Identity: Peeling Away the Layers

“I am a citizen of the world.” 
― Sylvia Beach

Question for my readers: What are your layers of identity?

There has been much debate in the Democratic party regarding whether identity politics is what caused the party to lose the presidential election. I have my own perspective on the topic which I will not go into here, except to say that each of the identity groups have real issues and concerns that need to be heard. I hope that eventually we find a way to unite as one collective voice to support each other’s causes.

My real topic for this post is musing on what happened when I started thinking about my own identity. I discovered during this thought experiment that on any given day I may identify as something entirely different, and sometimes conflicting with other parts of my identity. Here are a few of the identities I discovered:

  • Daughter of parent with schizophrenia
  • Survivor of abuse
  • Female (feminist)
  • Short person
  • left-handed
  • Nurse
  • White person
  • Middle class
  • College educated
  • Previously lower socioeconomic with no college degree
  • Mental Health Advocate
  • Environmental advocate
  • Human rights advocate
  • Research professional
  • Mother
  • Person who has anxiety/depression
  • Person who recovered from eating disorder
  • Aunt
  • Sister
  • divorced
  • Friend
  • Fiance
  • US citizen
  • Blogger
  • Writer (wannabe)
  • Caretaker
  • Griever of brother who passed away
  • Parent of child with mental health issues
  • Spiritual person
  • Runner

Granted, many of these “Identities” are self-made and not what I was born into. Nonetheless, each one represents a part of myself that relates to a larger group of like-minded individuals.

World Trade Center Memorial wall

What would it take for all of us to peel away all of the layers of identity to see each other’s true essence? We are all here right now, on this earth, at the same time. This convergence of time and space that provides us all with this home on earth gives us all at least one thing in common to build upon.

What condition will we leave this world in when our short lives end?

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“You can’t not work…” and other Holiday Greetings

“People are… Full of contradictions. They’re lonely. And then they’re not. They’re missed. And then they’re not.”
― Kou Yoneda漂えど沈まず、されど泣きもせず [Tadayoedo Shizumazu Saredo Naki Mo Sezu]

The holiday season has never been my favorite. Mainly because I can only handle so many social gatherings before needing to retreat into my own space. This is a relatively new discovery about myself, rather, a part of myself that I am just now allowing myself to acknowledge. When I get together with a group of people, I can handle it for about two hours, and then I am ready to go home. It doesn’t matter whether I am having a great time or not, I just don’t have the capacity to do it for much longer than that. I suppose this has to do with my anxiety levels, and even though I don’t struggle nearly as much with it as I used to (thanks to years of therapy and a little medicine), I am careful not to exceed what I know is my limit. When I exceed those limits,  I tend to overeat, over drink, and become hyper-focused on things that bother me.  It is funny though, that once rested, I am ready to do it all over again.

Since quitting my job at the beginning of December, I have had a surprisingly full schedule of traveling, babysitting, spending time helping my friend through a mental health crisis, hosting my fiance’s (I’ll call him Alto) family and then my family, and going to many holiday parties. I am not sure how I ever would have managed all this if I was still working. In the past, going to work was my excuse to get away when I had exceeded my limit of tolerance. Usually work was quiet during the holidays, with many people taking off; and going into an empty, quiet office was a welcome escape.

Not working has been a blessing this year, though it was challenging listening to everyone’s comments about it.

“Why did you leave such a great job?”

“Are you looking for another job, you’re too young to retire?!”

You can’t not work….”

“What are you going to do now, isn’t it going to be hard to find a job at your age?”

“It must be nice to not have to work! I’m the only one in my family who works…”

“Wish I had the luxury of not working”

I’ve become particularly prickly when Alto says things like, “what do you mean you didn’t have time to go grocery shopping?”, “you slept til what time?”, or “what did you do all day?” The good thing about him is that all I need to do is tell him how I’m feeling and he listens and responds kindly. Indeed he was the one who supported my decision to quit the job and seek other opportunities; so it is mostly my own guilt and insecurities causing me to react the way I do to his comments.

The best part of the holiday season for me is having both of my daughters and my grand-daughter staying at my house this week. It was wonderful waking up and seeing their adorable faces. We haven’t been able to all be together in one place in over a year. When everyone departs, I’ll be sad, and the quiet house will be both comforting and a poignant reminder of how much I’ll miss them until next time.

A Life Lesson for All Ages

Yesterday I struggled to see the good in my day. Everything was harder than normal, and I was feeling just plain gross and out of sorts. I was frustrated with my job and annoyed that I am not an expert at it yet. I missed my old job, but at the same time cursed it. I wanted to throw my uncooperative laptop out the window, and on the way to my doctor’s appointment I missed my exit. I was disappointed to find I hadn’t lost a pound despite eating a healthy diet and was reminded by the well-meaning doctor that my age was a contributing factor.

On the way home the contents of my purse spilled all over the floor of my car, and I was honked at several times for my distracted driving. I felt needy,  weepy, and isolated from my friends, whom I  haven’t gotten to see as much lately. I almost canceled a dinner because I didn’t think I was invited, but traffic was so bad I went any way. I’m glad I did, even though it felt a little awkward.

When a bad day is happening, I don’t always realize the reasons why I’m feeling out of sorts until it has passed. Today I am fairly certain most of it had to do with being tired and not knowing when to slow down and take it easy. Today I’m finding it a little easier to lighten up about things, probably because I’m not trying so hard.

Over the weekend I read a book to my grand-daughter called My No, No, No Day by Rebecca Patterson. After I finished reading, she looked up at me innocently and said, “Why was she having a bad day Mimi?”

My daughter, who was folding clothes on the bed was quick to remind the sleepy toddler of the bad day she’d had recently, after she missed her nap and threw several temper tantrums. What better way to let a small child know that bad days happen to everyone than by telling her a story.

Thank goodness there are books like this one and the popular kid’s book, Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, that provide valuable lessons to children about life’s ups and downs, and thank goodness for the reminder to me as well.

What is Success and Where do I Find it?

I haven’t posted in a long time and I am not sure why. I could say I have been busy, but it is more than that. Busy is such a meaningless word. I have been filling up the hours in my days no more or less than usual.  I’ve been scurrying a long from activity to activity, while intentionally avoiding my blog.  The truth is,  sometimes it seems weird to share so openly about my life, and it makes me uncomfortable.   And yet when I don’t, it feels like there is something missing.  Maybe it is because my only true passion is writing, and blogging will probably be as close as I ever get to being a writer, even if it is for my own enjoyment.  It felt good to take a break, and now I am happy to be back.  Maybe writing again will help me deal with my latest identity crisis, as it seems to have done in the past.

Over all it has been a pretty good year, at least from the outside looking it.  I finally finished graduate school and started a new job.  I am in a loving relationship, and I just came back from a wonderful vacation.  Yet I have been feeling  an increasing malaise recently, and I am trying to come to terms with the reasons why.

The biggest reason I’m struggling is probably internal in nature, and revolves around the question of what defines success. I thought I knew what success meant to me, and now I am not so sure. I moved on from my old job this winter for several reasons, burn-out, frustrations about hitting a ceiling, and wanting a change after 20 years.  As a feminist, I believe that I ought to strive to achieve to my fullest potential and I’ve pushed myself accordingly.

Now I am learning that success doesn’t always equate with job title or salary.  Success is about being true to oneself and liking what one does. Neither of which I am experiencing right now. My new job doesn’t seem to fit my personality, despite my being good at it, and it is causing me a great deal of angst. I know I should give it time, but that’s hard to do when I dread going to work each day.  I miss what I did before, and wish I could have found a way to make it work and have some growth without throwing the baby out with the bath water, as they say. Sitting at a desk now looking at spreadsheets all day and going to meeting after meeting is wearing on me. I thought it was the angst of transitioning but it hasn’t gotten any better so I am starting to wonder.

Now I am holding my hands up to the sky, as if there are answers waiting to be captured as they fly towards me in a gust of wind.

I am going to give it some time to figure out what I want.  In the meantime, I will make sure to fill my days with the things I enjoy, like writing this blog.  I will take it one day at a time and try to remember the hardest lesson of all…

Retrieved fromhttps://www.facebook.com/WildWomanSisterhood/

I’ll keep you “posted” on how it is going.

Judge not….(or Maybe Just a Little)

“When you think yours is the only true path you forever chain yourself to judging others and narrow the vision of God. ”  ― Shannon L. Alder

Grand Canyon 2011 028

Happy New Year! Here is my first Writer’s Quote Wednesday post of the year.

My friend and I were lamenting about how we set this great intention for the New Year to be less judgmental, quickly realizing that no sooner than we had set the intention, we were already breaking it. Much like going on a diet, the more we tried not to judge, the harder it was to stop.

So I’ve decided to take a different approach now, a softer, more compassionate approach, by recognizing that this activity must be serving some purpose in my life. If recognizing this part of myself is the first step to changing the behavior, then perhaps I can slowly replace it with something more kindhearted. Being more conscious of when I am engaging in this one-dimensional cerebration may lead to some greater insights into myself and can be a good indicator about how I am feeling about myself.  Being judgmental of others is often the result of feeling bad about myself and can ultimately make me feel worse.

If I examine my judgments more closely, I realize there is some momentary payback that is satisfying and possibly even comforting.  Lamenting about someone to my friend can be a way to blow off steam and work through my petty grievances without creating unnecessary conflicts with others. When I am dealing with more serious concerns, it can help me to put a little space between myself and the person I am judging in order to think things through more carefully. In the latter scenario, I can run the risk of increasing my frustrations, but most of the time it seems to have the opposite effect, allowing me time to examine my own part in the transaction more clearly.

I haven’t abandoned my quest to be less judgmental, but I am realizing it may be a life-long endeavor to figure out how to manage this part of my personality.  There are plenty of good reasons for me to keep on striving to improve. In its most innocent form, it can be entertaining, and in its worst form, it can be quite destructive and toxic.

We live in a society that seems to revel in being judgmental, and we are constantly seeing posts on social media as well as news and television programs that are all about tearing people down.  I don’t want to get caught up in that kind of negativity, so all I can do is to start on a personal level.

When I am having a particularly difficult time, I utilize an excellent tool from the Work by Byron Katie, called the Judge Your Neighbor work sheet. The goal is not to self-censor but to put my judgmental thoughts down on paper and then examine them more closely. I have found this tool to be extremely helpful in identifying how to make peace with my most troubling thoughts.

I would love to hear how others deal with this aspect of their personality. Do you find yourself judging  frequently? Any good tips?

The Gift

IMG_1009As 2015 comes to a close, I am tempted to compose my usual list of ways in which I can improve next year. The list is often based on my perceived shortcomings, all of which are ultimately based on my tendency towards being a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist has nothing to do with perfection and is really more about trying to make things fit into what I think they should be. In other words, it is all about trying to control everything around me.

So….this year I am going to give myself the gift that I often want from others. Whenever I think someone should be more thoughtful, considerate, caring, patient, loving, understanding, attentive, etc, etc., etc., I will remind myself that I don’t need to wait around for anyone to act that way towards me. I can give myself those gifts any time I want, unconditionally. I don’t need to wait for the perfect circumstances and I don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission.  I can remind myself that I am always at my best, even when I am making mistakes and learning from them.

I wish all of my loved ones, family members, acquaintances, fellow bloggers and friends, the gift of self-acceptance this year.

May you have safe travels and celebrations this evening.

See you in the New Year!

 

Remembering

IMG_2746Today I didn’t make it to work. After two months of taking care of my dad after his surgery, trying to keep up with work, classes, the holidays, and surviving a four-day audit that overlapped with the holidays, (went well – yay!),  I needed one day to wind down.

In the midst of all of these minor aggravations, the unthinkable happened. My friend lost her teenage son in a car crash the day after Christmas. She is one of the sweet, incredible women I have been meeting with for almost a decade now (we call ourselves the Sisters of the Sofa – SOS), having come together through our journey to deal with our anxiety and depression. Our stories are similar yet all slightly different and we are all on paths of spirituality and seeking. These are the ladies whom I might not see for an entire year and yet still know they are always rooting for me and will be there if I need anything. These are the women whom I know will be praying for me, even though I may not be the most spiritual of the group and don’t always turn to prayer myself.

Many times we have sat in our tight knit circle sharing our stories, often about our children. When my daughter was in the hospital after her suicide attempt, these women were there for me, and one even watched her cat for a few weeks until she was able to care for him again. When our children have gone through hard times, we have provided each other with the comfort and support needed to go on. Our tears have been interspersed with laughter, and whenever any of us have had an episode of panic or depression, we know there will be someone there who understands.

My whole being aches for my friend right now.  As my SOS are in the process of preparing for the visitation and services that are coming up, we will do our best to support our wounded sister.  We will be there with our plates of food, tear-stained faces, hugs, and heavy hearts, and leave the rest up to God.

Coping with College Stress

I am enjoying my classes this semester and managing pretty well despite the increased workload on top of working full-time. I am excited that there is an end in sight, and I should be able to finish my master’s program by mid-August.

As hard as it has been, in some ways being an adult learner has its advantages, because I have a different perspective from this vantage point. I have made it through enough of life’s challenges such as balancing family and work, as well as some significant losses, to be able to fully appreciate this opportunity to continue to learn and grow.

Unlike my younger counterparts in college, I don’t have to deal with the same kinds of pressures they face.  Being away from home for the first time, navigating relationships, trying to live up to academic and athletic expectations, and making decisions about alcohol, drugs, and sexual activities can be quite daunting for these young adults at times.

Being a  young student can be an exciting and wonderful experience, and it can also be the source of a lot of additional stress, leading to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. It is so important for young people to know they have a place to turn when they experience emotional difficulties.

Finding the path – Where can college students go for help?

IMG_1022

Active Minds is a wonderful organization that is making its presence known on college campuses in order to provide support to students who are struggling with a mental health issue. They are working hard to diminish the stigma associated with mental health issues by hosting campus-wide mental health awareness events and helping students to navigate where to find help when they need it.

I applaude their efforts and wish there would have been something like that when I was an 18-year-old attempting to go to college for the first time. I could have used someone to help me find resources to deal with my anxiety and eating disorder during their early phases.

I don’t have any regrets now but I am a firm believer that the earlier one receives help for any type of mental illness, the better the outcome and less negative impact it will have on that person’s life.

Active Minds supports the goal to make it as easy to access mental health care as it is to access care for physical illnesses, by eliminating the obstacles like stigma and lack of resources that prevent people from seeking help.

Decisions, Decisions

1 a DecisionsWe don’t make our decisions;

Our decisions make us.

A. Jones

How many times have you been in a situation where you were trying to make an important decision and the more you thought about it, the harder it was to decide? This is particularly true for people with any type of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or any other illness that impacts one’s thought processes. Making a tough decision can actually trigger a significant exacerbation in symptoms unless there is a strategy in place to deal with the stress.

What I have learned over the years is to change the way I  think about those decisions. I have come to believe that while there may very well be a better answer for me, there really is no right or wrong answer. That doesn’t mean I am not going to make my list of pros and cons, and consider the possible outcomes. It just means that when it comes time to make that decision, I can relax, knowing there will be valuable lessons to learn no matter where I end up, and I can always choose another path if that one doesn’t work out.

Along the way I have discovered that my ego is often my biggest obstacle, leading me to believe there is a perfect outcome waiting for me, if only I  discover the right way to go.

It is not so much about the big decisions in life, but about all of the little choices I make each day, to stay present in this very moment, because ultimately that is what leads to my peace of mind.

Life doesn’t begin somewhere off in the distance, contingent upon the perfect scenario, it begins right here, right now, no matter which path I decide to take.

“Wear your ego like a loose-fitting garment.”

― Gautama Buddha

I’m a day late, but today’s post is for Silver Threading’s Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

Enjoy!

In the Universe

Sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to take a break from it. Going back to nature is a powerful way to put my life in perspective and give rise to a more simple state of mind.

Going camping, hiking, and being away from home for 24 hours was just what I needed. I remembered how it felt to be a kid again, hanging out in the woods and not thinking about schedules or what I should be doing next.  It is a rare moment when I can actually stop thinking about what the future holds, but I managed to this weekend.

The night sounds of frogs, crickets, and campers talking in the background was music to my ears as I fell asleep.

As I gazed up at the stars beaming in the sky, I was profoundly aware of how small I am in this vast universe, and it was strangely comforting.