Archive for October, 2018|Monthly archive page

Analysis Paralysis

I’m not sleeping well. Haven’t been for months now. This is a first for me, as I’ve always been a good sleeper. Part of me thinks it’s the perversity of a cruel universe punishing me for past brags about my (former) ability to fall asleep at will and sleep like a rock through the night. “Ha! Take this, bragger!”, it seems to shout at me as I continue to struggle for unconsciousness hours after laying down, exhausted.

But I know that’s irrational. There is an explanation, of sorts. I’m stressed and anxious, so my sleep is disrupted. But precisely what is the cause of that anxiety? I’m not sure. There is no shortage of triggers: work stresses are high, violence and hate abound in our society and scream nonstop in every media feed, internal pressures to improve aspects of myself which seem beyond my influence…so much to choose from.

I’m trying to address it. Reading a lot on theories and methods of tackling anxiety and sleep issues. Examining my thoughts, feelings, motives, fears, actions. Trying to isolate individual triggers and eliminate them. Mindfully, intentionally confronting each thought and feeling, honoring and acknowledging it before putting it aside. Even focusing on physical sensations, consciously relaxing muscles and slowing breathing. Talking, not talking; reading, not reading; teas and showers and warm blankets and chilly rooms and white noise machines and music…

I feel that I’ve given complete, genuine effort to resolving this problem. I’ve thought and reasoned and argued myself around in circles. I’ve given all my logic and reasoning and intellect to the problem. I think this is the quintessential manifestation of analysis paralysis.

And I’m still not sleeping.

It’s hard not to be discouraged and negative when nothing works and exhaustion dogs your every step.

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Anti-Positives (not Negatives) For Those Days When Sunny Positivity Just Can’t Cut It

As you know, I’m on a mission to center positivity, gratitude and kindness in my life. I want to be the best version of me that I can be, every day. But because I am human and imperfect, I don’t always succeed. Sometimes finding the silver lining, the “one good thing” in a day utterly full of crappy, negative experiences and energy is simply too much. Some days I just can’t fake it ‘til I make it.

On those days, honoring the darkness, letting the emotional, political, mental sludge breathe and have its moment in the middle is all I can do. And, if I’m both lucky and careful, that momentary dominance will satisfy the perverseness of the universe and let me pin that day to the past, moving forward into positivity once again. It’s brutal and not at all pretty to live through, but once on the other side, relief at having given the darkness that moment makes the light a little more bright and a little more bearable.

So that’s the silver lining, the good out of the bad.

But what gets you to that place is acknowledging the pain points, the dreck that’s built up and is clamoring to get out. Catharsis, I guess. But not necessarily just a good ol’ fashioned, wracking, sobbing cry. Sometimes it calls for naming the enemies, a litany of the poisons steeping in the blood, to extinguish their power and potency. Only after being called to the fore can some of these venoms be neutralized – the power of light to bleach the stain of the dark.

To that end, I’m braving my fears of vulnerability and derision to call out some of the poisons currently plaguing my peace:

Imposter Syndrome

Being a Pathetic Loser

Loneliness and the Fear it is Forever

Inadequacy in Every Dimension

Fixating on the Unobtainable

Reliving Humiliating Moments of the Past

Beating Myself Up for Giving in to Anger

Fear of Change

Wow. That’s a lot of mental and emotional poison.

I wrote all of that over a month ago, after nearly a month of lost sleep and continual stress. I set it aside to breathe, thinking that it was too raw and left me too exposed to actually publish. I thought I just needed to get it out of my head and it would be enough. But it hasn’t stopped.

So last night, Wednesday October 24th, while I was, again, not sleeping and after my eyes called it quits on reading anymore as an escape from the poisonous thoughts, I lay still and let the poison wash over me. I decided all the fighting I’d been doing to avoid it had been futile, so maybe giving it its freedom would bring some relief. Again, maybe if I honor the darkness it’ll let me go?

So I spent the entire night reliving the most cringeworthy, painful, humiliating moments of my life, watching each scene and acknowledging it’s continued sting. It felt like walking through a thrift store, cruising the aisles full of dusty, dented, useless junk that somehow still holds a degree of fascination, picking up items and replacing them on the shelves. It was a miserable experience, yet I managed to get to the end of the aisle without shedding a tear. Despite feeling the oppressive weight of humiliation and shame that each memory carried, I looked at each one and then set it aside without further judgment or sorrow.

No profound conclusions resulted and no existential clarity emerged. I did notice a pattern in the moments that rose to the surface and it’s still percolating through my brain trying to resolve into a clear shape that I can put a name to. But there’s been no epiphany.

Still, I think it helped, in some perverse way, to let my brain purge the dreck. I’m not certain that I won’t have to confront those moments again another time, but I feel that surviving that ordeal is a triumph. Even though it cost me a day of vacation time (I was in no shape to go to work today) and a day-long headache that’s still pounding, in addition to the night-long anguish, I’m calling it a win. It’s not a bright, shiny, joyous win, but a win nevertheless.

And because any positive out of all this oily, oozing darkness should be celebrated, I’m taking my courage in both hands and am publishing this very personal realness, despite feeling naked in the spotlight by doing so.

Lyrics of Me

I seem to be in a weird, contemplative head space lately. I see patterns and make connections between things that probably aren’t truly connected, just coincidental. And I seem to be fairly nostalgic, reminiscing more and spontaneously remembering random experiences from my past much more frequently than I recall doing previously. So, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at the connection that struck me as I drove to work this morning.

I don’t like to listen to talking on the radio – not commercials, not DJ commentary, not even most news reports – so I change stations frequently and listen to a variety of music genres. I also usually just concentrate on the music, the melody and instrumentation and harmony, without focusing on the lyrics. But for whatever reason, today the words were at the front of everything. As I surfed the frequencies on my 20 minute drive early this morning, I heard a bit of everything, from pop to rock to country. And on each station I heard at least one section of lyrics that seemed to speak directly from my life.

Getting glimpses of my own struggles in the words of popular music can be so validating and freeing. It makes the insecurities fade a bit, makes me feel less cut-off from whatever my brain is defining as “normal” at the moment. Sometimes that spark of recognition in the lyrics of a song burrows under my skin and occupies my subconscious for days until I’m able to internalize the message it holds for me. It’s a relief and a comfort when that happens. One of those from my past, one that helped me through the tough times of coming out to myself and others, recurred today:

I’m not a woman

I’m not a man

I am something that you’ll never understand

~ “I Would Die 4 U”, Prince and The Revolution

Yet that glimpse of me in song can also feel foreign, in a way, when the words in the context of the song speak of someone so different from me. It’s hard in those moments to understand how a sentiment that exactly summarizes some aspect of me can be speaking the truth about someone who is nearly opposite of everything that I am. I’m challenged to contemplate that issues I’ve associated with the various marginalized demographics I have occupied in my life can also be challenging for those I’ve mentally categorized as mainstream, often privileged, in those very dimensions. I’m certainly not a rock star on the road, but this is one I’ve struggled with for years:

And you feel the eyes upon you as you’re shaking off the cold

You pretend it doesn’t bother you but you just want to explode

Most times you can’t hear ’em talk, other times you can

All the same old clichés: “Is that a woman or a man?”

And you always seem outnumbered, you don’t dare make a stand

~ “Turn the Page”, by Bob Seger

Then there are those surprising lyrics from songs you’ve heard but never really listened to before. Those can be fun sometimes, like when you realize for the first time that Led Zeppelin dropped Tolkien references into “Ramble On”. But those surprising lyrics can sneak up on you, hitting hard with words that seem to reveal a truth that you’ve missed or refuse to acknowledge. Those sneak attack lyrics can suck big time, especially when they’re the last song just as you pull into the parking lot and the message dawns on your way into a work day full of stress and challenge that won’t give you a moment to sit quietly and work through the shock. Words in this category today from a singer with a name that’s particularly apropos:

We’ve just been lonely too long

Nothing’s wrong that can’t be cured

With a new love

All you need is someone like me to

Be sure of, to be your love

~ “Lonely Too Long”, by Patty Loveless

Today has been a mixed bag of lyrics of me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all, to eke out whatever lesson is to be learned. So this post feels a bit unfinished because I have no profound conclusions to impart. But I hope that sharing this little bit of my mental landscape gives you something to ponder.

No More Apologies

Earlier this week I saw a post on Facebook that kicked me right in the feels and the thinks.  I don’t have permission to re-post the full post here, but I will give this description and small excerpt to set the context of my ravings below.  The original poster is a college professor and someone whose writing in various media and platforms has revealed to me her acute intelligence, passion, compassion and genuine concern for all humans, and LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized humans in particular. Speaking of some of her women students, she posted about the heartbreak she feels at the volume of these students who have been conditioned to constantly apologize for their thoughts…even their existence.  This bit of her post particularly resonated with me:

“…brilliant young women who have been so often told that they cannot trust their own minds, that they are poor thinkers, that they are not bright enough, that they had better keep their mouths shut and their heads down, who end up in my office apologizing profusely and repeatedly for having a thought, for having too many thoughts to organize them intuitively, for having a thought too advanced for their vocabulary but not for their conceptual capacities…”

There was at least one commentator on this post that denied having been conditioned in this way.  I’m happy for that person. But the vast majority of responses were from female-identified people for whom, like me, this impulse is so ingrained that it took conscious, intentional effort to post a comment that didn’t include an apology – whether for piling on, or having their own take on the phenomenon, or for simply having the gall to post at all. Several who responded wrote of their conditioned guilt response to their “taking up space”.

My thoughts on this whole topic exploded to such a degree inside my head that it was impossible to do them justice in a comment-sized installment. But they’ve been present all week, sometimes very quietly way back in the back of my head, sometimes very loudly in the very front of my brain, pushing aside the thoughts and words I’m supposed to be thinking and speaking about entirely different topics.

So it was, with these untamed thoughts swirling, ever present in my head and in my mood, I reached the late afternoon on Friday of an extremely trying week full of work frustration.  After an afternoon of battling dragons for budget resources to save my team from burn-out after being constantly asked to do more and more with less and less, I was already on-tilt and in a less-than-optimal frame of mind to deal with any more idiocy for this company this week.  Then I checked my email.

What I found sent me on a a down-hill slide straight into a rage that felt very much like foaming-at-the mouth lunacy.  The trigger was a snide, unprofessional, strident whinge and petulant demand from a person who holds a senior leadership position (but who has demonstrated exactly zero actual leadership in the more than five years I’ve been burdened to work with him), condemning an administrative person on my staff for erroneously messaging that this person’s deal had been de-prioritized in favor of other deals at the direction of senior leadership.

Had the email been sent to me alone, I still would have been pissed off at the language of the message and the fact that it was an email at all, instead of a phone call, but I most likely would have simply acknowledged and corrected the error and moved on.  But since this tool felt the need to direct his insulting commentary and demand to a host of individuals whose rank and influence I cannot, for the sake of my team, ignore, I was forced to respond.

Although I am intelligent and have an above-average vocabulary and a decent degree of self-possession, I was not able to control my impulses enough cool down before responding to the same broad audience and additional recipients whom I felt needed to ‘get some on ’em, too’.  Although my response was, admittedly, terse and clearly conveyed my extreme irritation, I was successful in keeping it both short and professional.

Then, as so often happens, I belatedly considered the fall-out.  By electronically snapping off the pencil-necked idiot’s bloated head, I risked the incident being flagged up the chain to our executive leaders, including my boss.  Not wishing to have him be blind-sided by questions or complaints from his fellow execs, I quickly forwarded my missive to him as a heads-up.  I then went next door to his office and inquired if he was proficient at criminal defense, in case I ended up murdering that jackass.

My boss is a smart, compassionate man who has demonstrated great respect for me and a knack for talking me down off the ledge when I go off like this.  He laughed and said he’d have a hard time keeping from strangling that jerk if he were in my shoes.  We then talked it through and, after I received his reassurance that he had my back, I started to leave, making a parting comment that included an apology  for my emotional reaction and for making my problem his issue.

Since that kind of comment is not uncommon from me, he was not surprised by it, but he refused to accept it.  He looked me directly in the eye, called me by name, and said something so true that it stunned me.  He said: “I think your feelings when you do that [apologize for my reaction] are actually regret at having always to be the adult in the room.”

That really is it.  While I get angry at the mistreatment of my team and that anger does fuel my responses a lot of the time, the rage that gives birth to the types of outbursts that cause me to warn my boss about potential blow-back comes from always being held to a higher standard while others seemingly  breeze-by on the barest minimum of effort.  I and my team are content to be held to fiduciary standards applicable to legal professionals in matters of of our legal practice – when giving legal advice and opinions or representing our clients.  But when we’re expected to be perfect, provide instantaneous and error-free business services, to do the thinking for everyone else, and do it all with a smile while being met with everything from disinterest to sneering contempt from those making these demands, even the best-tempered among us grow weary and can snap.

My boss went on to say: “You are [the adult in the room] and you do a great job at it, and are always professional. Don’t apologize for being right or for being frustrated.  You’re right and your feelings are valid.”

And that’s where my thoughts from earlier in the week collide with my work-induced frustration.  His words of kindness and validation had their desired effect, calming me and making me feel better about a crappy situation.  But they also triggered a dissonance that still niggles in my head, prompting this post.

Here’s my struggle:  I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t in terms of my reactions.

On the one hand, I felt compelled to apologize for having a reaction and for taking up time and space in my boss’ head because of my emotional response.  It didn’t matter that my response was proportionate, professionally worded, and appropriate to the stimulus.  It was emotion-based (anger, frustration, disappointment) and that automatically translated, in my culturally-conditioned brain, to “woman’s reaction” and “not worth his time”.

But on the other hand, when he validated my reaction and praised me for my handling of the matter, I immediately felt guilty for feeling reassured by it, and frustrated for needing his validation. Again, my impulse, instinct is to reject my reaction as unworthy.  This time the reaction comes from a forward-thinking, feminist mind-set that tells me I should be, and feel that I am, enough without the validation of a man or any other person in a position of authority.  I do believe that.  But there’s still the guilt and discontent.  That, too, is a culturally-conditioned response based on “female” emotion which I am conditioned to believe is worth less than “male” emotion and “male” logic.

Can’t win for losing.

As so often happens with my deeper thinking lately, I don’t have answers, only more questions.  I can’t end this post with it all tied up in a neat bow (or dapper bow tie). I’ll struggle with this for a long time, I’m sure.

But I know this:  No More Apologies.

From now on when I flame some unthinking, slug-brained Neanderthal of a supposed leader, I’m not going to apologize for it or for warning my boss that I’ve done it.  I’m just going to flame on and move on.

That’s my new mantra:

FLAME ON AND MOVE ON

Nebulous Plus

I’m not sure what to post about. My brain is struggling to function because my sleep has been crappy lately. My brain seems to be barely capable of maintaining the illusion that I’m a reasonably intelligent and functioning adult. But I at least have retained the will to be those things, as well as to remain committed to positivity and accountability. Thus, I’m posting so that I maintain my goal and continue to demonstrate positivity and gratitude.

The problem is that in this dull, foggy mental state, coming up with a witty, substantive post seems as monumental a task as building a skyscraper with bailing wire and chewing gum. So what I have for you is this feeble offering:

1. We had our first snow of the fall over the weekend. It was pretty and didn’t cause a bunch of challenges. It even made my junky backyard look kinda quaint.

2. As frustrating as it has been in my job lately, especially when it feels like my team is spending more time playing janitor for the sales team that in substantive legal work, I feel like more of the leadership team is participating in the frustration. That visibility seems to now make my fellow executives more motivated to address the causes of the frustration. In short, I’m seeing tiny incremental improvement on the horizon. That’s the slimmest sliver of silver lining, but it’s still an actual positive.

3. Lastly, I have to admit that a partial contributor to my abysmal sleep has been enjoyable distraction through reading. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that I’d found some new lesfic authors. One in particular, Robin Alexander, has a bunch of romantic comedies available as Kindle books. I’ve laughed so hard, actual out-loud guffaws, at more than one of her novels. So when I find myself unable to turn off my brain and sleep, I dive into a book. That usually puts me to sleep quickly. But big belly laughs don’t induce stupor the way drama and suspense can. I should substitute Tolstoy or some historical fiction as my sleep aid. But I’m enjoying the silly, laughter-filled stories so much more. Would highly recommend them for light, frivolous fun. Just be careful of jumping into them at bed time – you will definitely get less sleep. 🤣

So there are some mild positives. Not a hugely substantive post, still some good things. I hope you’re finding plenty of little positives and more than a few laughs to keep your life full.

Another Professional Positive

I seem to write about my job a lot lately and it’s probably boring and borderline boasting. I don’t wish to bore you, nor to be boorish in my recounting of things in which I take pride. Yet, to be true to my positivity goal, I like to share these little good things from the part of my life that occupies the bulk of my waking hours. So I’ll keep this one short.

This week, after traveling all last week, has been rather high-stress. Lots of demands for my time and pressure being put on my team, plus seemingly endless conference calls, all make for a brutally exhausting week that isn’t even over yet. My brain today is particularly tested after back-to-back calls that started at 6am and lasted through noon, only to pick up again an hour later. But I’ve somehow remained present, engaged and professional, even avoiding being rude and dismissive when confronted with truly inane questions from folks who should know better.

But the shining star of positivity for me today came from a series of conversations with my boss. We’ve been working through a bunch of thorny issues in various litigation matters for months now. Today we spoke several times, strategizing approaches to address each issue and brainstorming resources and reference materials to include in those solutions. It’s substantive lawyering and executive decision-making rolled into one. I’m proud that in every conversation I was clear and confident in making my points, debating with insight and professional skill without resorting to emotion or logical fallacies to emphasize my concerns. And, without prompting, my boss complimented my precision and insight, making it clear he appreciates my contribution to the process.

Being the boss rocks, but being a trusted advisor and confidant to my boss is even better. One very good thing on this long, tiring day.

I hope you’re finding inspiration from your own successes and enjoying the beginning of Autumn (in the Northern, Spring in the Southern hemisphere). Be well my friends!

Conference Goodness

I’ve been in Washington DC all week for the 2018 Women, Influence and Power in Law conference. It’s been an amazing experience. Not only have I been privileged to hear women speakers from the top of their respective professions speak on risk taking, leading with authenticity, and choosing integrity over expediency, I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by intelligent, engaged and passionate professional women from all over the nation. And getting to spend time in substantive conversation with a few of these incredible women has definitely been a highlight to a truly great professional experience.

Topping these huge bonuses is the friend time I’ve been lucky to have this week as well. A good friend has recently moved to this area and we were able to get together for dinner and a visit to the FDR Monument in the middle of the week. Enhancing the goodness was the pleasure of meeting my friend’s lovely partner for the first time. She is a kind and beautiful person whose love for my friend glows in every interaction. I can’t be any more deliriously happy for them. I’m looking forward to a great Saturday outing with them as well.

Opportunity to travel for professional development, experiencing world-class speakers, keeping company with hundreds of amazing women, and time with a great friend…what more could I ask for in a business trip? Nothing. It’s been perfect. Heaps of very good things!

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