Archive for the ‘anxiety’ Tag

Deliberation

It’s been some time since I posted. Lots of reasons for that, but not the least of them is that I’ve been working on being mindful and deliberate and intentional about what I put out into the universe. It seems to me that the old maxim that you get what you manifest has merit. At least, I don’t know of any use case where harm arose from being mindful and deliberate, nor from visualizing and working toward the desired outcome.

While positivity, gratitude, and kindness have long been a part of my self-discovery and self-improvement journey, I have frequently gotten mired in the negative experiences I’ve encountered and sought comfort, support, validation, and ideas for addressing those experiences, both in conversation and in posts on this blog. And I’ll own that several of my blog posts have amounted to not much more than primal screams into the void for the sole purpose of venting the steam.

Those things are bound to happen from time to time, and my taking note of them in myself is not a commentary, challenge, or criticism of myself or anyone else’s human response to negative stimuli. I just note for myself that, as I think more carefully about what to say in this space, weighing the benefits, if any, of those rants and primal screams is perhaps a better use of my energy than indulging them.

Something I’ve noticed in my private, handwritten journaling practice since the beginning of the pandemic is that my need for ‘out loud’ airing of grievances and external validation of my experience has shifted to a lower order of importance. There might be a lot of factors contributing to that, but the first one that comes to mind is that my brain has promoted dealing with the allostatic load of stress and anxiety bearing on my body and soul to a higher priority than dealing with the emotional need for validation and vindication. That’s a completely unscientific and personally-biased supposition. But it certainly makes sense to me.

Although I actively try to avoid comparing myself to the experience of others, I cannot avoid the knowledge of my privilege in having many aspects of life better than what I observe is true for many of the people I know virtually and in real life. That makes me wary of discussing the very real load of stress I experience from the prolonged isolation and the impact of global unrest and the unrelenting hate, stupidity and callous disregard of human dignity that the current federal administration (and many state administrations) permit and inflict daily. But these things make the pages of my private journal frequently. Thumbing back through the pages of my current notebook, I notice that the recordings of down days, and memorials of sadness at the world’s ugliness, and jottings of my irritation and anger at injustices large and small, local and global, are much more frequent than my notations of positive happenings or of the small, personal things that would have taken much more of my focus in other times.

Correlatedly, looking back through my drafts of potential blog posts, all of my attempts to address those everyday personal subjects seem to die on the vine. I get a few paragraphs in and my brain shouts “Really!? THIS is what you want people to read? This is worth talking about right now?” And then I quit. Because it seems wrong to discuss the mundane and disingenuous to point out the shiny bits in life, when so much is broken and tarnished.

All of that to say that because my private musings have siphoned my inner darkness during these outward dark days, I have been trying to be more choosy in what I say here. Not only do I want to avoid adding to the darkness for others, I want to cultivate a space for my heart and mind to explore positivity and to be open to other possibilities that aren’t focused on the sludge in the world and in my brain.

Unfortunately, my efforts so far have succeeded more in stifling and censoring my voice here, rather than encouraging more varied expression. But perhaps that’s the first step; maybe being quiet instead of saying what doesn’t need to be said, or doesn’t need to be said by me, is the first step to having something meaningful to contribute? I don’t know.

But, I do want you all to know that my silence here is not a signal of apathy or indifference to you or the situation in the world. I just want to make this space a place where personal growth, positivity and kindness are centered. So I’m going to keep practicing my granny’s admonition: don’t say anything until you have something to say. I’m applying that rule with this tweak: don’t post unless what you have to say is worth reading.

Stay well, my friends!

Tidbits and Rage

I can’t think long and critically enough to research and write something substantive. I’m struggling, like so many of you, with the toll this pandemic and the social distancing and isolation has taken on my cognitive acuity. The isolation is necessary, I know. But still…My concentration is shot, my patience is thin, and I’m not sleeping well. So deep thinking about things other than my job is a big deal.

Yet, I have a desire to keep this blog going and have something to say. While the “something to say” may be of dubious value, I am going to do it anyway. In list form. Sort of stream of consciousness-style. Here are ten random things from my head that I want you to know.

⁃ I wore at least one thing rainbow every single day of June.

⁃ The facts on Snapple lids are an incentive for me to stay hydrated.

⁃ Achievement unlocked: I ordered something off eBay and it took so long to arrive (9 weeks!) that I forgot I ordered it, ordered it again several weeks later from another supplier and received it 3 weeks before the first one. 🙄

⁃ I managed to set myself an achievable chore list for every room in my house and completed all but one task in the time I set for myself. I’m feeling proud about that, especially since the one task undone was a last-minute add that was not essential.

⁃ I have discovered, in the process of cleaning out my old house and getting it ready to sell, two Christmas gifts that I received two and three years ago, respectively, that I completely forgot I owned. It was like Christmas all over again!

⁃ I am hopelessly in love with my motorized tie rack. I purchased it for my new dressing room a couple months ago and installed it a couple weeks ago. It’s so freakin’ cool! And it holds every bow tie I wear regularly. There are five bow ties that didn’t make it onto the rack because I never wear them and they’re going in the next batch of donations.

⁃ I got some schmancy new shoelaces from a horribly niche online seller. I’ve installed one pair and am loving them! Can’t wait to try the other pairs in some other boots. This could be my next sartorial addiction!

⁃ It is ridiculous how guilty I feel when I don’t wear a tie for work, even though I’m working from home. I normally do – I’ve been dressing for the office every day as if nothing has changed. But this week has been so blistering hot that even in my comfortably air conditioned home, my dress shirts have felt stifling. And since all my short sleeved shirts are patterned, I’m hesitant to try pairing bow ties with them. Feels like a Butch Fashion Fail.

⁃ I was asked to advise the Crisis Management Team at my work in regards to various issues attending the re-opening of some of our global offices. In the course of the call I had to physically stop myself…seriously, I put a hand over my own mouth…from verbally slapping our head of physical security as he spouted nonsense that he believed was substantive contribution to the discussion. I exercised restraint, I remained courteous, I corrected numerous misstatements of fact and disabused many urban legends masquerading as science. All without jeopardizing my job. I feel like a bona fide adult professional.

⁃ Lastly, I need you all to know, internalize, and live the following pieces of irrefutable truth: science, not pandering to politics or economics, is what will bring this pandemic under control; wearing masks, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining social distancing and isolation save lives and the inconvenience of masks and remote work and distancing is an abysmally poor excuse for sacrificing those lives; racism and racial violence thrive in an environment of ignorance; police brutality is real and killing people daily – yes, even though you know and love someone who is a cop; black, indigenous, and trans lives matter and are being systematically jeopardized, both intentionally by racist, misogynist, patriarchal systems of power, and by the ignorant, would-be eloquent, language of harm, hate and pseudoscience spewed by privileged people with a public platform who choose to persecute difference, rather than embrace and celebrate it; love is love, love wins; and no one is free until we all are free.

Peace, my friends.

Bits and Bobs

Haven’t been by here in a little while. Life is so strange right now – hectic, tedious, frantic, boring, time racing, and time dragging by. The confusion of emotions and odd reality and adjustment to new norms and rebelling against all the wrong in the world makes it seem so futile to write here. Because writing here used to soothe and help sort things out and point me to paths of action. But now, there seems no clear path and the unclear paths are fraught with angst and danger – real or imagined.

But, as I’ve said many times in this space, I don’t want to give in to fear. Capitulating makes my spirit rebel and my gut churn. So, I’m going to write something, anything, to prove to myself that I can overcome anxiety and fear and frustration and boredom and do some little thing to feel better. In addition to these two paragraphs, I can do a list. Here’s a list of some things that have passed through my mind recently or happened recently or that are just cool things that break the monotony of awful in the world.

1. It’s definitely summer time here on the Great Plains. My yard, my neighborhood, my city are all green and the birds have returned to the trees. Today is an exceptionally beautiful day. I took a conference call from my deck this morning and loved the sunshine, clear skies and cool breeze. Makes working from home all the more appealing.

2. I went to my work office yesterday for the first time since the first week of March. Had to meet with our new CEO and participate in his site visit. It was an odd, anxious experience being back there. I liked seeing a lot of the people I have been missing. And I was proud and pleased to be a part of the occasion. But the cavalier attitude of many folks outside of official meetings, where distancing was enforced, toward mask wearing and distance boundaries really made me nervous. But I successfully avoided contact and kept my distance, did my work and made it home without incident. So glad to be back in my home office!

3. Now that it’s warm weather, we’re getting the minor exterior repairs done on my new house and will get fresh paint and deck stain this summer. Also nearing the end of the rolling, iterative culling/moving process. Soon we’ll be out of the old house and have it sold. I’m really looking forward to that being done.

4. While I was in the office yesterday, my company hosted a listening session conducted by five of our black leaders from across various functions. They each spoke eloquently of their experience with racism and racial violence throughout their careers. I was impressed at the depth and sensitivity with which they each handled the questions and topics they covered, while speaking fully and unfiltered on many uncomfortable truths. I was glad to see four, strong, black women and one, strong, black man speak passionately of their triumphs as well as their heartaches. And I was proud that my company gave them that platform to speak their truth without interruption and without the encroachment of other, more privileged voices diverting attention from them.

5. I continue to struggle with sleep and a huge and mounting pile of sleep debt. But in the last 5 nights I’ve managed 3 where I got about 6 hours of sleep. That’s something of a record for me of late. I’m grateful for that rest and for the nights when my brain slows down enough for sleep to happen at a reasonable hour, regardless of its duration. I’m hopeful that this is the beginning of an upward trend and that I can pay down some of that sleep debt a little faster. 🤞

Be well, my friends! I hope you have sunny days and cool breezes and plenty for which to offer thanks.

Even Introverts Need Connection

I spoke with my boss today. That’s not unusual; since the work from home started in early March, we check in with each other once or twice a week, usually. He’s been busy the last few weeks and our contact has been very minimal. That, plus my innate anxiety and a mounting sense of isolation all combined into a very rough and anxious last three weeks.

Something I’ve discovered about myself in the last decade, as my rank and responsibilities increased and my day-to-day tasks have changed to more strategic and less tactical, is that I am smartest, happiest and most productive when I have plenty of intellectual and professional challenges. I don’t do well with boredom or lulls in the workflow.

That’s not a humblebrag or self-congratulatory boast. It’s plain fact.

When I don’t have enough substantive, challenging, engaging work to do, my brain starts playing Stupid Brain Tricks (Copyright 2020 Dr. Hanne Blank), including filling in the silence with all kinds of harsh, unkind, angst-driven words and images about how they don’t really need me, I’m not really suited for this job, I’m useless, they’d save money and aggravation if they got rid of me, etc. Keeping busy with substantive contribution is much better for me, mentally, physically, and professionally.

So when I spoke to my boss, I took my courage in my hands and told him that I was anxious at the lack of communication, the lull of projects and the prolonged distance from my team. He was very supportive and reassuring. He explained the communication dip and asked me to do a few things for him, confirming what I already knew intellectually: stupid brain tricks are stupid.

It’s a good result and I feel better for airing my concerns. But it’s also symptomatic of a more pervasive and surprising situation: despite being a confirmed introvert and established curmudgeon, I seem to be suffering from a lack of social interaction. Yep, that thing I’ve dreaded and avoided with energy for nearly all my adult life, turns out to be something I need regardless of my aversion. Deprived all but a couple of hours a day, morning and evening when my brother and his wife are home, of in-person human contact, I’m astonished to find myself craving interpersonal connection.

A work friend and fellow introvert had a theory: The sparse, safe, surface-level interactions that we get incidentally during formerly-normal workday contacts around the office are enough to fill up the average introvert’s contact meter and drain the socializing batteries, so that going home each evening is the respite we usually need to recharge those socialization batteries. But this work from home would-be nirvana isn’t the introvert’s paradise we expected to be because even introverts need human interaction to slake the primal pack-animal within’s need for human contact.

That’s a lot of mixed metaphors to say that even introverts will suffer withdrawals from prolonged isolation.

I think that’s where I’m at.

No, I don’t advocate ending the lockdown just to soothe socialization withdrawals. There’s too much good science showing that continued distancing is our surest way to halting community spread and for protecting the vulnerable and at-risk populations. But I can’t ignore the effect it’s having on my spirit.

Virtual meetings and text conversations are not filling that socialization void for me. Spending time with my brother and his wife helps some, but they have a small business that they work very hard to maintain through all of this, so their time for socializing is sparse.

There likely isn’t a solution right now. It’s just another facet of life as we know it that has to adapt to changed circumstances. I just find it fascinating that a situation that seems tailor-made for introverts is turning out to be proof of the old adage: sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

Portents

Sometimes there really are coincidences and inexplicable juxtapositioning of separate things in life. Not every seeming pattern is actually a pattern or a sign from the universe, spirits, ancestors, angels or demons that may have the ability to communicate such things.

And sometimes they are.

Lately, over the last several months at least, I have seen an uptick in the frequency with which I have encountered certain phenomena, most especially in the frequency of the feeling of anticipation, of something impending, coming my way.

With most feelings and phenomena, the over- or under-tones they bear can fall anywhere on a spectrum from wildly hopeful and positive to abysmally bleak and dreadful. This feeling of pendency, of possibility and opportunity is mostly hopeful and positive. Occasionally, it acquires an ominous flavor of apprehension, presentiment, augury and foreboding. Other times it’s somewhere in the middle resonance, tasting of expectancy, chance, suspension, and promise. And at still other times the prickly, eerie aura of divination, foreshadowing, premonition and prophesy are most prominent.

But at all times in this recent surge of this anxious foretelling is a strong sense that every instance of it is a genuine portent of things to come.

I struggle mightily with this, as my logical, linear-thinking brain has no framework of scientific analysis in which place this phenomena to satisfactorily explain this possibility. While I am not so arrogant as to believe that I know all that is knowable about analysis and examination, I have ample evidence that my application of these fundamental cognitive tools is usually effective and accurate. So, when faced with the inexplicable, my inquisitive mind fritzes over its thwarted desire to explain the why and how of a thing.

Indeed, in the last 48+ hours I have confronted two very big and significant portents that have had my guts and grey cells tied in knots trying to rationalize the utterly irrational, as well as internalize the surprisingly rational. In particular, my instinct to uncover the logistics of how these things might come to pass has occupied many hours and much of my energy that I would otherwise have spent sleeping or in more productive pursuits.

Working through some of these puzzles with friends, I’m challenged by the repeated advice to let go of the “how”, the “why”, the urge to control logistical outcomes, and simply trust that the universe will bring about what is meant to be. I have been reminded by multiple sources that it is faith, and not logic, that is the ideal tool for dealing with this impending advent. Scraps of scripture learned in my youth concerning the nature of faith…substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not seen…are on infinite loop playback in my head. And the war between logic and faith, will and willingness, rages in my chest.

I wonder if that isn’t the ultimate, meta portent? What if the pattern of prescient contemplation is not only a tool to prepare for whatever is coming, but is also the substance of the impending revelation. If the universe wants me to see that the logic and reason I treasure and rely on is not a pathway but an obstacle, what better way to show me than by filling my life with phenomena immune to logic and only discoverable by faith?

That’s some epic, angsty, emo, existential crisis-driven fever dream right there.

Maybe I should just stop looking for patterns and methods and answers and explanations. Maybe being “blown about by every wind of change” is the best policy – going with the flow, as it were. But I don’t know how to do that, either.

So what’s left? If logic is unavailing and extracting the how and why of something impedes the advent of the portent, yet passively floating from swell to swell on the ocean of chance is not possible, what’s next? Is it simply doing nothing?

Can anything that results from such a process have lasting value? Will whatever emerges from such inactivity be salubrious, nourishing? Doesn’t the lack of effort to bring about the outcome necessarily diminish it? Does accepting such a windfall call into question my personal standard of ethics and integrity?

All these questions arise from the values with which I was reared, and they are evidence of the challenge to these values that this policy of inaction incites. I don’t have answers. I suspect they cannot be answered this side of the outcome being realized.

Which begs the question: Can I perform this experiment, sticking it out until the end, or will I retreat to the safety of my illusion of control and forego the chance to know the outcome?

Lost and Stuck

A friend on Facebook posts daily Reasons Not To Quit under Miss Hanne’s Academy For Wayward Girls. These little nuggets of wisdom and inspiration have been a steady source of courage and comfort for me for some time. Today’s post “Reasons Not to Quit #1070: What one specific thing are you going to do today to make it a little easier for you not to quit? #reasonsnottoquit” incited a lot of thoughts and feelings that I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.

Boiled down to it’s constituent elements, the particular sludge stew that’s been plaguing my peace lately seems to be equal parts professional burn-out, imposter syndrome, workplace political BS, and lack of inspiration. Stirred together with chronic anxiety and social isolation, and that thick, bubbling, acrid paste of unrelenting discontent begins to set into a cognitive and emotional concrete that is extremely difficult to remove.

So, being prompted by both my own cussed stubbornness not to be a quitter and today’s Reason Not To Quit, I decided to examine the situation. And, because I’m a literal, linear thinker, I resorted to using lists to help with the analysis. I started by listing why I’m struggling, then listed what I’m good at, what I need, and what’s in my way. The final list is supposed to be what would make it better, but so far I have nothing jotted there.

Themes I’ve uncovered in the various lists reduce to: lost and stuck.

Reasons I’m struggling include the feeling that I’m bereft of professional creativity and that I’ve lost the plot and the purpose I’m supposed to fulfill. Yet the top three things I know I need to be happy in my work are intellectual challenge, to contribute meaningfully to something valuable, and clarity of purpose. And things I know I’m really good at include issue spotting, problem solving, and diplomacy. And what’s in my way are things that obscure those levers: fear and insecurity, workplace politics, personal and systemic inertia, lack of imagination/creativity/inspiration.

I don’t think the obvious intersections among these things are accidental. When I am challenged and contributing to a well-defined goal that I believe in, I excel at identifying and strategizing solutions to obstacles and at leading and persuading others to achieve those solutions and the ultimate goal. But when there is no clear goal or its shape and boundaries are obscured by a fog of emotional, organizational and political flack, productivity and engagement tend to grind to a halt and ingenuity fades. When those tools are blunted and the stress is high, the doubts begin to flood in and I get swept into a current of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread (FUDD) that blinds and hobbles an otherwise sharp and incisive brain.

It’s all well and good to know this, to recognize a cause for this rut. It’s a whole ‘nuther thing to know what to do about it. Hence the empty list of “what would make it better”.

I don’t have answers, only more questions. And I’m tired enough that my ability to bootstrap my own path out of the morass is pretty low. I’m feeling very lost and discouraged, uncharacteristically lacking in tools to fix my own problems.

And that admission in print has my heart pounding and my brain screaming for me to delete it, not let anyone see how useless I’ve become. But I’m going to leave it there and risk the derision and embarrassment that will likely result, because it may be the one thing I can do today to break the cycle of anxiety and let me see a crack in the solidified sludge coating my brain.

Assumptions

Wow, sometimes I think I might be prescient. I started writing this last Saturday, following a train of thought that has been nagging at the back of my brain on and off for a while now. A couple of things have happened in the three days since I started writing that seem to confirm all my thoughts on this topic. Weird how the brain works sometimes.

——— o0o ——-

Everyone assumes things, big and small, right and wrong, from time to time. There are some overt assumptions given as a starting point in certain situations that everyone involved agrees to be true. But often when we speak about assumptions it is in the context of blind assumptions, those thoughts that set a baseline, coloring our actions and outlook on a given topic, person or activity, without much basis for that thought or opinion. Those kinds of beliefs can be tricky to navigate and hard to challenge and change, especially when they are about ourselves.

Lately, I have been encountering assumptions that I have about myself in odd, unexpected ways. For the most part, I think that’s a good thing. Being aware of what we think about ourselves helps us examine our path and can help us make good choices (or bad) and take us in new and exciting directions. It can also make us retrench in those beliefs, habits, practices that we find comfortable and true, often regardless of other knock-on effects of keeping those things in tact.

At times, I feel that this constant self-examination, endless striving to improve, to be and remain positive, to challenge every shortcoming, is just another treadmill of “not good enough”. It feels like all this self awareness, personal growth and discovery work is more about destruction than construction. Some days it feels like there’s nothing good enough in me and I’ll have to completely remake my entire being in order to get to a place where I can look at myself in the mirror (both physical and metaphorical) and be content that the person looking back is acceptable.

This self assumption of inadequacy is insidious. It lurks in places you don’t ever expect to find assumptions. There are plenty of overt, obvious places where it is easily recognizable. These are predictable and annoying, sometimes hard to cut loose, but they don’t have much camouflage and are capable of being tackled head-on. The cynic in me sometimes thinks these are intentional distractions, ruses placed by the subconscious to divert attention from the deeper places where this assumption truly lives, to make it nearly impossible to root out and eradicate. If all our energy is focused on the surface assumptions, then the roots have time to go deep and unchallenged.

A place I’ve recently confronted this assumption – that I am not and will never be good enough – is superficially obvious, but there’s a taproot from the obvious surface to the hidden depths that I didn’t expect. And that unexpectedness makes me question if it’s really an irrational assumption or just the plain truth that I have to accept.

The surface bit is easy: I encounter disapproval/rejection/reprimand and I immediately assume I’m in the wrong or not up to standard, so that treatment must be deserved and I need to change and improve to be worthy of better treatment.

Now, clearly, there are times when everyone falls short and that self-castigating assumption is accurate. Being a mature adult means taking accountability for our mistakes and flaws and committing to do or be better. This is a healthy response to confronting personal shortcomings.

But the deeper bit is harder to articulate. It’s part “I’m working really hard to improve X quality/personal trait yet am not seeing expected results” and part “damn, I thought I’d mastered that one, but I guess not”. I guess what it boils down to is that frequency matters, more so than personal effort. Basically, if criticism is repeated, especially when it comes from different sources, then I gotta think that it’s not my irrational insecurities, but fact.

That’s painful on a lot of levels, but mostly it hurts to know that my inner saboteur was right all along. It’s painful and embarrassing to discover that I was a fool to take comfort in the easy platitudes of well-meaning acquaintances who urged me to believe myself to be good and smart and worthy, when my brain was telling me where I was falling short of all of those standards.

So what do you do when the illusion is revealed and all your comfortable self beliefs are debunked by cold fact?

I suppose the healthiest response is to redirect all that self-improvement energy to a more realistic, achievable goal. When your inadequacy has been proven to be reality, get to work on becoming adequate. Seems fairly straightforward. But so much in life that seems simple is not. Bootstrapping yourself to the finish line from square one is really f’ing hard and exhausting. Especially when the leaden weight of failure is still hanging around your neck.

So the real question is how do you take that leaden noose off your neck?

Let me know when you find out, won’t you?

Contemplations

I wrote this a couple days ago, after a particularly rough bout of ambush emotions. I’ve let it sit and after some sleep and a re-read, I have decided it’s not entirely cringe-worthy and over-emotional, so I’m publishing it. But be warned: it isn’t the most logical or inspired thing I’ve ever posted.

— oOo —

There are times when I regard my brain as a foreign entity, as if it weren’t really a part of me, as if “me” is separate and distinct from my brain. I guess that’s the essence of the mind/brain debate. Does consciousness exist apart from cognition? Does the biological organ of the brain exist separately from the consciousness? Is consciousness the soul? These are unknowable facts, in my estimation. But what I do know as fact, as lived experience, is that my brain occasionally begins to work in ways that I do not recognize nor understand, leaving me feeling as if it exists separately from who I understand myself to be.

That’s often frustrating and sometimes scary. I cringe putting that admission in writing because I’m conscious of the fact that many will think me crazy, deranged, defective for thinking my brain and my self are severable in any way. But that’s the best way I know how to describe the experience of recognizing a thought pattern playing out in my brain and simultaneously feeling as if I’m separate, observing that pattern progress from outside of it because I feel no connection to that thought’s genesis and feel powerless to terminate it.

Lately, I’ve been actively thinking about a bunch of different concepts that intersect in my life in ways both predictable and surprising. There’s no way for me to encapsulate all of these thoughts in a blog post and no one, even me, would want to slog through it if I could. But a few of the connections and intersecting concepts are intriguing and might benefit from a public airing just to get them out of my head for a minute.

None of this is neat or tidy. None of it is resolved…maybe not even resolvable. It’s all a part of the messy, complicated, sometimes painful process of personal growth. My answers, to the extent any are forthcoming, are likely to be different from your answers on the same concepts and intersections. So, treat this as the thought experiment that it is and try not to get too caught up in problem-solving; rather, enjoy the journey of mere contemplation.

Three of the big concepts that have visited my cranial foreign office recently:

1.Apathy. Specifically, I have wrestled with how damaging apathy or indifference can be to interpersonal relationships, comparing (perhaps unfairly) the type and quality of that damage to that suffered from active abuse or intentional conduct of another ilk. Contrasting these impacts might be reasonable in some circumstances, but not in others. A big hurdle to taming this intellectual puzzle are the complicating factors, such as the nature of the relationship being examined, the relative power among the people in that relationship, any dimensions of privilege and marginalization that the participants occupy, and the personal characteristics of the people relevant to this relationship dynamic. That’s a ton of variables to control for in calculating the outcome of an analysis of the level of impact a participant experiences from the apathy or indifference of the other participants in the relevant relationship.

2.Authenticity. What role does validation of outside observers play in a person’s ability to live authentically in any given identity or presentation? If no one else within my inner circle of relationships (friends, family, colleagues, community) validates the identity or aspect of identity that I embody, am I likely to succeed in living that truth? Is this more complex than mere peer pressure? Is It more layered and nuanced than simply getting a nod or pat on the back as assurance that we’re “doing it right“? Does the community at large within the relevant demographic being evaluated as authentic feel the impact of an individual member’s failure to authentically embody that identity as a result of not being validated in that identity? What about if lack of authenticity is a result of something else?

3.Effort. This one is even more nebulous and hard to describe. My thoughts have been full of questions about effort, trying to quantify “enough” and “too much”, trying to ascribe qualitative value to types of effort, and trying to illuminate the points at which type and quantity and quality collide. This is all in relation to the questions on apathy and authenticity.

The ultimate culmination of all this thinking and puzzling and challenging and ideating isn’t clear. Is my brain trying to work out some therapeutic dosage of effort that promotes healthy authenticity and combats apathy, like some kind of emotional-political wonder drug? Or is this foreign entity trying to define the discrete boundaries of the emotional geographies of each of these concepts, charting the points at which borders combine? Or perhaps this is all just a lot of mental distraction to keep me from moving beyond the constraints and conditioned responses that my upbringing instilled?

I have no certain answers. But one thing that is certain is that my brain is not idle.

Creeping Sludge

A writer I admire, who’s published works and blogs I enjoy very much, recently posted a raw, vulnerable post to her blog about the toll that human interaction at a big event has taken on her introverted spirit. She has explained that she posts these thoughts that leave her exposed to others’ scrutiny in an effort to fight the stigma about mental health challenges and coping mechanisms.

I admire this bravery. There are many, including me, who shrink from being vulnerable to the examination and judgment of strangers and friends alike. But without the brave who expose the germs of anxiety and doubt and dread and depression to the light, the light has no chance to bleach away the stain of stigma, shame, and negativity that grows in the dark like fungus.

My own battles with this creeping sludge, more acute in the last year or so, have met with mixed success. I have chronicled most of this here, with mostly indirect references to the enemy. I’ve concentrated on my work to be and remain positive, to find the one good thing in every day that holds back a bit of the sludge, to be authentic and real. I’ve even acknowledged my failures and down days, named some demons to destroy their power. I’ve had many tall peaks of success and a few deep valleys of almost no success at intentional positivity. But overall, I believe the tally is still on the plus side, in the green and not the red.

Yet today is one of those that falls to the valley floor and adds a tick to the debit column. And, inspired by that author’s bravery, I’m going to fight this stain on my peace by exposing it to the cleansing light of transparency and vulnerability. Without the safety of hidden shame, this sludge will have no power to control my spirit.

What makes this particular encounter with the sludge so bad is that it has no apparent source, no catalyst or rationale. I was placidly content, feeling good about myself and my deeds one second and then the next I was literally gasping for breath in the wake of an unexplainable rogue wave of intense and sharply negative emotions full of criticism and self-loathing. Ambushed by my own brain, torn to tatters by my inner saboteur in a matter of seconds. And, truly, without warning or trigger. It’s baffling and infuriating.

Coinciding this morning with a particularly pronounced flare-up of the tremor in my hands that I’ve endured since second grade, this bout of emotional fatigue is acutely irritating. I’ve fumbled or dropped nearly everything I’ve touched since my eyes opened from far too few hours of restless sleep. Even had to change my shirt before I could leave the house because it fell victim to flying tea from a fit of shakes. This makes me feel dull and clumsy and useless – validating the hurtful things my brain insists on shouting at me.

I don’t know what brought all this on. It’s ridiculous. Intellectually, I know I’m not stupid and utterly useless, not a failed experiment of near-human biology, not a pathetic waste of space, not an imposition on the truly worthy occupants of this world. I know all of these hurtful, hateful, wrong things are the lies my anxiety tells me to perpetuate itself. I KNOW it’s a bunch of lies. I. KNOW. IT.

Yet, knowing and believing aren’t the same thing when the storm is raging.

This is the battle. Negotiating peace between the thinking, rational brain and the anxious, lying sludge is tricky. And it’s not a one-time event. Sometimes, like today, it’s a repetitive, iterative process of cajoling and pleading balanced with teeth-grinding, iron-willed cussedness (as my gran used to call my stubbornness). But calling it out into the light helps.

So, if you encounter a wild-eyed, bedraggled Butch in a possibly coffee splattered shirt and rumpled bow tie, muttering dark maledictions under their breath, maybe cut ‘em some grace and give ‘em some space. Everyone has an off day now and then and could benefit from the charitable kindness of their scruffy grumpiness being overlooked and not commented on.

On Choosing Me

Today was yet another rough day in a string of hard days at work. Between the continual stress of the quarter-end rush, the ongoing unpleasant workplace politics, and some extremely unhappy executive duties involving peer investigation and delivering hard news to the big boss, it was a very Monday-ish Tuesday.

Then, things got worse at the end of the work day when I received some really harsh criticism of myself and my team. If it had been fair, objective and constructive, I would have taken it in stride and worked hard to show swift, lasting improvement. Indeed, for that portion of the feedback that was objective, I have already begun to do exactly that. But the majority of what I received was truly a personal attack calculated to gain political points and unfairly disadvantage my organization for the commenter’s gain.

As I struggled with my attitude and wrestled with my thoughts on how to respond, I texted with a friend. Their wise counsel and objective, yet unstinting, support helped put a few things into focus, letting me get past the worst of my dark thoughts and turn my brainpower onto the puzzle of what my next steps should be. Though I don’t yet have a solid answer, I have gained a few insights.

First, I struggle with the building desire to simply walk out; it grows stronger with every blow to my sense of justice. While I’ve already been planning to take my leave, in a professional and orderly manner, stuff like this makes me just want to run. But I have an acute and visceral aversion to quitting, so I’m miserable at the thought that I’m failing in this way.

However, my friend helped me see that there is a material difference between “leaving an impossible situation” and quitting. They pointed out that when someone abuses your loyalty by using it to hold you hostage while not showing any genuine loyalty in return, your own frame of mind becomes your jailer. Though my heart and soul rebel from any implication of capitulation, there has to come a point where enough is enough, an acceptance that you’ve done all you can. It’s difficult to pinpoint that milestone. And my insight on that turning point is blurred by my fear that my team will suffer in my absence.

Which brings me to my second realization: I have value, too, and honoring that is neither selfish nor unfeeling as regards others that may be impacted by my choosing myself. This is a hard one for me, and requires a lot of mental and emotional energy to internalize and sustain this belief. So ingrained into my psyche are the lessons of my youth, in which selflessness was elevated to the pinnacle of nobility and worthiness, that even at my age I cringe at being thought selfish and self-serving. But there is value in preserving one’s dignity, salvaging self respect, and refusing to be trampled for the sake of those without compunction or conscience. If nothing else, removing myself from the line of fire preserves my ability to choose another battle.

But more than this, choosing my own sanity and dignity and emotional safety sends the message to both my tormentors and my team that I know my value and worth. Drawing that line and not letting them destroy that value is as loud and important an act of political resistance as their attempted character assassination on myself and my team. Sending that message can empower my people to do the same. Still…it’s hard and I have to keep telling myself this. I keep telling myself because repetition engenders belief.

Finally, perhaps the biggest immediate benefit from my friend’s wisdom and support is that the frank discussion drew me out of a dark spiral of negative thoughts and got me thinking strategically. Because of that diversion, I was able to enjoy a pleasant evening in conversation with another friend, being silly and talking about everything else but my dreadful day. It was a great way to end a rough day.

I’m no closer to a decision on when to resign, and I’ve no firm strategy for responding to the unfair criticism. But with the vital support of a caring, long-term friend and the ease and relief brought by the lighthearted chat with a new friend, I’m in a much better frame of mind. Tomorrow is soon enough to begin the hard stuff. For tonight, I wish you all good rest and the blessings of good friends, old and new.

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