Archive for the ‘doubt’ Tag

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.

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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?

Gut Churn

I’ve been trying not to be too raw, too vulnerable with my posts, wanting to protect myself and to avoid burning out readers with too much angst. But yesterday was a particularly crappy Monday and I wrote this in the heat of the emotion. After letting it sit overnight, I find it is still valid and not too overwrought with drama, so I’m posting it.

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305 days. That’s how long it is until my 20th work anniversary 17 April 2020). If I stay at this job that long, I will have earned my incentive compensation payout for 2019 (if any) and my milestone anniversary gift card (woohoo!) and will have proven to myself that I could do it. That’s the sum total of incentives I can catalog for staying (apart from my regular paycheck).

For going, I count a lot of things as incentives, not least of which is the salvaging of my self respect. I’m so weary of the stress and, now, the disrespect I receive from so-called peers. I’m utterly spent in terms of grace and charity for those that abuse my team and my good intentions. My sight line to the reason I keep going is more obscured every day. And I honestly don’t know what purpose it serves me or my company to continue as a lame duck “leader” under the direction of another who has been made the whipping boy/scapegoat for all things negative. He can’t shield my team anymore and I’m no longer given my full agency and authority to direct my organization. So what’s the point in remaining?

Except that I don’t yet have another job and that I still cling to the belief that I’m doing some marginal good for my team, I wouldn’t stay. I’d pack up today and walk out without another word.

Or, at least I like to think so.

Reasons Be Damned

Last post, I talked about reasons to stay/go at my job. By sheer numbers, Go won hands-down. But I was still working through the logic, trying to figure out whether it was salvageable. Then, later that week, I had a terrifyingly open discussion with my boss in which I admitted to being extremely unhappy and unable to identify what purpose and value I have to the company anymore. He again advised that the chief source of our mutual misery will be leaving in under two years and I should stick it out.

Since that conversation, I’ve been doing my best with the dreck I’m dealing with. I keep looking back at that list in my last post and trying to beef up the Stay side, attempting to persuade myself that giving up on nearly 20 years of work and professional investment isn’t failure. I have dug as deep as I know how, and I keep coming up empty.

And in the face of the blatantly unfair and wrong directive I received last night, which completely disregards my leadership, undermines my authority, and eviscerates my agency,…for the second time at this job…I can think of no good reason to stay and endure the continued abuse and poisonous politics.

Reasons be damned. I’m out.

I even applied for a job I saw on LinkedIn today. I won’t just walk out, leaving my team unsupported and work undone. But I’ve made the choice inside my head and committed to myself that I won’t put up with it any more.

Now I just have to find the least disruptive path to a new start. Oh, and tell my family…and my boss…and my team.

Ugh, this sucks.

Thinking

Lately, I’ve had more thoughts and questions than answers. That’s sometimes troubling to me; I’m a literal, linear, logical type of person, so open-ended, unresolved ruminations are uncomfortable.

On the other hand, thinking without trying to resolve, simply acknowledging a topic and exploring it without expectation of action, is rather a luxury. In my role as a legal executive for a public company, I’m constantly expected to problem-solve for the business stakeholders (even though they’re the decision makers and action takers, it’s somehow my job to identify the solutions – go figure). That can be a lot of pressure and is often very frustrating. So, getting the chance to simply think about things is sort of refreshing.

But it’s not without its pitfalls. Given my prolonged struggle with sleep and heightened stress, thinking can easily become stressful, negativie over-thinking or catastrophizing, rather than neutral or constructive contemplation. I’m mindful of that risk and do make an effort to avoid extremes. Yet the nature of some topics naturally leads to some dark connections and emotions. Too, the context in which a topic arises can cast it in an unfavorable light from the beginning, such as a caller who begins with “now, don’t shoot the messenger”.

Predictably, I’ve been seeing a trend in my thoughts and connections made during all this thinking. My pattern is roughly: wake up (if I’ve slept), assess my mental and physical state, give myself a pep-talk to make this a good and positive day, hit the office with as positive attitude as possible, and then come face to face with reality. Now up until the rapid deceleration into the hard wall of reality, my thoughts on practically every topic and reaction to nearly every stimulus is positive and constructive, because I’ve been visualizing a positive day and positive outcome to everything. But as soon as the first whining complaint about having to wait on “Legal” is uttered, or the first fire drill issue is lobbed over the fence into my lap, my thoughts are suddenly unable to conceive of anything but the negative side of everything.

I’m not a negative person, really. I hate the thought that I’ve turned into one. Used to be that I could readily see both sides of any problem and was always willing to remain upbeat and give the benefit of the doubt. But recently, I can’t truthfully say that still describes me.

Perhaps most troubling about this vague pattern I’ve detected is the tendency to make connections between seemingly disconnected things. The way my brain works, when I’ve connected two concepts with some reasonably logical basis for the connection, they’re nearly inextricable, always surfacing together or calling in the other whenever one arises alone.

That’s not a problem when the connections are reasonable, comfortable, understandable and don’t make me question the motives or integrity of the triggering stimulus (especially when that’s a person). It can be quite vexing when the connection is not obvious, or is discordant with accepted wisdom, or throws other values or beliefs into question.

Perhaps an example will help illustrate why this troubles me. This is kind of long, but it’ll land in a minute, I promise:

At the end of every quarter, tensions run high for my team because the sales organization puts a lot of pressure on us to get contracts drafted, negotiated, revised and executed before the end of the quarter so that the sale and revenue count for the present financial reporting period. This pressure is exacerbated by their tendency to leave much of the quarter’s worth of deals until the last week of the quarter, making a huge mountain of work to be completed by very few people in a very short time.

This set of conditions often leads to a high volume of complaints that my team are taking too long and a general attitude that we’re the only reason important deals aren’t getting done or are slipping into the next quarter. No one seems to acknowledge that their failure to plan ahead, their failure to engage with my team earlier, their failure to timely provide complete and accurate information necessary to draft the contracts, and their failure to follow-through with their own tasks are all bigger and more significant contributors to any deal failure than is my team taking the time needed to draft complex documents once we have the needed info and approval. Because we’re at the end of a long process, we attract the ire and the blame.

This is a known and familiar state of affairs, we’re often told, so we should plan for it and not be so sensitive when frustrated sales guys occasionally let off steam at our expense.

This enabling, blame-shifting patter is also familiar. It’s very like what I and many similarly situated folks have encountered when seeking explanations and solutions to problems of inequality. We’re often answered with references to tradition, economic expediency, scarcity of resources, cultural differences, evolutionary immaturity, and plain old inertia as reasons why one group must suffer under unequal treatment, pay, living conditions, and legal rights. We’re told that we have to be patient and let time transform things until we have the relief we seek.

In other words, accommodate your persecutors, swallow your grief and grievances, because your feelings, your thoughts, your life matters less.

And just like that, every resistance to the pleas about abusive treatment of my employees by their own coworkers is in the same league as, say, a victim of domestic violence being told their abuser really loves them but that they’re frustrated with the victim’s X quality or Y behavior, so if they’d just change that thing they wouldn’t attract that abuse. Despite the significant differences in quality and severity and magnitude and genre of the two scenarios, because my brain has recognized the common factor of a demand that an impacted person or group capitulate to and accommodate the unreasonable demand of the privileged as a valid comparison, I can now no longer encounter one without thinking of the other.

This inextricable tie has knock-on effects to how I interact with the people associated with that connection. I’m cautious and suspicious of everything they say and do, expecting to be burdened or betrayed (in big and small ways) in every interaction. Trust is slow or nonexistent. Velocity of work drops because every aspect is double- and triple-checked to avoid recriminations and negative consequences from any perception of a mistake on our part. Friendliness, empathy, camaraderie, collaboration, cooperation all take a hit. All because now every time I hear anything along the lines of “it’s just end of quarter tension”, “everyone is under a lot of pressure”, and “cut them some slack”, my mind fills with echoes of co-dependent excuses and images of black-eyed women ducking their heads every time a loud noise happens.

Even though I know, intellectually, that the unfairness leveled towards my team and violence against the helpless are worlds apart and not truly related, the kernel of similarity in the justification underpinning both types of behavior is enough that I can’t emotionally separate them. And that’s eroding my professional objectivity and my ability to cope with the unreasonable behavior linked to this perception.

So that’s a thing my brain does now: draws dark, somewhat irrational connections between unrelated concepts and taints my world view in the process. Awesome.

A Walk Through Flames

Despite some fantastically amazing people and things going on in my life and the fact that I am extremely happy at the moment, I seem to have been in my own head a lot over the last week or so and particularly so today. This post has slowly been clawing its way out of my brain for several weeks and today’s introspection crystallized it to the point where I could finish it.
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Always, my path is through fire. How shall I avoid being consumed by the flames?

That thought has been resonating in my head for two decades. It encapsulates my adult life experience so precisely, yet is a constant enigma. What it means shifts from day to day, moment to moment. But, at bottom, the fact remains that my personal life narrative is punctuated by serial baptisms by fire, each one leaving me charred to varying degrees.

In the last two+ years, since I awoke to the dissonance in my life and began this journey of self discovery (the last several months of which are chronicled here in this blog), I have leapt through more figurative flames than I knew it was possible to survive. Yet I did.

And now I feel the next ring of fire looming ahead, searing me with the heat of fear, uncertainty, doubt, and dread.

I’ve acknowledged in earlier posts that discovery or coming out (or both) is inevitable. This truth presses on my heart and brain with the weight of a mountain.

Unavoidable. Inevitable. Uncontrollable. This unholy trinity is a misery to share head-space with.

The obvious solution: take my power back from the unknown, grit my teeth and take the plunge by coming out to those in my daily life.

Come out. Obvious, but not easy. (Yes, I am aware no one ever promised that life would be easy.)

To bring these deep thoughts more into focus in practical terms, I will admit that I have used my family, particularly my brothers and their wives, as substitutes for all other relationships that would have been more fulfilling and assisted me in my journey to authenticity. But I denied myself those connections out of fear and stubborn refusal to see myself for who and what I am: a queer butch woman. So, in absence of friends and lovers who knew and accepted this truth of my identity, I have concentrated all my support structure, care and love on which I rely into my siblings.

This is not wrong and I’m not ashamed to reveal my close relationship with them. But if not wrong, it seems nevertheless to put me at a tactical disadvantage by creating a single point of failure in the emotional scaffold I’ve relied on my entire adult life.

Mine is a military-and fundamentalist-based family structure built on a foundation of Southern conservative Christian upbringing. Again, neither wrong nor bad in itself. But it creates an atmosphere rife with risk when it suddenly dawns on you that you are everything that they are not, and everything that they detest.

By coming out to them (or having them discover my truth in other ways), I put the people in my most significant IRL relationships in the untenable position of having to compromise one of two deeply held core beliefs that now conflict: (1) gay is wrong; and (2) family is paramount to everything. Their choice and my fear, then, comes down to this: When what you love is everything that is wrong, how can you go on loving that thing/person?

That’s the ring of fire I sense looming in my path. A choice between the freedom of authenticity and the comfort of a peaceful, loving family life.

Always my path is through fire. How can I not be consumed by the flames?

So tired…

Bone tired. That state of exhaustion that goes beyond physical limits and reaches into your mind, turning you from a reasonably intelligent adult into an unthinking, irrational, cranky mess. That’s where I am this week.

Why do I push myself to this point? I honestly can’t answer that. It seems to happen without my willing it. But I know that’s not the case.

What I find interesting is the way this cycle of exhaustion seems to intersect with other emotional and physical events in my life. I always expect that when I’m at my most excited, happiest, most motivated, all that energy will sustain me and I won’t be tired. In my head, tired is for when I’m down or angry; low spirits = low energy.

Although these broad generalizations bear out, to a degree, it is also true that my high-energy, up-beat moods also tend to coincide with an unrealistic optimism. My internal “I’m awesome!” always seems to be paired with an irrational “I can go for hours without a break and produce high-quality work product on no fuel!” sort of enthusiasm. Crazy! (I hope not literally, cuz that would suck.)

I think it’s because these high-energy times are generally inspired by being entrusted with a project or goal that has consequences for someone else. I want to do my very best so that the trust bestowed is never disappointed. One of my most constant fears (for lack of a better term) is that I will let down the people who rely on me. If I’m late or unprepared for a meeting, I’ll have wasted important peoples’ time. If I don’t exceed expectations, I’ll have confirmed that I’m not good enough, smart enough, mature enough, not enough full stop. If I don’t deliver more than what’s promised, I’m skating or slacking.

I’ve always been my harshest critic and the most unforgiving task master. I realize this about myself. Yet, I don’t seem to be able to rein it in when I’m approaching a boundary. I always feel that I should push through and do a bit more before I quit.

Because, at the root of it, quitting (or, more precisely, being perceived as a quitter) is my greatest fear. And that is precisely the right term in this case. I fear being a quitter. There is so much disgust and loathing wrapped up in that term. I’ve been strongly, harshly socialized my entire life to believe that quitting is about the worst thing you can turn out to be, short of a violent criminal.

Quitters are wasters of time, resources. Quitters squander opportunities unavailable to more deserving people. Quitters lack all the best qualities a human can possess. Quitters are unworthy of respect, care, attention, love.

Those are the messages my Midwestern, Protestant, conservative, republican upbringing and education instilled in me. Every teacher, preacher, coach, doctor, mentor, employer I had growing up and, yes, my parents, contributed to this belief. My personal history is full to the brim with time spent pushing to the finish line in order not to be a quitter.

There’s nothing wrong with this, in moderation. Tempered with an awareness that having limits to one’s abilities and tolerances is normal and acceptable, a ‘never give up’ attitude can be healthy and produce great things. But, it’s that last part about limits being ok that I don’t think I’ve fully internalized.

Because when you feel that you are everything that isn’t ‘normal’, life lessons like that get distorted by your lens of inadequacy. If the line for normal people is here, you think you have to push two steps beyond that to just be viewed as having hit the mark. That just feeds the cycle of crazy and you end up on this treadmill of ever-escalating self demand. Demanding more of yourself, you then end up bone tired.

And when you’re bone tired, you write rambling, incoherent blog posts that seem to have no purpose.

Please pardon my crazy, I need to put her to bed in hopes she will wake up less crazy and more coherent tomorrow…

Cowardice

Fear is a lifelong companion. Not a healthy friend, for the most part, but occasionally useful. When danger is real, fear can be life saving. But when danger is imagined, distorted out of proportion, or a reasonable risk, fear is a hindrance to growth.

All very logical and clinical and, in the midst of the battle, utterly useless.

Logic and intellectual knowledge are not proof against the paralysis of fear. The fear of change, rejection, loneliness, loss, powerlessness, emptiness. These seem so much bigger, more important than the speculative benefits of a risky, life-changing decision.

So much safer, easier to keep small, keep quiet, don’t make waves, don’t disrupt the status quo. Even if the status quo is misery, it’s familiar, predictable misery that can be managed to a degree. That fabled freedom, lightness and acceptance that authenticity is supposed to bring seems, at best, gossamer-thin compared to the thick, stinging whips of consequence that follow in its wake.

This isn’t advocacy for succumbing to fear. These are the things I tell myself to rationalize my response to fear. Pathetic, really, but still…

Internally, deep inside where I’ve let no one see, I’ve recognized who and what I am, have always been. The choice isn’t in accepting that truth. The choice is whether to ever say it out loud and make it real.

Two+ decades of adulthood, of experience and education have dropped me off on the doorstep of Decision Making Time. I don’t recall setting a course for this destination, nor do I particularly want to be here right now. But life moves and you either travel with it, or get trampled by it. I’m not into trampling.

So, here’s the options: Continue the journey, find the me life is revealing to me bit by bit, and assume the risks & consequences of the discovery and ultimate disclosure? Or, stifle that inner voice and dig into the stagnant loneliness of lost opportunity?

That’s rhetorical. I’m already on the path, come what may. I’m just steeling myself for the train wreck that’s coming. Months, years, decades from now? Who knows, but if I know anything about my life, I know that every unpleasant thing I’ve ever tried to avoid happened despite (sometimes because of) my efforts to avoid it. So too, I am certain of this: that fear I’m battling? It’s well-founded. The wreckage that will come from owning this discovered self out loud and every day isn’t speculative.

So, being discovered is inevitable. Ok. So, my job now is to learn to confront the reactions I expect to result.

How the heck do I do that?

Sometimes I’m…

Continuing to examine who I am by describing myself. my thoughts, my feelings. It’s a strange experience, as I have lived most of my life taking myself, my identity for granted.

Side note: I’m aware that my posting pace is rapid and it may not afford myself or anyone else a chance to really digest what I have to say. That’s OK for now. I’m new at this, my blog is new and I need to get these things out of my head. I’m sure it will slow and grow more measured over time.

Today I’m thinking about who I am, not in single word descriptions, but in more complete thoughts.

Sometimes, I’m…

…a little bit obsessive. I think about things too much, over-think, over-analyze. It can be exhausting.

…too worried about what other people think of me, my choices, my personality. So much so that its stifling, at times.

…perfectly content to be alone and silent. The quiet is refreshing. Noise can make me nervous.

…afraid to ask for what I need or want, because I don’t want people to think me greedy, needy, lame.

…satisfied with everything and everyone in my life. Those golden moments are a rare gift.

…cringing at my own awkwardness and praying no one will look at me. When I feel I’m at my biggest, ugliest, nerdiest, most inept, I wish I were invisible.

…grateful for my big, ugly, awkward body because it shields me from the gaze of the shiny, popular world at large (that, some days, is still as real and painful as it was in high school). When they’re not jeering and throwing stones, no one sees us ugly ones.

…secretly pleased when someone calls me “Sir”.

…secretly crushed when someone turns that “Sir” into a slur, a cut, a hammer aimed at my head.

…not so sensitive to others’ thoughts. When I am at my most grounded, sure of myself and my position, I care very little if anyone agrees with, understands, or commiserates with me. But I always still seem to care if they like me, which often makes me feel weak.

…so sure I’m right and so persuasive with my argument that I win the other person over. I love that feeling. Not to gloat, but to confirm my conviction with their agreement. It’s dangerously intoxicating.

…such a geek that others wonder how I function in the real world. Somehow, that doesn’t bother me much.

…so happy to be helpful to someone that it doesn’t matter how hard, inconvenient or unpleasant the task. I get pleasure from being helpful, useful and available to my friends and colleagues.

…so tired that I miss nuances in conversations that later turn out to be vitally important. Being present, fully in the moment for the person you are with is a great gift of respect.

…so full of feelings that I fear I may burst. But, perversely, those are the moments when I’m most inarticulate. It’s maddening.

…buried so far into my own head that the real world becomes insignificant, trivial. That’s a very particular and ugly form of selfishness and I feel ashamed of it when it happens.

…very self-critical. It helps to keep me grounded, keep me from being insufferably arrogant. But it can spiral into destructiveness.

…pleased with my achievements. It makes me feel smart, successful when a milestone is reached and both myself and others recognize it.

…less than. Less than happy, less than good, less than I should be.

…exactly right. About my life, my job, my self.

…too or just or not. Too big, too loud, too ugly, too smug, too much. Just plain, just fat, just a girl, just another. Not right, not enough, not wanted.

…everything that’s good and right and needed.

…happy. Despite this rather dreary list, that’s quite often how I feel.

Scary thoughts

At the risk of getting too heavy too soon with this blog, here’s something that’s been pinging around in my head for months and I need to set it free:

I’m usually quite risk averse. Goes hand in hand with my lawyer mind. Maybe that’s why I feel this dull ache of guilt and dread at the thought of being discovered, outed.

I am walking what is, in my mind, a dangerous path. And I’m doing it by choice. Stacking the inherent risk of this self discovery on top of the risk of being discovered in my exploration. It’s both thrilling and appalling. Horrifying, yet irresistible. At once freeing and imprisoning.

My family, small as it is now, is nevertheless full of ultra-conservative, mid-western and southern, Christian, military/veteran, straight republicans. And, although I’m a conservative, Christian, patriot myself, I believe I’m discovering that I am also a lot of things they are not and don’t approve of anyone being or claiming to be.

I feel trapped by their certain rejection and disapproval.

My father raised me with three mantras that framed every other lesson he and my mother ever taught me and my siblings:

1. Work hard. Nothing worth having is free and the only things worth having are those that cost the most in personal effort.
2. You can achieve anything you put your mind to doing.
3. Pour yourself into your family, because every physical possession can be lost, but you will always have the blood you share with your family.

In most ways, from most angles, these are sound, supportable, worthy principles by which to live. I’ve put a lot of effort into living them daily. But now that I find myself on the cusp of uncovering an entirely new self, I’m nearly paralyzed by the fear that all my investment in #3 will be for naught, if the me I discover isn’t who they want or expect me to be.

Suddenly the certainty of that shared blood doesn’t seem like the fortress of strength and safety I’ve always believed it to be. What if, really, that shared blood turns out to be just a bunch of cells, not the common bond of unity I was taught to rely on?

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