Instinct

My office is once again in (mostly) office form–instead of guest room form–so I decided I should use it this morning to do what I claim as my profession, and to write down some words.

 

The thing that has been most striking, and on my mind, in the past several hours remains the reactions that I have seen from people in particular contexts.  Some of the reactions I anticipated, and some of them I was taken aback by, but the thing that kept popping into my mind this morning was a vaguely remembered expression of C.S. Lewis that said something about the true nature of a person being shown when they were surprised or scared.  That idea stuck with me. If you sneak up on me and surprise me, I yell, potentially cry, and sometimes punch you. I have a lot of fear and unresolved pain on the inside, so that comes out. Cursing also comes out. I’m a woman who uses “vulgarity” with regularity, so it isn’t a hidden part of me suddenly exposing itself, but just my daily self being repeated before you.  

 

But last night I watched the Chicago Bears miss out on their big game hopes by one point with a field goal kick that should have sailed through between the posts, but for a timeout called at the most inopportune moment.  And when that loss, which was felt deeply by many, happened, there was one woman in particular whose inner self became an outer self. I’d love to know C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on what football exposes, because WOW.

 

Now, I’ve not had a good vibe from this woman from the start–for the record.  I think she is dishonest, manipulative, self-aggrandizing… But other people seem to like her just fine, so I generally keep my vibes to myself.  Last night, however, she started yelling at the television, and not just at the general disappointment toward a team but directly at a young man who did his absolute best under tremendous pressure, and didn’t meet the expectations of the whole world that was watching.  She called him a “fucking bastard” repeatedly, and demanded that he be traded by morning or … I don’t really think she is in a position to make threats against the franchise given that she is an unemployed, 50-something woman who lives in shared housing and drinks every night, so I’m not sure what she would do if they didn’t trade Parkey today.  She doesn’t seem to have much influence over the team.

 

Nevertheless, I made deescalating comments, like, “he’s just a boy”, and “you know he can make the kick, he just did it 10 seconds ago”, and “you’ve not kicked a field goal in your life, so it really isn’t fair to judge so harshly”.  She persisted, despite my objections, so I took a different approach and praised the Bears for the best season since 1985, and commented on how excited I was for next season, when they would come back even stronger. That positive outlook didn’t dissuade her either.  She just kept cussing out a boy on the screen for being a complete failure.

 

I kept thinking to myself, “This is the truth of who she is.  This is a variation on Lewis, and I am seeing the heart of this woman exposed.  No wonder she gives me the negative vibes! Her heart is hate-filled, fearful, bitter, and angry.”

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, please.  I’ve been in that space. I’m not judging her for being in that space.  I’m just ruminating on what is inside vs. outside, and what brings the inside out.  She probably has a reason that holds some validity for being as she is, currently. And I wish her all the best in working through that and coming out the other side with a better outlook and more love in her heart.  I suspect that her current situation, with the shared housing and the inability to hold down a job, are key factors in her unhappiness, and I hope that she finds a way to gain more stability. But the thing that I am so challenged by is the lying that is required to pretend that you feel one way when you so clearly feel another.

 

At some point in my history I was so good at feigning “okay” that my mind literally walled off years of abuse.  Complete repression of years of my life and experiences is the ultimate in lying, I suppose–even if it is subconscious and you have no idea that you are doing it.  But once that stuff started to come out and be remembered, the need to let it out was too great to ignore. Anger, pain, abandonment, neglect, betrayal, and more were all swirling around inside, and the ability to contain that was not an ability I possessed.  Of course, it came out at the wrong times and toward the wrong people, more often than not. I had trouble maintaining relationships or keeping jobs. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check and would have outbursts of rage or tears in the middle of situations where such things made no sense.  It was a crazy time, and it was made especially challenging because I didn’t have good mental health care during that stage and didn’t have anyone who could effectively help walk me through that chaos.

 

There were times when I worked to hold in all of that stuff and just “pretend’ life wasn’t plagued by these issues.  I could do it for a short time, but then the chaos would come out and things would spiral and I would find myself alone and broken once more.  It wasn’t until I started to let the chaos live on the outside that things started to balance out. It wasn’t until I started to accept that this was a part of who I am, and a way that I will always be, in some sense, that I could live without having a different person emerge when I was scared or surprised.  

 

Now I am the same person all of the time.  

 

Granted, we all have moments when we don’t speak honestly.  I might have a bad headache, but still go to your party–pretending it isn’t a big deal because I want to participate in your event. But that isn’t what I mean.  I mean that the fundamentals of who I am are on display all of the time.

 

I am boisterous, stubborn, intelligent, brutally honest, compassionate, a great listener, an over-sharer, and I will cry, yell, curse, or whatever else I feel moved to do in the course of everyday conversation without reservation.  I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not one to back down from a fight. And I will talk to anyone and everyone present to try to make connections, because I am in love with community as and ideal. Oh yes–and I am extremely idealistic.

 

But if you have met me, you probably know all of that, because I wear it on my sleeve.  I don’t hide any of that. You don’t need to root it out or search for it. It is standing right in front of you.

 

I had a conversation last night with a woman I just met.  It became very in depth very quickly, and we were arguing a bit about hunger.  She didn’t believe my statistics about hunger related deaths in the U.S., and she felt that homeless/hungry people here are being too picky.  “If you are hungry you would eat anything”, she said. And I disagreed.

 

Obviously, my disagreement didn’t make sense to her, and this caused a mini argument.  I hold to the idea that no person should be put in a position where they are hungry enough that they would eat anything, and that it dehumanizes people to say that they should take whatever they can get, when the rest of us clearly choose only our favorites from a fancy menu of curated items.  Why shouldn’t the homeless and the working poor have options like the rest of us? Are they less human because they have less resources? Why not make certain they have resources, instead of demanding they suck it up and take what they clearly do not want?

 

At one point in the conversation, she said to me, “I’ve never been that hungry and you have never been that hungry, so we can’t understand.”

 

“I have been that hungry.  I’ve eaten my meals out of dumpsters.”

 

And there it was … I put my inside firmly on my outside.  

 

She looked at me wide-eyed for a moment and then said that she was sorry that I had been put in that position.  The conversation turned and we discussed something else. There was little else that she could say because the experience of taking whatever I could get trumped her thought experiments about what might be.  

 

But again I was thinking about the instincts.  I was thinking about the way that she made assumptions about who I am and what I have experienced because here we both were watching the Bears lose in a bar in Edgewater.  Very different lives have brought us to this moment. Very different experiences have shaped us. But she instinctively believed, by my dress and my speech and my position in the world, that we shared so much more than we actually do.

 

I didn’t disclose that I eat because of Meals on Wheels and foodstamps programs.  I didn’t disclose that I don’t care that the IRS is closed because I don’t need to file a return due to a lack of income.  But I did disclose that I am writing about racism, childhood trauma and abuse, and a history filled with challenges. I did disclose that I had surgery in November and that I manage a number of illnesses, including fibromyalgia.  I did disclose where I live, and what I do, and the birth order that puts me into middle child territory. I didn’t hide who I am or how I am. So I don’t need to be scared or surprised for the real Christy to pop out. She is always here.

 

I wonder, at times, why we all feel so much need to hide our true selves.  Are we so terrible, at our core, that we won’t find love and life and friendship and care if we are honest?  Are our issues so complex that they cannot be dealt with or resolved?

 

I don’t believe that is true.

 

In fact, I think that being genuine and true affords us more room and more time and more energy for developing strong bonds and working out what challenges us.  I believe that my life became less complicated and more positive once I started seeking to live without hiding and holding up a facade for others to view.

 

Granted, the woman at the bar who was tearing the proverbial flesh from a young boy whose best wasn’t good enough to win a game doesn’t seem like the kind of person whom you want to have “out and proud”.  But at least if her true nature was out there, something could be done to guide her into a healthier and happier space. Right now, everyone around her just feeds into the lie that she is doing fine–when she clearly isn’t feeling balanced and happy and good at all.

 

Those gut reactions are telling you something about yourself and where you are and what you need.  But if you keep your instincts hidden and locked behind doors, only letting them out when you are shocked, scared, or mad at football, you cannot hear what they are saying.  You cannot listen to what they are saying about you and your position and your needs if you keep them bottled or boxed.

 

In order to hear and see and cope, you need to start wearing those inner things on the outside.  You need to start letting the instincts flow out.

 

It isn’t an easy process, assessing the inner workings and letting them become a part of your persona, out there for everyone to see.  It is actually a very challenging process, that leaves you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and, often, wounded. But I believe that the work is worth it.  

 

I believe that having the deep things become visible in the shallows makes you better, stronger, and more beautiful.  Because working on those inner things is what offers your the opportunity for transformation. Doing that is what can make what was instinctual become obsolete, and change the way that you interact with the world.  

 

I still have moments of rage on occasion, but for the most part, that is gone.  That instinct isn’t strong anymore, because I have spent years working through why I felt that way–what brought it on, what left me out of control, and how I could change that.  I don’t need to rage at football players, because I don’t need to rage at all. Or if I do feel enraged, I know that something needs to be changed in my life, immediately, because I am being triggered in extremely negative ways–which is why after a particularly angry night a couple months ago, I broke off a relationship that was not healthy.  

 

Had I not embraced this instinct, however, and gotten down to the root of it, I wouldn’t have the insight to know that I was being triggered and that relationship needed to end.  Had I not let my rage become a part of me, and accept it and understand it and cope with it, I would not have been able to make such an informed, wise decision.

 

So, let your inner stuff come out.  Work your way through it. (Preferably with a qualified professional.) And live as a whole person, without hiding parts of you somewhere inside.  Let your instincts out, and be who you truly are–even if that is a vulgar, stubborn woman with a huge heart and too many tears.

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I See Stupid People

There’s this M. Night Shyamalan movie that has an monologue that a friend and I once transformed a bit.  We took the word “dead” and inserted “stupid”.

I see stupid people.  They’re all around me.  They don’t know they’re stupid.

Today I have been dealing with the frustration of not being able to express my frustration at what I consider stupidity.

I should be ecstatic right now.

After months and months of waiting, my housing situation is finally resolving, and I am signing a lease on an apartment!!!!!!

And I am ecstatic, but I am also feeling assaulted by constant texts and calls and questions and threats by the owner of the apartment that I have secured.  It isn’t that they are intentionally being hurtful or aggressive.  They just don’t understand anything about this process and they are continually looking to me for answers.  And I am frustrated to the point of tears, because it isn’t my job to hold the hand of my landlord while they figure out how to deal with a leasing agency or the Chicago Housing Authority for the first time.  They should be looking to the leasing agency or the housing authority for that assistance.  But they are not.  They are basically harassing me because they don’t understand shit.

I see stupid people.

This morning, after assuring the landlord last night that everything was on track with the housing authority, and that the leasing agent would be connecting with the processing department regarding funds I put aside in December and how we would disperse those funds, and saying that I would be in touch as soon as I had news, I got a 9 am text: Any news … on when we are meeting

Shortly after, I got a phone call, and when I explained that we were trying to iron out the details, but all would be fine, and we could sign the lease later in the day, once that was done, I was told, “as long as this happens today”, “we have waited way too long”, “I’m very unhappy with their [the leasing agency’s] service”.

And while I held my tongue and gave all sorts of kind and cautiously worded assurances on the phone with the landlord, a few minutes later, my best friend got a text that said, “I’m just getting upset because suddenly the landlord is like ‘this happens today’ ‘we have waited too long’. And I am like, and I have been waiting since October! I’ve been discriminated against and turned down and stressed out and screamed at and living in fear.  You’ve what? Waited through February for me to pay you for your fucking empty apartment with cash I begged friends and family for? What right do they have to be so indignant and demanding?”

Then I apologized for letting the feelings that were coming up from the interaction with the landlord come out toward my friend.

But at least they came out … because I went for acupuncture for the first time yesterday, and my acupuncturist was telling me about how acupuncture helps release the emotion and stress and trauma and unvoiced stuff that gets trapped in our body when we hold on to all of that shit.  However, if we keep holding it, the problem will remain chronic, because the problem is holding down the shit, and acupuncture can’t stop us from doing that.  We need to learn to stop the cause, not keep treating the effect ad nauseum.

Anyway, the financing was worked out, and the housing authority once again expressed to me, in detail, the situation with the case, and assured me that all is well with moving forward and signing the lease today.  The leasing agency, whose services have been AMAZING, by the way, said they would call and explain the payment details to the landlord, so I don’t need to stress over that anymore and can focus on finishing up packing and getting the lease signed so that my move can happen in two days.

All is well, and I am moving back toward the ecstatic end of the spectrum.

And as the calm sets in, I start to think on my own moments of being a “stupid person” this week.

I got a different phone this week.  In an effort to save money, I switched wireless carriers.  Switching carriers was easy (and saved me a load of cash!).  Transferring my data from one phone to the other, however, proved far more difficult.  I know that the lovely young man in the store told me to take the phones home, update the old one on my computer, reset the new one, and restore.  Somehow that doesn’t work.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I cannot make that work.  I know what should happen when I work through that process, but that isn’t what actually happens.  And in the meantime, I can’t keep carrying around two phones, a watch, and a tablet that are all alerting me to different things and have bits of critical information that need to combine to create a functional Christy.

So, I simply downloaded and signed into and reorganized and started over with apps and calendars and accounts.  But that means when I go to check in with my lovely young man on Saturday to see how I am getting along with my new phone, he can’t even do the restore thing for me, because then I will lose all of the new things that I have done on the new phone if we restore from a tabula rasa.  I no longer have a blank slate to start with.  I’ve worked to create a slate full of organization and function.

Am I a stupid person when it comes to updating phones?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to advanced mathematics?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to any number of things that I am not skilled in and do not understand as well as another person?  Absolutely!

Here’s the thing:  I’m really fucking intelligent.  I am.  I’m not ashamed of that, and I should never have to hide that so other people don’t feel less intelligent than I am.  It is totally fine that I am smart.  It is great, honestly.  But I am not skilled in and informed about every subject.  There are lots of things that I am not good at and plenty more that I am not educated regarding.  Sometimes I am the stupid person.

At one point or another, we are all the person who is stupid.  And at one point or another, we are all the person who has perspective, information, and guidance that another needs.  What is most important is not whether we are the one needing guidance or offering it, but how we are treating one another in both of those situations.

When I am in the phone store, and the lovely young man is assisting me to figure out the new technology, I am kind, apologetic, and grateful.  I listen.  I ask for him to write things down on paper if I can’t follow along in my head.  I thank him repeatedly and tell him how valuable his skills are, and how appreciative I am for his assistance.  This is how I be the stupid person.

When I am the person offering the guidance, I hold my frustration for another space and time.  I ask for another to call and explain, since it shouldn’t fall to me to handle the situation.  I say things using different language, and I repeat things when needed.  I offer encouragement and assurances.  I try to remain calm and keep my voice soft, metered, and sweet-sounding.  I send documentation, source materials, and copies of proofs. I do whatever I can to make things clear and calm.  This is how I am when I am the one who is dealing with the “stupid person”.

Somehow, the way you act and react in the situation makes all the difference.  And that is how we get through life without harming one another in all sorts of ways—by not being stupid or smart in ways that are indignant, threatening, stubborn, superior, rude, harassing, demanding, ungrateful, or hurtful in any way.  We manage to learn from one another, and to help one another through the challenges, by being grateful and kind and patient, and by caring for one another through these interactions.

I think that much of what is wrong with America in particular, and the world in general, these days is that we have forgotten that basic common decency.  We have forgotten how to care for one another through these interactions.  I’m not sure how that is possible.

Because we all seem to be crying out to be cared for while we refuse to care for anyone else.

This is a two-way street, people.  It goes both ways.  If you want to be cared for, you absolutely need to start caring for others.  You don’t get one without the other.

It required an amount of gratitude, patience, support from others, meditation, self-care, and self-soothing that I almost could not summon to cope with persons who wanted me to guide them without offering me the care and gratitude and patience that I required from them.  When they didn’t offer me that, I needed to find it elsewhere.  Most people don’t have a wealth of gratitude and support and patience and Zen to draw from.  I’m lucky to have found the value of amassing stores of such things as a tool for maintaining mental health and managing chronic illness, so I have it to call upon in situations where others forget to care in our interactions.  But most are not amassing stores upon which they can draw.  Most are pushed beyond breaking points and that frustration and anger and pain of not being offered respect and care and gratitude fly out into the open, creating volatile and even deadly situations.

What would the world look like if we offered the care and avoided the open expression of that pain?

I think it would look very different.  I think it would look much better, much more kind, and much more beautiful.  I think it would offer us freedom and would decrease our anxiety and fear.  I think that it would bring many of us the peace and the positive feedback we needed to keep on going through the challenging moments.  And it would let all of us breathe a big sigh of relief.

This is the first time that I have the insight that I am the stupid person all around someone else, and that understanding how I am stupid, and how I am smart makes a huge difference in my interactions with others.  I hope that my insight might offer you the opportunity to consider your own interactions.

How do you act and react when you are “smart” or “stupid”?  What ways can you add care to those interactions, and what difference might that make?

I’ll put it out there so none of the comments need to … I used to be an asshole about being smart!  I loved knowing stuff and being smarter than others.  But I think that was largely because there was so much pain in other areas of my life.  I was terrible at relationships.  I was keeping devastating secrets.  I was living in constant fear.  Pain fueled the way I interacted then.  I’m not the same person now.  I’m not the same person in this moment that I was at 9 am, frankly.  The insight I’ve gained while writing this post has literally changed who I am.  But, the last 4 years of therapy, and study, and mindfulness, have changed the place from which my interactions originate.  They don’t always come from fear and pain any longer.  I have new spaces—better spaces—from which to draw.

We don’t need to keep interacting in the same ways we always have.  It can take a lot of difficult work to change how we interact and from where we draw that gratitude and fortitude and support.  But it is worth it.  I believe it can change the world.  That is so worth it.