Fear and change

be flexible quote from Bruce Lee

Have you ever noticed that human beings are ridiculously awful at dealing with change? It’s ironic, because change is the only inevitable thing in life. That classic Benjamin Franklin quote about death and taxes should be revised to include change too. Death, taxes, and change are certain; sorry Ben, revision for the modern world. Even if a person resolutely vows to never change, if he or she resists personal growth, the world around will still change.

Loved ones move, or die; friends get married or divorced (or likely married and then divorced); people start having children; companies downsize; our neighborhoods grow or shrink; even our bodies change as we age – like it or not! It’s ironic that we have such a difficult time with change, when the world around us and even our own bodies are in a state of constant change. Change, whether we like it or not, isn’t always bad. Change can be very good in fact. I live in a neighborhood that is a thriving, growing arts district full of people young and old who genuinely love the neighborhood. When I bought my house, there was a farmer’s market at the end of the street, now that space is a barbeque and beer joint which is unfortunate for me since I don’t eat meat or drink beer. Even as much as I love my neighborhood and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else in my city, I have moments where I question the change/progress. I love the addition of a woman-owned french patisserie, I can walk up the street and have a freshly made french macaron whenever I want, but I have moments of doubt about a boutique hotel proposed to take over a green space often used for community events like a pop-up dog park.

Like it or not, the world will change and our lives will change. Resisting it doesn’t stop it. We like to think that we have some sort of control over the world, but really we only have control over ourselves. Like the tall, sturdy tree that Bruce Lee talks about, if we don’t bend, if we don’t learn to sway in the wind then we will break. Change will come whether we accept it or not. If we want to make our lives more difficult, we can try to stop it. Who wants to make their life more difficult though? Surrendering to change is frightening, even for the best of us. Letting go of the illusion of control can be outright terrifying. Resisting the inevitable can only result in pain for us. Change will happen whether or not we accept it, so it has to be better to spend our energy in accepting change – to focus on acceptance of the change and give in to the beautiful chaos that is being alive. The alternative is not being alive and change is certainly better than death! Everyone, save perhaps the true bodhisattva, is going to have a moment where change is so uncomfortable that we want to rebel against it. While change is an essential part of the world, fear is an essential part of the human being. Fear lets us know that something is happening, that it needs a response. We tend to label certain emotions as “bad” and fear is often one that we think that we shouldn’t experience. Experiencing emotions is particularly scary and extreme for those with emotional sensitivity/borderline personality disorder, but the entire spectrum of emotions exist because we are supposed to experience them. Every emotion, every feeling, serves a purpose. Fearing emotion is as useless as fearing change; we are going to experience emotions both “good” and “bad,” wanted and unwanted.

In other words: Don’t be afraid to be afraid.

Swim in that fear, let it caress your soul. Invite it in for tea. Say, “Welcome, fear. Come in and sit with me.” Appreciate fear as you would appreciate joy. Feelings are a part of being alive and they’re going to come whether we want them or not, whether we are ready or not. So you can dance with your fear just as you would your joy, or you can fight your fear like an attacker but that will not make the fear go away. The only thing that makes your fear recede is to face it. Change is going to come – meet it at the door, and open it. Don’t bolt it tightly, pulling heavy dressers in front of it and piling bricks on top of that. Change will just come through the window. Perhaps the biggest challenge of life, whether you have an emotional sensitivity or not, is surrendering to it. There’s a saying in al anon, “let go or get dragged.” Surrender is not a passive state, it’s an active one. Surrender means acknowledging our fears, recognizing they exist for a purpose, and letting them sit until they have served their purpose. Surrender means seeing that change is coming and allowing it to effect our lives; be afraid of change – that’s ok. Accepting doesn’t mean liking, surrendering doesn’t mean enjoying; it means that we know that change is inevitable and we accept that we are not perfect, fearless individuals and that it’s perfectly ok to be afraid of it. We don’t let that fear rule us however, we don’t let that fear make us fight change. We let it roll through our spirit like a river, washing away whatever it wants to take with it, leaving us smoother, more polished, like a stone.



Dear stranger: I am not a bitch

Long before someone coined the phrase “bitchy resting face” I developed a habit of softening my face and wearing a pasted on slight smile whenever I’m in public. Not because I suffer from BRF, I don’t, but because I wanted to convey that I’m a nice person even though I don’t seek out polite conversation with strangers. I can’t even remember when I started doing it, when all the articles and blog posts about BRF started getting popular it dawned on me what I do.

You see, I’m not like most of you. Whatever it is that makes you excited to say hello to a stranger passing on the street, or engage in conversation about the weather with someone in the elevator? I don’t have it. Every stranger is not a friend I just haven’t met yet to me. It’s not that I’m a bitch, I’m not.

If you’re a close neighbor, I will wave hello. If you speak to me, I will speak back. If I pass you every day walking my dog, I will nod hello or wave if you are friendlier. If you’re a facebook friend, I will say hello to you in a store and maybe even have a conversation. I just don’t enjoy talking to strangers, and I never have. You see, I’m an introvert. I know even more articles and blog posts have surfaced lately about introversion. Perhaps to the point that you get tired of seeing them shared on facebook with comments like “Yeah!” or “This is SO ME.” Articles with names like “How to love an introvert” or “20 great things about being an introvert.” The internet provides a great soapbox for us, because we are able to put our energy out there without having people grab at it and take it.

I’m not just an introvert though. I also have an emotional sensitivity disorder. If I were more “new-agey” maybe I would say I’m an empath. I have an anxiety disorder, and I also wasn’t socialized like you were. I was home schooled and spent the majority of my childhood in a house interacting with two other people. I probably would have adapted out of necessity if I had been out in the world like most people, but I wasn’t. I am my own unique cocktail of weirdness that makes it unpleasurable for me to interact with each and every person I pass, even in a small way.

To connect with me, you need to be in a small group or one on one. We need to have something in common that we both like to talk about, so that we aren’t just chatting about nothing. When there’s a give and take of energy in a small group of like-minded people, that is where I am at my best. When you and I are chatting over coffee, getting to know each other, I am filled with the positive energy of getting to know a new person. When I’m in a room full of tumbling conversation and loud voices and there are seven or eight of us a standing in a circle having multiple conversations, I will probably be silent. You might think that I’m aloof, or uninterested, but I’m overwhelmed. Large crowds don’t enthuse me the way they would an extrovert, they take a lot out of me. I don’t know where to focus and I feel pulled in too many different directions. You won’t get the best of me in a large crowd, and I’ll probably have had a glass of wine or two to calm my nerves because while I love events, the chaos can go from pleasant to more than I can handle very quickly. I also do not hear well. I spent much time in my 20s listening to loud music in small clubs, that’s the drawback to loving hard rock and marrying the lead singer of a metal band. So sometimes in situations like these, I can’t really hear what you’re saying to me. I promise you that I want to be able to have a conversation with you, but rather than ask you to repeat yourself I will just nod in a way that makes it impossible for us to truly engage.

I have a physical illness that causes me to be fatigued to some extent on all but my very best days. When I interact with you in passing, it takes some of my energy away and that is energy I need for things like studying and doing my dishes. If I don’t know you, speaking to you makes me anxious. In fact, I get anxious about NOT speaking to you too. Wondering if I should have said hello when we passed on the street, and if you think I’m some horrible person because I didn’t acknowledge you. While I manage my anxiety pretty well, it’s not something I can control, I can’t decide not to be anxious about if you think I’m a bitch. It’s not even that I care in an active way, but my body and brain have a reaction like “fight or flight” where normal everyday situations are stressful for me in the way that a crisis might be for you. When we can focus on each other and exchange energy, our interaction will make me happy and enrich my life but if we can’t then our interaction takes energy from me while likely doing nothing to you. You’re “normal” so none of this has probably ever even occurred to you. Feel lucky. I envy you.

I wish I could just hand a post-it note to everyone that I encounter that says “I am not a bitch.”
It’s not you – it’s me.

Likely, no one I pass on the street while walking my dog is ever going to read this. So if you are reading this, and you have someone that you see that isn’t seeking out an exchange with you, even if it’s just a friendly hello, don’t immediately decide that they’re rude or mean or think they are better than you. It could be that, like me, the world around them effects them differently than most other people. If you smile at them, they will probably smile back.

just me

Is there a right way to grieve?

Today I have been thinking about the subject of grief. It has kept coming up throughout the day, as I stumbled upon something old that I found still stung, and in a conversation with a friend. I suppose I have kind of done it to myself – in a fit of unnecessary productivity over the weekend I decided that I would go through and organize the 10,000+ emails that I have in the inbox of my yahoo mail account, an account that has been open since 2003. The last ten years have had a variety of relationships, of ups and downs, and being the emotional packrat that I am, I quickly found that I have apparently never deleted an email from a friend, family member, or lover (former or current at the time!).

Things that I had completely forgotten about were suddenly right back in my face. The good and the bad coming back to the surface with travel confirmations, receipts for flower deliveries, and in a lot of cases emails from both the beginning and the end of relationships. I have emails after my ex-husband and I separated that I know are just full of us being horrible to one another and saying awful things meant only to hurt. Those emails I didn’t delete but I also didn’t open. As I created new folders called “Old friends”, “Family”, “Old relationships”, and began moving things into folders that already existed, one name in particular kept hurting me in a way that I felt it should not. Subject lines like “To my S-” and “My love” cut my soul in a way it seemed like should be long gone, and I began to realize that maybe it wasn’t long gone so much as long buried.

I began to wonder if there is a “right” way to grieve. Grief is a misunderstood process I think. People seem to believe that closure is what’s needed to move on from the death of a loved one, a break-up, or a job loss but grief is ultimately what closes that door. Grief is allowing ourselves to feel exactly what we feel in that moment; opening ourselves up to all the pain, all the sorrow, all the doubt and fear and shame because all of those feelings are legitimate, they are normal, and most importantly they are there whether or not we choose to allow ourselves to process them. What if we don’t allow ourselves to grieve though? Will those feelings just come back, washing over us when we least expect them, like when we see an old email? In my experience, yes, and much of what I’ve read in psychology and self help subjects say that if you don’t deal with it now, you will be dealing with it later.

Part of my problem is, for the majority of my life I was terrified of my feelings. I have an emotional sensitivity disorder that went undiagnosed until I was in my early 30s. I don’t talk about it openly a lot because there is a lot of stigma surrounding any kind of mental illness, let alone one of those scary “personality disorders.” When I do describe the feelings to people, I ask them if they’ve ever been in the ocean. Feelings to me have been very much like the waves in an ocean: they can very suddenly loom larger than you expected, crashing around you, knocking you down, pulling you under so that you have to fight to breathe. Your brain can tell you that you need to be calm because panicking will make you more likely to drown, but when you’re under the waves, salt water in your nose, short of breath, not sure which way is out, the panic will set in. For a moment, you might think you are going to die, that there is no escape from all the water that engulfs you.

Luckily it is not possible to die from drowning in emotion, but it is the despair in those moments that cause many people to attempt or complete suicide. Because nothing besides what is in that moment is real – what you feel right then you will always feel. It will always be too much, it will always overwhelm you, it will never be ok again, only the moment is reality and until you try over and over, painstakingly reprogramming your brain to react to uncomfortable, unwanted emotions in a different way, this is absolutely what is real to you. That is really hard for people who don’t have an emotional sensitivity disorder to understand, but that ocean analogy is the closest I have ever gotten to explaining in a way that I felt was understood.

So how do you grieve something that happened 3, 5, 12 years ago; something you probably “should’ve” already gotten over? Now that I’m ready, is there a “right” way to grieve? I don’t really know the answers to some of those questions. I know that I never really dealt with the feelings around this particular situation, and I know that I have to now that I realize it’s a problem. That’s the problem with denial, once you’re out of it you can’t continue because that’s an active choice and no one wants to actively choose to be unhealthy. So now I have to try to feel and let go of feelings that I should’ve dealt with years and years ago. Sometimes it’s really exhausting being me. That sounds melodramatic, but I don’t care. 🙂 Every one of us has days when it’s hard to be us, the ideal is just that those days are few and far between. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.

ocean wave