Were we really fristers after all?

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Apparently we’re good at taking pictures of un-reality. Because the day after Thanksgiving, I walked out of the bathroom to overhear my sister talking to the friend I had brought to Thanksgiving dinner, about how she think I criticize her so much, and how hurtful I am, and that it’s ‘so highschool,’ and I wanted to slam my fist into the door and walk out. Screaming. Crying. I wanted to do it all. Instead I walked back around the corner and put my kid to bed, because parenting duties don’t stop when you overhead gossip going on in the kitchen when they think you’re not listening.

The whole time we were there, my New York born, Seattle, living, friend kept saying things like, “your sister is so nice, she’s just such a nice person,” and honestly I’m sick of that. I’ve been hearing that kind of shit my whole life. My sister, the quintessential cheerleader personality, with all of her baubles and tittering laugh, being compared to my tell-it-like-it-is personality that questions every authority I’ve come across. I’m the older one, the responsible one, the one who doesn’t shamelessly flirt with everyone she meets. The one who came home and studied and didn’t sneak out to party with older boys and questionable friends. And all people who come in contact with her say “she’s so nice.”

I’m tired of feeling like no matter what I do, no matter who I am, that my way of being in the world is wrong. I’m tired of being labelled the ‘difficult,’ one because my personality doesn’t conform to the standard of femininity that my sister embodies. It makes me feel like shit to hear my sister say that I’m basically a terrible person and that she can’t even tell me to my face. Makes me think that she’s just been putting up a happy-happy-joy-joy cheerleader front all this time. And for what? To build a fake relationship with me and have it all go to shit when I overhear her badmouthing me?

Boof says it’s because I have the kind of personality that doesn’t let people come close without dropping their defense mechanisms. That I don’t put up with bullshit and some people don’t like that feature about me. That it’s not about my being being wrong in the world, but rather that it forces them to see how they are wrong in the world, and they must change to interact with me. Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel good. And it makes me want to cut off all relationships, like with my friend, or my sister, to pursue more authentic relationships. Ones that don’t feel like I am a difficult person.

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Forever Hold Your Peace

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I wasn’t nice to my brother’s girlfriend. She was 17, and he was 20, and I was jaded by the string of girls he brought along before and thought “it’s not like he’s going to marry this girl,” and so I gave her the cold-shoulder. And then he married her. And boy was that awkward for awhile (like, even now, 8 years and a sorta-divorce later). I didn’t have the decency to treat her nicely at the beginning, though, deep down, I have a pocketful of reasons to give in defense of my bad behavior, if it’s ever necessary. What I learned from that experience, was my relatively shitty inability to articulate my feelings in the moment, which could have saved years of conflict down the road.

All of this was brought up in my mind, yesterday, when I was chatting with my bestie Ruth about a conflicted experience she had recently. In my brilliant wisdom (sarcasm? maybe?) I reminded her that emotions are stored on one side of the brain, and language on the other, and that sometimes it’s hard to get the language and emotions to match up nicely and to be able to articulate all those fee-fees that you’re having. Not to mention, it’s fucking awkward to confront someone, regardless, because very few of us were taught how to do this type of communication in our formative years (and as adults, do we really want to risk losing relationships if the conflict goes badly?).

It’s reminiscent of the “forever hold your peace,” line they say in movie weddings (because, that’s not a real wedding thing…right?). But you know what, this ‘forever hold your peace,’ shit is pretty fucking hard when you’re someone who has lots of opinions and thoughts and wants things to be logical.

I don’t like things that feel incongruent. I have a hard time when I see people say one thing and then do something else. I have a hard time when things don’t seem to add up or make sense, at least on some level. When I sense these mixed messages, I feel confused, and frustrated, while also unable to articulate my feelings in a way that doesn’t seem rude or attacking because it’s hard to verbalize frustration with unspoken energy actions. Does that even make remote sense?

I’m good with conflict in the moment, when I feel something and am able to say, “I’m annoyed,” or “I’m feeling uncomfortable.” What I have a hard time with, is feeling annoyed or uncomfortable with something, brushing it off as ‘no big deal,’ and then having something else happen, and something else, and something else, until finally I’m at the point where I’m unfriending them on facebook (true story: hi sis!) and they’re like “um, wtf just happened?” If I had just told my sister that I was annoyed with her inconsistent love and open acceptance paired with terribly racist retweets on facebook, the first time it happened, maybe I wouldn’t have been so far down the line that I either wanted to shut down (or cut off) or scream and throw things.

So I’m stuck in this dilemma and I don’t know what to do, how to change, to be a different person. It feels unfair to bring up conflict or frustration over something that happened six months, two years, ten years, ago, especially when realized that is bottled up and I might not be able to say it in a nice way. And yet, I feel like trying to live in the ‘forever hold your peace,’ camp is eating away at me. And I would feel shitty, too, if a friend came to me six months later, I might be like “why didn’t you tell me when this happened? Why did you pretend everything was okay?”

What to do?

Because avoiding it is only adding to the pressure, and I don’t want to be a fucking psycho, you know?

 

On Being a Half-Anonymous Blogger Who Writes About Real Events

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“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
-Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I chose to be an anonymous blogger in an attempt at destroying my tendency to self-censor. Blogging is the modern equivalent to my scribbled teenage journals (of which I have an entired box filled), and I’ve been using this medium in various capacities since the early 2000’s. There was Live Journal in college, and Myspace blogs that I relied on heavily while travelling in India, and the Blogger account that I tried when focusing on art and poetry. All of those accounts were ME accounts, with varying levels of privacy.

And so, when I decided to start a parenting blog, I wanted to have some sort of anonymity in the great online world. Not only for professional sake, but also for the semi-privacy of Potamus. Because he will grow up in a world of social media, and these pictures of him will likely be seen, but I am telling MY story here, not his. So here I am, anonymously blogging, though I recognize that it is not, in fact, anonymous.

Because unlike scribbled journals, and my teenage self, I long desperately for my medium to convey my feelings within a community, which requires them to be read. And while I’ve connected anons who’ve transitioned to IRL online friends (shoutout to you Momaste!), I also have this hunger to be known by those I see in flesh and blood. So I’ve shared a link to my writing, in an attempt to connect. To bridge the online world of my mind and the fleshy world of my life.  But writing my truth, my experience, from my own perspective, is difficult for some people to read. My raw honesty about experiences has caused defensiveness or confusion in friends and family.

And yet I am compelled to write or explode from all the feelings. For while I don’t get paid to do it, I am a writer. I think about writing. I love sentence structure and the meditative quality that happens when I feel with my fingers translating those feelings into words that appear on my screen.

I would like to believe that I am telling MY story, and not anyone else’s. That of course there is room for two sides, or more sides, and the world will welcome the individual perspectives and stories. I tell MY side, MY feelings, and, at the end of the day, has no bearing on whether the others invovled are good or bad people or shouldn’t have made certain choices. It is simply my account of my life through my senses.

It’s why I like Anne Lamott so much. She writes brilliantly funny memoirs about her fucked up life as a recovering alcoholic with a screwed up family. Her truthiness shines through even though the rawness makes me (and I’m sure those she writes about) uncomfortable. I need to write my truth, my experience, my life, from MY perspective. And if it hits you in the gut, makes you uncomfortable, then start writing from your own perspective. And maybe our writings will interesect someday.

“We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out…

Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth.”
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as nurses, psychologists, and first responders. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.[1][dead link]

Journalism analysts argue that the media has caused widespread compassion fatigue in society by saturating newspapers and news shows with often decontextualized images and stories of tragedy and suffering. This has caused the public to become cynical, or become resistant to helping people who are suffering.[2]

When I worked as a crisis counselor, I had this amazing ability to be really present with families and clients, while somehow maintaining a strong boundary emotinally. I was compassionate in the moment, and when the students were no longer on my caseload (betwen 3-6 weeks) I was done with them, emotionally. I saw my position as a part of the greater whole, a watering hole for the thirsty, but didn’t consider myself necessary to their overall lifetime of happiness. I was an in-the-moment bandaid and often saw immediate results, though I couldn’t take away years of chronic stress or drug use or neglect. I provided concrete skills in the immediate, much like a life preserver. I didn’t stick around to see if they became Olympic swimmers.

My job, now, though, is much harder than I expected. I see students for 1 quarter as a teacher and then they get funneled to me for advising in the rest of their time in our program. A student spent an hour crying in my office last week and I noticed that I cared quite deeply about their life story and realized that I was still holding a presence in their life since last year. And that’s when I realized that I’m pretty exhausted by my work. Because short term caring is easy for me. Long term caring is hard. And it gets harder every day, though I think my awareness of my caring is the first step. Because as a crisis counselor I didn’t think I was saving people, I was merely giving them a drink on a hot summer day. But with these students, sometimes I feel like I’m plunging into the murky waters to try and rescue them, repeatedly, and it’s both rewarding and exhausting. It’s hard staring into the face of a hungry teenager and tell them abou the wonders of study skills when I know that they aren’t getting fed, and most likely are sleeping on their friend’s couch and bumming cigarettes to take away the gnawing pains in their stomachs. I want to DO, because just being with the pain of their life is hard.

I don’t have compassion fatigue, but I see how I very well could develop it. I’m tired, certainly, but aren’t we all? Just this afternoon I see that yet another school gunman killed a teacher, and if I let it, my mind will go a thousand directions with that type of news. I am an educator working with students with records and access to guns and histories of mental illness. And I am a mom, with a son, who could be bullied or be a bully, who could have mental illness (like his mom) or a host of issues, or could be in class with a kid who brings a gun. If I start thinking I start panicking and in turn I just shut everything off. Because feeling the fear of losing my baby, because feeling the fear of leaving my baby motherless in this cruel world, is too much for my poor heart to begin to comprehend.

I’m trying to focus on self-care…therapy and yoga and talking with friends. But sometimes I feel like I need self-care from my self-care, does that make sense? Like the burden of weekly therapy and yoga and phone dates come stacking up and it’s one more thing I have to be present and aware and compassionate in, and I just don’t know if I have the resources. Because it’s exhausting being for others, my students and my child, what I can’t often be for myself (though I’m trying). Giving to others what I don’t feel like I have received, or am receiving, is taking a toll on my mind and my heart.

Have you experienced burnout or compassion fatigue? What did you do to get through that?

Internet Refugee

I feel like a refugee. I know that’s dramatic, but this feeling of being displaced, shuffled around, trying to assimilate in and ‘pass’ for one of the locals when grieving the loss of a family. I wrote about the OffbeatFamilies shutdown yesterday, and have managed to stay away from the shuttered doors, and have tried to nestle in to Offbeat Home & Life, a place I previously felt comfortable. But then I started reading the comments, which is advice they say NOT to do in most internet communities, because snark+ runs rampant. But the Offbeat Empire has felt so safe…and then…I come across comments like this:

Ooooh… I’m sure this makes me a terrible person, but as a childless-by-choice OBH&L reader I’m glad there’s not going to be birth stories and breastfeeding articles in here…. cuz it would totally ick me out, but I’m sure I’d end up reading it anyways cuz it’d be like a train-wreck, where you don’t want to look but you can’t tear your eyes off it. Then I’d probably just have to stop coming in here, and that would make me sad.

But hooray for Harry Potter!

Ugh. So birth and breastfeeding is icky to you. Awesome. And my parenting choices are like a ‘trainwreck,’ which is also awesome. And makes me feel super comfortable when I’m mourning the loss of a place I loved and content I loved. Imagine if I went there and said “I love reading about colored wedding dresses, but gay dudes kissing is sooooo ick, and a trainwreck and so I’ll probably not come back.” Hurtful, right? (and soooo not my views in reality, FYI).

But I was feeling kinda okay about squatting over there, but now I’m not so sure. So of course I’ve begun spiralling. Where do I fit in? I’ve bounced over to Mutha Magazine, and Mommyish, and Birth Without Fear, and think ‘oh cool, these might feel like home someday,’ but just like expatriating, that day isn’t today and so I feel displaced.

Which calls into question my own feeling at home here, on my own blog. A blog with a name I’ve questioned for awhile and with a handle that I’m not entirely comfortable with. Monk-Monk sometimes feels too…unhuman, if that makes any darn sense at all. So don’t be surprised, if like a post-breakup, I dye my hair to change my identity. The blog equivalent might be a look change/name change/handle change. Still me under the bloggy makeover, but I thought I’d give you a heads up that my mind is swirling about new taglines and titles and how to move forward in internet refugee empowerment.

So many feels

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flying in the backyard

I am so proud of my boy. He’s made the transition to 3 days a week daycare (soon to be 4 days) and he is doing so amazing I can barely write about it. I mean, he’s doing so well that I feel guilty we ever tried to have him not be in daycare every day. Which I know is my mama-guilt-brain, because my heart knows that while he cried during daycare days, he was also with grandma, and me, and that’s priceless. But seriously, in one week he has gone from needing to be carried into school, promptly crying, and me tearing myself away…to walking into his classroom after carefully selecting the Dora-doll (he’s not allowed to have Dolly at school) and crying a little bit, but sitting at his breakfast table eating his breakfast. And today I picked him up from school and he was sitting at the table doing a little art project, and I suddenly saw his future flash before my eyes. And I got that creepy mom in I Love You Forever thought, that someday I’m going to sneak into his room and watch him sleep and miss my baby. Who was so sweet and snuggly and happy. Because he’s growing up so fast I can barely stand it. Which is the ultimate mom cliche and when I hear it I want to barf.

And that though, of him growing up so fast, is what makes me think about having another kid. I know, make up your damn mind Monk-Monk, one day you’re wanting to hold off, the next you’re talking about having kids. Yeah, I know that sounds like I’m confused, but I’m not. I know I don’t want another kid right now, I actually know that I’m a 1 kid person who would stretch to be a 2 kid person in that situation. Just like I was a 0 kid person until we had 1.

But God, I miss that newborn in my arms. I wonder about what it’s like to only have 1 birth story to t

\ell, that I won’t somehow get to experience that terribly difficult and powerful and beautiful experience again. And while I have felt very present and mindful through most of the almost-two-years of his life, there have been times where I’ve been angry and resentful and not present, and I regret that. But overall I am doing an amazing job of being present in this moment of time with Potamus, but the nostalgia and sentimental feelings persist. Where did my baby go?

Today Potamus did the hand motions to the “Wheels on the Bus” and yesterday he tried to put his socks on. He throws his hands up in the air and exaggerates the “what?” look when he does something naughty. He’s sleeping mostly through the night (in our bed) and is mostly- weaned. He nurses at night, once, but it rarely puts him to sleep. And sometimes I nurse him for 10 minutes in the morning to get him to fall back asleep. So it’s between 1 and 2 times a day, at most. There’s been days where he’s gone 24 hours without nursing. And his attachment to Dolly has ramped up. But we’re all sleeping well and in this little sweet spot that is so very good.

And yet we’re right on the back of a really hard summer interpersonally between Boof and I, between me and my own concept of myself, and while we’re in a little parenting-problem-lull, we’re struggling in other ways. Like schedules are still so crazy that I feel as if we are two separated-single-parents co-parenting, and doing a remarkably undamaging and also shitty job of it.

But my transition back to work has been stellar so far, though I’m tired more than I thought I’d be. Teaching starts officially on Tuesday, so that’ll add a new dimension to the weeks, but I am excited. for the challenge. I don’t know how something can both be such a hard time, but also such a good time at the same moment. It’s a very strange feeling to be straddling all of those feelings at the same time.

Tell me, how are YOU doing? What are your kids up to that you’re proud of?

What’s your gut trying to say? An exploration of the Solar Plexus Chakra…

Zen Pen’s writing from the body challenge this week is to explore everything related to our Gut, and I’m finding it both challenging and enlightening. I thought that last week’s Heart prompts would be challenging, but not quite like how I’m experiencing the Gut prompts to be. I have been interested in deepening my writing-by-hand practice, but this week’s gut-lesson has felt so very blog-worthy, that I thought I’d share. To begin the lesson Courtney starts off by explaining:

When our solar plexus chakra is out of balance we may experience increased anger, fear, low self-esteem, apathy, resentment, compulsiveness, as well as a variety of unpleasant physical sensations. I think we can all relate to experiencing many of these characteristics and sensations. Perhaps our bodies are trying to speak to us?

Whoa.

That hit me in the gut (pun intended) quite hard. Because, if I were to sum up a chapter of this summer it would be called “Dealing with Angry Monk-Monk.” Though I’d probably use my real name. Unless I was writing an anonymous memoir. But I digress.

It seems that ever since summer started (which also happened to coincide with being off work for a daunting 3 months with kiddo), I have wrassled with my ANGRY side. Some of this anger has been leftover bits (think popcorn kernel STILL in your teeth from the movie you saw a week ago) from childhood that have been coming up and being replayed over-and-over again. I can’t quite shake that angry label I was given as a kid/teen, even though I know that, looking back, I wasn’t actually angry. I was afraid. Afraid and misunderstood.

And that’s often how I feel these days. Misunderstood. Like the whole world is staring at me in puzzled wonderment, on good days, and complete disgusted disdain on others. While I’ve managed to find a few friends, and a partner, who at least tolerate, and even-possibly-dare-I-dream-love, my quirks, there often times when I just feel all alone in this great big world of complexities.

So, I did a little more research on this elusive solar plexus chakra, which, according to one site is:  is a personal power chakra. This chakra helps us to wield our own power. Sounds a lot like internal locus of control if you were to ask me to relate it in terms that I explain to my college students. This idea that things are manifest from within, a lot of personal choice and personal power that propels us forward.

But websites aren’t enough. I prefer hands-on reading material, so I scanned my shelf for Caroline Myss’s Anatomy of the Spirit (one of the few books I’d take to a desert island). Bypassing the first few chapters, I went straight to the Solar Plexus chakra and began reading. And everything began to resonate with me, like:

The solar plexus chakra becomes the dominate vibration in our development during puberty. It assists us further in the process of individuation, of forming a self, ego, and personality separate from our inherited identity.

Holy shit. No wonder I’ve been feeling so blast-from-the-past when experiencing my ANGRY self this summer. That’s when I was labelled angry. As a teenager. And while I don’t want to blame everything in my life on my adoptee status, the fact that I didn’t really know my “inherited identity,” and was trying to individuate to something that wasn’t encouraged (perhaps another blog entry, on the conservative Christian idea of sameness vs. being a rebellious individual). I read somewhere else a few weeks ago, too, that “helplessness leads to feelings of rage,” which all seems to come back to this very idea of my gut center trying to develop as a teenager, but feeling so very caged-coyote-trapped by the constraints put upon me by my parents-as-ambassadors-of-THE-church.

Whoa.

At the end of the chapter on the Solar Plexus Chakra, Caroline Myss asks some questions, one being:

Are you continually wishing your life were different? If so, are you doing anything to change it or have you resigned yourself to your situation?

Now, it seems that she’s trying to get at the idea that the third chakra, when in balance, will spur you toward a more ‘internal locus of control,’ which will help you do something to change a situation. But, in reflecting on some of the earlier summer angst, where I had a hard time shifting, I think that my approach needs to be less fight-against-the-current (especially since this time of my life has certainly been a well informed choice), and more drift with the current, letting the days be how they are because they simply exist this way. Because when I think about that acceptance, that comes from a gut place that says, “yes, this is right. you chose this. rest easy,” the anger melts away.

What’s your relationship with ANGER? Are you constantly wishing your life was different?

(p.s., if you’re interested in joining Zen Pen, a 6 week writing course, Courtney is starting one again on Sept. 30th! I highly recommend it!).