I'm thrilled to report that Life in Repair (#LIR2012), a mental health breakie, was a success! I'm feeling like myself again; much less irritable + less chronically fatigued.
So much to catch up on...
Who says you must live large when in NYC?
I (re)discovered the simple joys of the simpler kind of life during my Living The Dream (#LTD2012) trip to NYC last week... a perfect end to my LIR break.
I got up around 5am because I am + have always been one of those crazy morning people. In the morning, I'd do a little bit of internet reading, emailing + then casually have breakfast while talking to my relatives, Maria + Cousin John, before John left for work. I'd get a shower in the late morning, make a small sandwich for lunch + spend the afternoon reading + napping. I LOVE naps more than anything in the world:)
Around 5pm, Maria + I would walk to our favorite Greek diner, The Capitol, for a light dinner + enjoy lovely conversation, too. We'd watch a bit of TV afterward with some ice-cream. I was thrilled to discover that Maria loves the Big Bang Theory... we'd laugh + laugh at poor Sheldon's antics.
Finally, I was in bed by 9pm.
That is the life, my friends.
Depression makes you wise beyond your years
My bf makes fun that I went to NYC + became an old person. In reality, I would live each day as I did in NYC. I am an old soul, after all. Most people have an inner-child... I have an inner-grandma.
I remember even as a kid people would tell me that I have an old soul. I think that it just grew a little older + wiser; prematurely worn by the battles with depression. Perhaps I have an inner-great-grandma now:)
In my interactions + my travels, I've discovered that I can pick out the survivors of whatever-kind-of-tribulation by their perspective on life. They are wise beyond their years. It's one of the few fringe benefits of being a survivor. We're all old souls.
Survival 101: Live for the day
That phenomena was poignantly apparent when I was in Siberia a few years ago. I was 25 at the time + had spent the entire month of August with college-age Russians. I noticed the kinds + depth of conversations we had were not typical college-speak; self-absorbed + idyllic. They had an a-typical wisdom that I found consistently across their age group.
I realized that when they were around 10 years old, they survived the fall of the Soviet Union. My grandparents survived the Great Depression + that event shaped their world view through their old age when I knew them. From what I understand, what Russia suffered after the fall was more intense than our Great Depression.
They talked about being kids + not knowing when their next meal would be because there was no food in any of the stores. Rampant inflation made food + basic necessities super expensive, anyway. Electricity/heat/water was spotty. People were out of work.
Their way of life changed over night. Things kind of fell apart while everyone as well as every integrated organization + societal structure tried to figure out how to function again. It was a struggle to live.
My interpreter told me that one of the after-effects of that difficult, dark time is that most Russians live for the day. They have a difficult time planning ahead. It was very apparent while I was there. I'm a planner + I had worked with another American to try to make the most of the remaining two weeks of our trip by developing a series of group activities.
None of those plans came to fruition.
It was all dependent on where people were the day of the event. Sometimes they were free, sometimes they weren't but you couldn't get them to commit very far in advance.
When they were young, they weren't sure what the next day would hold. Looking too far into the future was bleak, uncertain + perilous. For sanity's sake, it was better to focus on the present day. Live life in the moment because the next moment will likely be more difficult +/or may be the last.
It's a hard habit to break when times improve... as they always do.
Survival 102: Mentally live in the future
Perhaps to a fault, in the West, we live too much in the future. Planning out our lives to such great detail (days, weeks, months, years in advance) that we forget to live in the here + now.
While that is true in general, for me specifically, planning for/daydreaming of a better, brighter future was my coping mechanism growing up in an uncertain, chaotic environment.
Uncertain because we as a family of five were poor; always just scraping along the poverty line. I grew up in a declining economic environment in rural, southwestern PA; the coal industry + manufacturing were dying out in the 80s-90s.
Chaotic because the stresses of mere survival weighed heavily upon my parents. My dad was a coal truck driver who worked 15+ hours a day (still does); when he was home, he was worn out. My poor mom was at her whits end most of the time; sandwiched between taking care of us three kids + her ailing parents.
As oldest, the job I took upon myself as a kid was to make it easier for mom to deal. If I had a problem, I dealt with it as much as I possibly could myself. I'd try to keep my younger brothers in line: not killing each other +/or out of trouble as much as possible. If I wanted something, I knew we didn't have the money + I knew it would make mom upset to ask, so I just saved what little allowance grandma would give us kids to buy it myself. I'm totally a cheap-skate miser to this day.
Sacrificing self to maintain control
My youth is probably where I learned to become wise beyond my years. I was always very conscientious of everyone + everything else around me. I got used to sacrificing me in order to keep the boat from rocking more in the already choppy water of our life.
My refuge was planning/imagining a future where I wouldn't be so vulnerable + dependent upon others.
I remember telling my mom that I hated being a kid + wanted nothing more to skip ahead to being an adult already. She would wisely share that being an adult has it's own challenges, to enjoy where I was because once those years are gone, they can't be reclaimed. I heard her words, but never really understood their meaning... until now, in retrospect, of course.
Meager + short-sighted as it may have been, living in the future was my way of controlling an otherwise out-of-my-control life. It was my way of coping; making the chaotic a little more certain, a little more bearable.
Unfortunately, I traded the carefree nature of childhood + a little of the capacity for play that most kids explore naturally. I'm working on learning those things now, through therapy. Better late than never.
Self-sacrificing, responsibility + preoccupation with the future became a way of life + of survival. It took years to develop those habits into highly refined skills. It's going to take years to undo their rigidity + to add in other skills to counter-balance them.
My so-called [chaotic] life
The problem with short-term fixes are the long-term consequences. My adult life has been challenging because my baseline of normalcy is chaos.
A friend of mine who's about 5 years older + lived through a similarly chaotic childhood once shared the following wisdom that resonated + stuck with me:
Stephie, you're going to get to the point soon where you're going to start creating chaos just so you have something to fix. Look at me, I gutted this whole house all at once just so I could rebuild/remodel it from scratch. I created chaos for myself. Most people don't approach life like we do. Just be on the lookout for those pitfalls.My bf has often commented that I just can't live with things going well + being relatively quiet. I've got to stir things up... usually in the form of what looks like massive changes from the outside. I think he's right. I do get bored + uneasy if things are quiet for too long.
It's really an interesting paradox: I 'want' the simple kind of life + strive for it, but when I obtain it, I get antsy + end up turning the whole thing on its head. I create chaos again. Maybe I enjoy the process of striving more than the arriving.
If my normal is chaos, it makes sense that I flip wildly between different extremes. Living in chaos is extreme. If uncertainty seems normal, then stability is foreign; it's going to feel unnatural at best + scary at worst.
A model of stability
What has been nice about knowing + living with my bf is seeing the other side of the coin. They say opposites attract... we reinforce that old saying. Through the four years we've been together, I've been able to learn little-by-little what stability + calm looks + feels like through example.
I've observed his family exists on the complete opposite spectrum from mine. He grew up in a über stable environment. A 'Leave It to Beaver' scenario in the 80-90s was sort of rare + unheard of, but that's what I feel like I'm stepping into when I visit his family. Very peculiar to me...
Living on the opposite extreme has it's pluses + minuses, too. He loves to keep things the same, is very regimented + approaches change with much resistance + trepidation. He's on his own extreme, polar opposite of mine, which is why we clash so often.
Hopefully, through the years, he's been able to learn little-by-little what chaos + change looks + feels like through my example. More likely, since I am a whirlwind, sweeping everyone/everything along in my wake, he's been through change by association... whether he welcomed it or not.
Perhaps we'll meet somewhere in the middle forging an equilibrium between the extremes someday. Or, we'll kill each other + you'll read about all the gory details in the newspapers:)
Love is like a game of tether-ball
I've been able to make an analogy for our relationship which has helped my sweet little head to make sense of it... particularly when I do get really irritated because he's too rock-steady or he get's pissed because I'm such a free-spirit.
Some people use the analogy of a kite to describe their relationship. All kites need to be grounded by string in order to soar in the winds of change. It's beautiful... much too graceful + peaceful for me.
I see my relationship as a fierce game of tether-ball at the old school playground. Poor Mike is the pole + string that the ball is tied to. I am the ball + the my tendencies are the two opponents smashing me back + forth around that pole.
When all is as it should be, I sail back + forth between two extremely different players (stronger, taller, older Chaos vs smaller, shorter, inexperienced Peace). Though I flip between the two, the pole + string keep me in reasonable, predictable, consistent bounds... in harmony.
Sometimes, as the ball, I bang off the pole, but it's just part of the game; it's not an indication that we're not supposed to be tied together.
Once in a while, the chaotic, crazy tendency (the stronger player) bashes me so hard that the string breaks + I go gloriously sailing into the air. But, my flight is brief as the trajectory carries me with much force into + through the window of the elementary school; smashing my metaphorical life to pieces.
Thankfully, as the ball, I have a flexible, thick-skin. I have a little bounce to me that makes me resilient... instead of being so rigid that I shatter/pop in the crash. I may bounce wildly initially, but eventually, I gently roll to a stop. The peaceful tendency (the other player) retrieves + re-ties the ball to the pole... the game begins again.
Compensating = simple(r) kind of life
So, now that I know this about myself + I know that I'm probably not going to change, the best I can do is adjust + compensate for my crazy tendencies.
- For living in the future: I'm learning about + practicing yoga, mindfulness meditation + Buddhism where the emphasis is on being present in the moment, moment to moment... w/o judgment or preconceived expectations.
- For sacrificing self: I'm learning about + practicing putting myself first, healthy self-care, being assertive of my own needs, creating healthy boundaries + being protective of those boundaries + of my own well-being.
- For perfectionism + its BFF, self-loathing: I'm learning about + practicing how to be more compassionate of myself, accepting of myself, forgiving of myself + appreciative of myself.
- For chaos as a baseline of normalcy: I'm learning about + practicing what stability looks/feels like in small doses so it's not so scary/foreign. I'm learning to recognize when I feel the need to upset the boardgame of life + I'm practicing how to curb that tendency... a little.
There are some benefits to my chaotic life. For one, it makes for great stories. Some uncertainty keeps things interesting + lively. Life is chaotic + unpredictable anyway... being able to weather it well is a life-skill.
But, I do hope to strike a balance. I'm confident I will eventually... through lots of trial + error.