Therapy is hard

Today was my second day of therapy. It is so exhausting but cathartic. We ended with breathing exercises, which calmed me and took me away from the panic and tension surrounding my memories. Even the therapist reported  tension. 

Here is a happy article about veganism to lighten my mood. 

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The art of receiving 

Sometimes I want everyone to read my blog. I want followers and support. Validation for my thoughts and my words. 

Other times I want this to be my secret place forever. I haven’t even told my boyfriend about it. 

This is a common theme in my life: the opposing desire for secrecy and self-sufficiency, and the need for love and palpable, quantifiable support. I want to prove to the world that I am ok on my own, I need no help while at. Te same time yearning for someone to pay attention. And then, more often than not, as soon as someone does pay attention I reject their help. 

Yesterday I was carrying heavy garbage bags filled with donated clothing from my car to my church, in preparation for a rummage sale next Saturday. As I struggled with the bags, a man approached me, walking down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. As we grew closer, I thought how nice it would be if he stopped and helped. He was a stranger and had no reason to help me. I dismissed the thought as selfish and reminded myself the bags were not too heavy, just bulky and cumbersome. A bit of a pain to carry, but not impossible. 

The man and I passed. I looked down to hide my struggle, afraid he might see my irrational thoughts of need on my face, and resisted the almost unbearable urge to stop and readjust until he continued down the street. He walked on, without incident. 

Relieved that I had remained invisible and in charge, I paused to set down the bags for a moment. As I heaved them up again, I saw the man turn back. He called out, “Can I help? Where are you going?” My response (although moments earlier I had yearned for his help) was “Oh, I’m just going to the end of the block. I will be okay.” I was embarrassed to both need and want his assistance. I wanted to be able to do it alone. I wanted to be strong, talented, autonomous. I did not want to admit I was undone by two garbage bags of clothing. I did not want to appear weak. 

And yet I had already admitted to myself I needed an extra hand. I knew the bags were more than I could handle comfortably. Why could I then not relent, and accept his offer without hesitation? 

I have a need to remain eternally, unambiguously competent. In every situation, without fail. This need is especially prominent in situations of physical strength. I will not admit I am sick until I cannot move, cannot breath, and am utterly incapacitated. I do not admit to injury (and, as a long-distance runner I have plenty of experience with severe injuries; I have had four stress fractures, all in different bones) until I cannot move. I will endure all sorts of physical discomfort with barely a grimmace. And, while friends, family and colleagues applaud my high tolerance for pain, this tendency leads me to take on more than I am able.  I don’t like this proclivity. It leads to resentment (why does this person receive help when I received none in a similar situation? why is no one helping me when I am struggling? why can’t they see I need help?) and low feelings of self-worth (why do I suddenly need help now? if I ask for help, then I weak and therefore bad). I cannot reconcile my need for autonomy with my need for support. 

Which is why I was so surprised when I  suddenly looked up from my bags and said to the stranger, “Thank you,” and handed him a bag. 

After we dropped off the bags in the church office and continued on our separate Sundays, I realized I felt relief. Instead of being irritable and tired after hauling heavy bags, I was giddy. I had accepted help! A stranger was kind, and I allowed his kind act to be fulfilled! I was not a martyr! 

My habitual refusal to be assisted is, in many ways, selfish. It only serves to make me feel smug, stronger than everyone else, entitled to self-congratulatory praise. Doing things alone often takes longer, involves more mistakes, and increases the risk that something gets broken. Plus, it can make the other person, the one who wanted to help, feel worthless. I am uncomfortable wen I make a gesture and it is refused; to impose such a rejection on someone else is unempathetic.

Interactions are two-sided. Accepting help from stranger this Sunday was my first step toward learning to uphold my end of the bargain. 

Publishing?

Yesterday, as I drove to my first therapy appointment in over a decade (except for one brief stint with a woman who gave me panic attacks with her silent approach to therapy), I thought I might like to put effort I to becoming published, for real. I have a collection of essays, the life stories of people who live in affordable housing, as told to me and a friend in 2013. The goal has always been (vaguely) to turn them into a book. I have no resources and no knowledge, no following or money, but the time seems right. And I am tired of saying “someday” for this project that changed the way I look at the world. 

Finding joy and the essay 

I don’t know why (stress? fatigue? boredom?) but I have had zero desire to work on my other blog at all over the past few days. The news items are interesting but I have no angle, no earth-shattering opinions to share. I just have a blah sort of feeling. I am not engaged.

Some of this probably comes from my fear that I am not helping, that my work is not meaningful to anyone, and not reaching those for whom it might have meaning. I don’t know how to connect or how to grow my audience in ways that don’t cause panic. Perhaps I should just move through the panic, the fear of being rejected, but shoulds are not part of my chosen vocabulary. Just because others might have the strength and desire and wherewithal to push on and write the scary emails does not mean I must as well. I am probably not making sense here. My point is this: there is no rule saying I need to write everyday or thy I need to be interested in my work every day or even that I have to show up if I am not compelled. I am not under contract, I write for myself and a small scattered following of mostly my friends and family (and not even they are follow intently). When does one give up? 

Stories of writers are filled with beginning adversity. But I also know not everyone sees their dreams realized, and compromise is a part of life and even a part of growth. Where do I stand on the spectrum? I live in. Fear of being quixotic (and have, basically since I learned the word’s unfortunate defintion). When I was younger, my mom had a friend whose husband was an inventor in his garage. It was implied to me he was a nutter and wasted his life following his passions. At the same time, I have always been encouraged to follow my dreams. Are dreams, then, only worthwhile if they yield money and security? Yes,  was the answer at which I arrived. 

Unfortunately, writing was the only thing for which I showed a proclivity. And so writing is where I arrived. I was never great at fiction -the prospect of sharing my imagination is the surest way to induce my writer’s block. I ran to nonfiction as soon as I could. There are a different set of anxieties here (how to present fact without being boring chief among them) and yet I feel more safe. My thoughts and opinions are presented clearly, and with purpose. 

It is easy to lose my voice, however, among all the facts. I have a tendency to disappear, to the detriment of my writing. I feel that happening now. 

The best cure I have found for this loss of self is a personal essay, of which this is an attempt. I love reading personal essays, examining how other writers connect their lives to greater issues of humanity. Essays are filled with fascinating observation. I feel connected when I read essays, constantly wanting to cry out “me too!” when the author describes an uncomfortable situation, an inappropriate thought, confusion or embarrassment. I am overjoyed to know I am not alone in my weirdness. David Sedaris is particularly gifted on this front. 

The more I write about essays, the more I realize this is the direction I want to explore. Writing essays makes me breathless and delighted. It is my favorite form. I hereby give myself permission to indulge in essays. 

The beginning

This is an experiment. I have another blog, but it does not leave much room for personal thought or digressions; I like to keep posts there topical and oriented around affordable housing. This space will be more personal, probably less linear and more stream-of-consciousness (always my favorite type of writing anyhow). I will record my thoughts. I will edit minimally. There will probably be a lot of talk about food and habits and goals. Perhaps a mention or two about running.  Fear will almost certainly make an appearance. As will cat photos, for which I apologize (sort of) in advance.

I have a tendancy to overthink my writing, to become a perfectionist. Probably because it is the only thing I have ever done well, consistantly.  I feel immense pressure to perform. Even my high school chemistry teacher noticed my habit of prioritizing writing well over anything else (this was as he told me I my answers were impeccably written but horribly wrong). So, writing is my passion, my greatest throughline in life and also my greatest stumbling block.

I began writing more or less in earnest around the age of six, when I began asking for diaries as gifts. I still have a few of those original entries to remind mysrlf how mynyoung brain worked – much the same as now, down to the social anxieties. I kept journals on and off throughout my growing-up years (have those ended yet?) , writing more during times of stress. I always agonized over papers for school, but I owe so much to teachers like Mr. Alman (5th grade) who made the class write a one page essay eavh night. Those were among the hardest assignments I ever had, but they taught me the value of persistant writing and the joy of catching a thought with my words.

By the time I graduated college I knew I wanted to be a writer of some sort (at the time I had my heart set on architectural criticism) but I had no idea how to begin. Four years of expensive school and I was still clueless. Social anxiety made it difficult for me to take advantage of resources and connections available. I tried on my own, to small success. I published an article in Architecture Week less than a year after graduation, but didn’t follow up to write another for more than a year after that (and then stopped trying altogether). A lot of my reasons for inconsistency are related to tumult in my personal life. More fear, bad relationships, the conviction I could do no right. I have yet to publish another piece, other than what I have written for my personal websittes or as an unpaid and uncredited intern. All of these things are more stumblimg blocks and more excuses.

I’ve sort of gone off topic here ( if there was a topic to begin). Apologies, although I must say this will probably be the norm. When I write for myself or for friends, I ramble. I enjoy the freedom of not reigning in my thoughts. Also, please don’t think I am a totally fear-ridden individual. I have a life with friends and family, am in a committed relationship, and am engaged in my world. I am not, however, as successful in writing as I would like and I hope this will provide an outlet for experimentation, and for growth.

This is far from the first site I have started for fun, so my track record isn’t great, but this is the first site I have dedicated to my own, imperfect, thoughts. I am hopeful and excited for what is to come. Now off to a phone call with my dearest friend Ilana who recently moved to (and feels stranded in) Seattle.