Apr 17, 2016

When Anger is Enough

Here is where I would write why I’ve been away from writing for so long, how it’s good to be back, and some goal that I would have for writing again. Let’s hold those thoughts for another day, why don’t we... In the meantime, I’ll be here with this.

I’ve been thinking lately about a session with my therapist that involved a pillow and a rubber hose. It was supposed to be an exercise in expressing anger, but mostly it was an exercise in uncomfortable silence interspersed with awkward giggles. 

Despite very simple instructions, I could not – Could Not – hit that pillow with a rubber hose. Looking back, I can better name that day’s emotions: embarrassed, frustrated, ridiculous, stupid, alone, vulnerable. I did not walk into our session feeling that way, at least not that I recall. Instead, those feelings swirled themselves up out of nowhere when I was told to hit a faded throw pillow with an arm’s length of rubber tubing.

Thing is, I’m not that great at getting angry. I mean what did that old pillow ever do to me? I just chalked the whole exercise up as one for the “didn’t work for me” column on my therapy card.

2015. Unresolved Anger. (Photograph). April 17, 2016. 
from: http://eccentriceclectic.wordpress.com
I don’t like feeling angry. I don’t like what it does to me on the inside. I feel out of control when I’m angry, completely exposed. I didn’t grow up around a lot of anger – a reality I’m only just beginning to appreciate as much as I should. I am unbelievably lucky to have the privilege of basically being a stranger to anger. No one in my childhood used anger as a way of controlling me. Not that I didn’t make my parents mad sometimes. But there’s a huge difference between someone being mad about something, and a person who manipulates and controls through anger and fear. One is completely normal and even useful. The other is abuse.

Still, anger was never my first stop when something didn’t go my way or when someone treated me unfairly. I was more likely to shut down, to turn into myself, or to hide from whatever was happening. My “fight or flight” response was a little more “laugh or leave.” Either I’d turn the situation into a joke (sidenote: it took a while to stop making jokes at my own expense) or I’d find a way to back out. 

Over ten years ago, I had a relationship that went incredibly sour in ways that overwhelmed me. In one incident, I stood on the receiving end of an anger that I had never had to face before. My shutdown response was so strong that I laid down in a public lobby and slept for two hours. Even in that relationship, when I had every reason and right to get angry, I chose two years of silence, excuses, pacification, and submission. I chose to hold on to pain, hurt, humiliation, and so much more, rather than express any anger.

And to tell the truth – I thought that made me a better person. But it didn’t. It mostly made me a doormat and a liar.

Because even though I really WAS angry, I just couldn’t BE angry. I couldn’t handle those emotions, the same ones that came up in a whirlwind when my therapist told me to hit a defenseless couch cushion. I could not be angry, because if I was angry then I was vulnerable. If I was angry, it meant letting someone see me at my most ridiculous, even if that person was myself.

Learning to be vulnerable, angry, and ridiculous is changing my life. I have learned through many mistakes, uncomfortable therapy sessions, and bumpy relationships that I will not always come out on top. 

I wish that anger led to answers. Because I have a lot of questions right now. I’d like to know why love isn’t enough to change the way we speak to each other. I’d like to know the exact moment when a child will have the light of hope snuffed out. I’d like to know how to stop that moment from happening without tearing families apart. I’d like to know if we will ever create adequate words for when impossibly bad things happen.

I’d like some sort of promise that if I just get angry enough an answer will come. I would slay a thousand defenseless pillows for a just a glimpse. 

I wish that vulnerability had a guarantee. Sometimes it just hurts so damn much. Then other times, it’s the only thing that saves me from completely losing a grip on my soul. Isn’t that what being vulnerable is? Letting your soul out to play and hoping against all odds that it will find a soft place. That somehow it will both fly and find roots?

But there is no guarantee to be had; there are no promised answers. There is just what is left at the end of the day. There is just this ridiculous band of misfits that continues to tie their boats together. We are creating our own safe spaces, where cracks of daylight are caught and shared among the needy. We stand on the water, as the ridiculous children we are, and fling our arms out because we somehow know we are made stronger through trusting the water despite the waves.

I’m going to be unpacking this idea of anger for my whole life I think, learning how to bring it out into the light of day. But at least I don’t have to do it alone. 

Khan, F. (Photographer). 2011. Tied Up. (Photograph). April 17, 2016. 
from: http://blogs.wsj.com

Mar 19, 2015

Speaking as if I know

I have this fleeting suspicion that the secret to being grown up is to stop thinking about being a grown up. That is, stop trying to be the future version of yourself, that one living deep in your psyche with her perfect hair and well balanced life. She is entirely fictitious. Instead, and please hear this: instead, you are the wonderfully imperfect you. And you are gloriously messy and fantastically peculiar. And many, many more words that sound fun mushed together.

You are one of a kind, completely incomprehensible; there is no book or TED talk or viral video that can reveal you in easy steps. Because you are not, nor should you be, easy and digestible. You cannot be consumed in a sitting.

No. You are complex and creative....and incredibly confusing. And who cares! That's just exactly who you should be. Because you are no one who has ever been before.

You are your future self before time. And really, what's she have that you don't? You are already your own better half. So just watch it! Don't step on your own self on your way up the life ladder. You're walking here! And there is not a single thing wrong with that.

Apr 29, 2014

Playing for Keeps

When it comes to this whole "living life" thing, I think I actually forget more than I learn each day. And the thing I forget more often than anything else is this:  when it comes to how I spend each day and choose each little choice - I matter. My actual ideas, my likes and dislikes, "all that jazz" that lives in my own two jazz hands; it should all have an awful lot more to do with my every day than it actually does. I should matter more to me.

I'm reading another Brené Brown book - The Gifts of Imperfection - and today it reminded me to notice the things that I like to do to "play." Play time is that time when the world all at once gets wide and narrow. Wide because the possibilities are endless, but narrow in how the rest of the world just disappears.

Playful colors make a happy Katy!

My play time last night was coloring in a book I bought from the local art store. Tonight it was to start reading a new book, something fluffy, full of magic, fairies, and ominous evil forces. It has no purpose but to help me get away for a bit - the only point is enjoyment.

But tonight something happened when I set my book aside. I cleaned my desk. This is a Big Deal. Like winning a medium-sized lottery big deal. And it's the part I always forget. When I spend time in restful play, I always -- always, every single time -- come out of it with a desire to do something good for myself. I have sudden motivation where there wasn't any before. Even this writing is coming from that place of new energy.

I've really thought about this pattern, because it still surprises me even though it happens every single time. I think what happens in my sub or semiconscious self is this:  when I celebrate something just for the sake of my own enjoyment, I accept for a moment the reality that I'm worthy of joy. And I feel motivated out of that joy. I want my future self to have that joy too, so I clean or organize or do whatever it was that I was putting off.

But why don't I do this all the time?!

This pattern is so easily repeatable (I say again: it happens every - single - time) yet I continue to forget and go back to the exhausting habit of procrastination and blame and negative self-talk. A big part of the problem is simply an unrested brain. And an unrested brain is a foggy brain. The longer I go between playful times, the more taxed my brain is; there's never time to recharge. (Also, I tend to eat a lot of fast foods and caffeine, which I also thinks adds to a foggy brain.)

When I'm brain-tired, the tempting thing is to follow the path of least resistance. If a TV show will play a story for me, why read and bother my brain with the task of imagination. Why sit at the table and create a drawing on paper when I could just watch a YouTube clip of someone else doing it. (Or even more tempting/demoralizing is the self talk that says those creative things are a waste of time.) Why bother writing if someone else has already said it, and probably better than I would.

But as it turns out, that is all a bunch of balderdash! (That's right - balderdash!) When I'm brain-tired, it's because the world's been taking pieces out (or I've given them) and I haven't been putting anything back in.

Doing creative, playful things that I enjoy is not about healing what is broken in me. It's not about having done something wrong and now needing a break from reality. Instead, this kind of play and creativity is the only thing that I can count on to get me to do my best work, to treat myself well, to live my most "wholehearted" life, as Brené Brown would say.

Play and creativity, in whatever form it takes, isn't my response to stress or frustration or depression; it's my shield, the glue I can count on to keep me whole despite hard times and dark days. Let's keep ourselves from forgetting. Let's help each other create and celebrate, and stay stuck together with the goodness of play! 

How do you make time for creativity and playfulness? Post a reply below!