blogger. I am reposting instead of writing something new because I have an awful cold and can think of nothing to say that does not involve whining and moaning.

Long ago, when I first went abroad, I would write hilarious emails home. Even before that, I wrote fairly funny top ten lists over whatever it was that came to mind. It seemed like no matter what I was doing, there was a comical way to look at it and I couldn’t wait to get to a computer to type out my long (overblown) email about Montezuma’s Revenge, children skidding sideways down long ski slopes into lines of people waiting for the chairlift, sheep-turd-tasting cheese or smelly persons.
In fact, I have a whole book of these stories. It’s called Confessions of a Travel Addict. It’s nearly 200 pages of funny stories about traveling abroad, and although I recognize the work as my own, I have come to the realization lately that I probably couldn’t write it again because I don’t write funny things anymore.
If it’s going to be funny now, it’s a one-line status update that has about 15 people chortling, versus emails to 50+ persons that I’d like to believe read and enjoyed them.
So, what’s changed, you ask? Well, me, obviously.
When I first revealed to one of my friends that I had written a book about my traveling, she asked, “So does it have stuff about, you know, how you felt, your emotions, the things you were going through and how you grew as a person?”
I don’t think I laughed at her, but I thought at the time that it was a stupid thing to say. Who on earth would be interested in how I felt about things? Merrily I tripped along, continuing to write funny stories with no meat to them, no context, no person behind this shadow that traipsed all over the place having mishap after mishap.
Now, I realize that there is a time and place for everything. I realize that I may be hard on myself here, but the truth was that nearly everyone who has read my book has said, “Well, there’s not really much about you, you know? Since I know you I feel like I’m taking a trip with you, but if I didn’t know you I would feel like I was missing a very essential piece of the story.”
They’re right. The book lacks substance. And suddenly, that substance is all I can come up with to blog about. Suddenly, even my funny posts don’t seem as funny. All of a sudden, I want to talk about myself in serious terms.
It may seem small to someone on the outside, but this shift seems like a monstrous chasm that has opened up in front of me. I don’t see myself as some sort of bubbly, exuberant bouncy ball ricocheting off walls and screaming “WEEEE!” until everyone wants to shoot me, but neither do I see myself as a depressive lump of coal sitting in the corner, sucking the light out of anything that comes near like a black hole. I feel both these things often – if I’m lucky, I feel these and a whole range of emotions every day – but what I feel more is the change that has come over me in regards of what I want to share. I’m no longer as interested in simply giving the funny story of what happened to the stupid gringa while skimming over how I cried when it happened. A part of me is more than a little alarmed by this. It’s no longer a game to see how loud a person will laugh; now I’m tapping something deeper and sharing because I feel like a have to, and this is what bubbles to the surface, needing to be shared.
I think one of the strangest things about this shift is that I don’t feel afraid or excited about it – I simply recognize that something has changed. I look at it objectively, like a thing that I’ve just found in my house, and I study it, knowing it has a use but not yet knowing what it is. I’d like to think that this means that I’m finally maturing to the point where I don’t feel like I have to mask my emotions and can say how I really feel, but somehow that seems very, um, mature of me, and I can’t quite believe it. So for now, I’m just going to roll with it, and hope that maybe one day I’ll get to the point where I can be funny again and meaningful, too.

Love and not so funny kisses