I Can’t Avoid This Any Longer

I’m sorry blog, you’ve been so neglected. I have been rather quiet actually, and not wanting to share what’s in my little bubble as I mull it over. I went back and read everything I’ve written so far this year, and I seem to keep circling around the same themes.

The big thing I’m battling is how my entire world view changed after things with J ended. I spent nearly 35 years of my life obsessively working (on establishing an academic career, if you’re new to this blog), and not really feeling that happy about it, but driven to find happiness through it somehow eventually. I grew up feeling like people were unreliable, and happiness had to come solely from the things one did independently to make one’s own life better and even impressive (to others). I kept people at a distance, even J because I never did trust him after a really rocky start to our relationship. We never established a core foundation of trust. I trusted him more than anyone else in the world, and I still couldn’t tell him some of my fundamental truths.

When I was with J, I never thought about “family”, and now it’s all I can think about. It is the motif of 2014 for me. Is it wrong to devote myself to the pursuit and establishment of family with the same intensity as I do my academic work? The same determination and drive? Semi-relatedly, I’ve been asking a lot of questions of women I know about this whole “biological clock” notion- it’s really interesting to me. It seems to be contingent on being around a person that the body senses is right. Plenty of women I’ve spoken to have said that around one partner they never felt the desire to have kids, and then when they met someone new it went into overdrive. Someone told me just last night, that her body said to her: “I don’t care one bit about logic or planning. You need to make this happen with this guy [now her husband] however you can.”

I wonder if this is something women often feel, but don’t talk about because they’re afraid of being judged (mostly by other women!) and because we all want to be seen as rational actors.

I’ve been having so much trouble working because work makes me actively sad at the moment, and I haven’t gotten to the bottom of why yet. Is it that I’ve sacrificed so much to get here? Is it that for too long I repressed my feelings through work and I now need to deal with my feelings before I -can- work?

I’ve been quiet on here about my boyfriend, M, too, because it’s only been 6 weeks and I don’t really want to jinx it, or publicize it too soon. I mean, I was wrong in the past, and it’s a certain amount embarrassing. But this one feels 180 degrees different from those experiences. In the past, I experienced a lot of doubts, and needed to do a lot of mental juggling to make things feel like they fit. I thought that my incapacity to relax or really speak about my feelings and experiences to those guys honestly was due to something about my compromised mental health. As it turns out, meeting the right person is a game changer. This new relationship is different from my marriage, from any of the dating experiences I’ve had. In this case, all of instincts tell me without reservation that this is right. (I just stared out the window for about ten minutes after writing that.) Yeah. I don’t know why I don’t have any doubts about him. But I don’t. Not a one- apart from the complication that me applying for jobs around the world and him needing to stay here introduces. But that’s not about him, that’s about circumstances.

On Creating the Life I Want

My life right now is governed by fear. A fear that is impacting everything- my sleep, my capacity to get work done, my interactions with others.

I was writing a letter to an old friend who also recently went through a divorce, and I found myself typing this:

“I am SO hard on myself. But think about going through a divorce after 16 years, and having no experience of being an independent adult. Then combine moving back to the US, moving to a city where you know essentially nobody and have no support system. Alone. Into the house in which you lived with your spouse. While dealing with PTSD, and an anxiety disorder. And trying to write a dissertation (no life structure), apply for competitive jobs/post-docs/fellowships and graduate.”

I think I write things like that to people as a reminder to myself that my anger at myself for feeling sad and lonely is unwarranted. I also do it because I hope that it will prompt someone else to tell me I am strong, because I NEED to hear that. Or maybe it’ll prompt someone to save me, because I am so tired from trying to prop myself up.

***
I was in a bar on Friday in my yoga clothes. I was nursing a beer, and consciously forcing myself to breathe in and out, slowly. I was terrified. I felt like I couldn’t go home, because the solitariness of the space would torment me the way it does as I write this. First the sadness, then the despair. I couldn’t go home. So I sat, with my eyes darting quickly left and right, thinking “how did it come to this?” and asking myself:

“L, what do you WANT? What do you want your life to look like?”

That was an easy question to answer.

“But within the realm of current feasibility, what can I do to move towards a life that is more like what I want?” That’s what I need to figure out.

The bartender smiled at me curiously. I smiled back. I like that bar, but I feel like I always bring my dopey-sad eyes to it.

***
I have been keeping it under wraps, because I’ve been wrong in the past, and because this feels almost too good, but I met someone. Someone whose divorce situation resembles mine to an uncanny degree, who I can talk to with such comfort that it makes my heart hurt. But his marriage resulted in two kids, and they are of course his first priority (as an amazing dad and person). So I can sometimes only see him 1-2 evenings a week. This would be painless if I was in
any situation other than the one I am in right now. One of feeling like I need a babysitter until my new housemate moves in.

So I am still wrestling with all of my stuff. And actually, it gets hardest when I’ve met someone I like and I can’t see them that often, because I stop being able to use online dating sites as a way to distract myself. (Even when trying not to date, I find myself sneaking on.)

And right now my fear and sadness are keeping me from being able to do my academic work. But I must work. And even though he knows more about what’s really going on with me than anyone I’ve dated since this all started, I’m still scared of driving M. away. His family is in Houston, so he’s not gone off the rails as far. He has a local support system, and his kids. Meanwhile, my phobia of being alone raises my anxiety to the point where I get sick.

All of that aside, he makes me realize the difference between actual compatibility and just wanting something to fit.

(Ed. note: I was trying to be good about the dating thing but he reached out to me and I HAD to meet another person in their mid-30s who’d just left a 16-year relationship/marriage. It’s not exactly common, and hearing how much our experiences overlap has been so good for me. So if nothing else, it’s been phenomenal to talk to M.)

Free Falling

I’m sitting here on the sofa with the dogs snoring around me. It’s Friday night, the 4th of July. I have two books on the armrest: ビデオカメラでいこう by one of my fieldwork collaborators and heroes, and Ranciēre’s “The Emancipated Spectator”. I was reading and making homemade tomato sauce. Mostly, I was trying to ignore the ache that rose in my chest as soon as my housemate said he was going out.

But I’ve made progress.
I could have gone out tonight too, and I didn’t. I listened to the voice of my soul, which said that I am exhausted from almost nonstop manic socializing. I have been deliberately keeping myself from being still. It all catches up to me when I do.
But here I sit, deliberately courting it. What’s in there? I am asking? No really, let me see it…

I’ve been ignoring my inner voice for so long, because the emotional pain was too intense.
***
I was driving on Allen Parkway the other day as the sun was setting. This was before I got my car stereo replaced, and I was tired of trying to tune my iPhone through the radio adapter. I turned my own music library off, and turned on the actual radio- just in time to hear Tom Petty’s “Free Falling” start up.

That’s a song I’m sure many of us know almost by heart. It reminds me of warm days on the way to summer camp, listening to the radio in the camp van. I repeatedly got in trouble in that van for being too wild, for riling the younger kids up. When I eventually applied to be a counselor, the van driver made a point of saying that I was unsuitable. I wasn’t detached enough from the kids.

But I digress.

I started to sing along. “And I’m free. Free fallllllllin.”
I sing the chorus a couple of times at the absolute top of my lungs, so loudly that it occurs to me the drivers nearby might be able to hear. But I keep singing. And as the chorus starts again I, who am not prone to such things, find my eyes filling with spontaneous tears. I cry and sing at the top of my lungs.

***
I am sitting in Austin’s Graffiti Park on a perfect night, swinging my blue-tights clad legs over the ledge of a broken building. To my right is the kind of boy I only fantasized was real. A recent Philosophy Ph.D grad. He gets all of my theoretical references, but we both descend into juvenile humor just as often. We talk easily. I want to kiss him, but he’s moving to DC for a postdoc, and he doesn’t want to get involved with anyone now. He has a sly, cocky smile and unruly blonde hair. I love how his whole face lights up when he laughs.

Suddenly, sitting so close to the edge gives me a panic attack. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am afraid. I am afraid that every time I meet a boy like him, he’ll be moving to DC, and I won’t be.

When I text him later that I’d wanted to kiss him, he tells me he wanted to kiss me too.

The Road Back to Houston

I hung up the phone with my mother (I was using a headset) and stretched. Glanced at the gas gauge. And then I did a double-take: the low fuel light was on. On my 2005 Pontiac Vibe’s gas gauge the low fuel light goes on with an arrow indicating the percentage of gas left. This time it was at the very bottom. And I could feel the lightness of the car; it was handling strangely, and accelerating hesitantly. Shit. I was stuck in traffic between Austin and Houston, on I-10 E. That stretch of the road where there’s just nothing but ranches.

I picked up my iPhone, and asked Siri for directions to the closest gas station. Siri said behind me 5 miles. The second closest one was more than 20 minutes away. So, reluctantly, I eased out of traffic and onto the Frontage road and crossed over I-10 to head back West. As I lurched down the highway, I fixated on that light and mumbled a few prayers. Just brush and cows, and me, and the landscape that I’d been admiring almost moments before. 4 miles. 3.8. I imagined walking those miles, there and back, with no shade in the 95 degree Texas summer heat.

As I gratefully approached that exit, I did a double-take at the GPS. Glanced up, and down. I pulled around to one side of the highway and then the other, but saw nothing apart from a chipped and rusted abandon building. Panic rising in my throat, I continued to drive, before pulling into the lot of a farming supplies shop right behind two impatient pickup trucks. I shut the car down and sat for a moment, smiling.

Sigh.

A little conversation with myself (out loud) later, and I called up Google this time to check for a nearby gas station (seriously, Siri, this is the second time you’ve screwed me on the gas thing…) 25 minutes away. No… I hadn’t thought I’d make it 5 miles. I hadn’t thought I’d make it into this farm shop’s driveway. And I-10 was barely moving. After an “are you fucking kidding me?” directed skyward, I shrugged and banged a U-turn out of that gravel driveway and headed back to I-10. My new plan was to get as far as I could before I had to pull to the shoulder and call someone.

Stopped behind a Kia on that blasted I-10 E, I narrowed my eyes. Then I swerved and took my little car over the grassy divider back onto the Frontage road. If I was going to run out of gas, I wasn’t going to do it passively.

“Siri?” I asked “If you’re about to run out of gas, is it better to drive fast or slow?”

Siri answered: “I wish you wouldn’t.”

Thanks. Fast it was. I turned on some music and began to sing along. No point in dwelling on it. 24 miles. I played through my current favorite song twice (it captures some of… what catches up with me when I’m still these days). 20 miles. I pulled around a turn and up a hill, and I could feel that the car didn’t want to move. Would barely accelerate. I prayed some more.

I could see the exit. And as I pulled into that Exxon station, the car ran out of fuel, and coasted gently to a stop right in front of the pump. I climbed out, and the man in the pink cowboy hat with the muttonchop sideburns stared as I laughed until tears came to my eyes.

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I was still smiling even while using that bathroom, in a part of Texas where the graffiti said that Obama is the anti-christ, and a woman with a pronounced Texas twang told her kids “don’t you touch nothin’. this place is nasty” in the other stall. As often as I want to get out of my car and scream until I fall to my knees these days, I am lucky. I am so often so very lucky.Image

I Know What the Problem Is

I promise someday I’ll go back to telling funny anecdotes about people and talk about my misadventures as I’ve tried to “save my sanity” this year. But I have to get something boring out of the way first, as a series of notes to myself.

I know the root of 95% of my recent problems is.  I’ve got monophobia- I’m afraid of being alone. I honestly had no idea until 2014, although I started to suspect around 2012. “I’m an introvert,” I thought. “A total homebody! I have a social anxiety disorder. How can this be possible?”

But I can see now how it has driven most of the decisions I’ve made in my life.

This is very true, from zenhabits:

“Does learning to be OK with being alone mean you can’t be in a relationship? Not at all — but if you aren’t OK with being alone, then being in a relationship is going to be fundamentally flawed.

Why? Because you become dependent. You need the other person, not only to pay bills and help you manage, not only to protect you and provide for you, but for emotional needs. You need the other person to pay attention to you, to give you validation and comfort and love. Now, all of those things are nice, but needing someone else for them means you become needy, desperate, and those aren’t attractive qualities. Who wants to be in a relationship with a needy, desperate person?”

Or, as RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?

—-
In my heart I know about people almost instantly. I know whether they’re real or fake, good for me or not. I feel them acting upon my nervous system immediately. When I try to force a relationship (friendship or otherwise) with someone who, for whatever reason, isn’t relating to me genuinely and openly, it causes me so much pain (angst!). In particular, I respond very negatively to people who are deeply afraid, but in denial about it, because something in me picks up on the torment.

I now know what I have to do, but whether I am able to do all of it or not is questionable.
1. I need to not date (how many times have I had this realization? BUT I am adding a caveat)… unless I encounter someone who really feels right on a deeply instinctive level. And that hasn’t happened in Houston.

2. I need to figure out what I can change about this house to make it more me and less us. I don’t know if this can and will happen, because in a lot of ways it’d be easier to just discharge almost everything when I make the permanent move in a year or less, then redecorate when I get where I’m going.

3. I need to see if I can find a house-sitting gig somewhere outside of Houston that will allow me to bring an incontinent elderly dog (London) and one who is now confused about where potty goes (Mei) because of his illness. It’d have to be free lodgings or I’m still stuck here. But house-sitting… yeah. The odds are about as high as that makes it sound.

I don’t know, my inner voice is still telling me I need to go, but I’ve had to be strong and patient in the past. This may be no exception. I do have things keeping me in the HTX, but I’ve learned this year that even what seem like inflexible barriers can be worked through if a thing is important enough.

Hmmmm thoughts thoughts thoughts.

My Fear is a Liar

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Flying into PA. Flying back to Houston

I’m in the Charlotte airport, by myself. I seem to end up in the Charlotte airport once every few months, in the same terminal by the Starbucks. The flight next to mine is going to Munich, not Houston, and I’m considering going AWOL, jumping aboard.

In a departure from the beautiful crisp summer morning I left behind in Newark, it’s pouring here. It’s raining hard enough that it’s temporarily become the primary topic of conversation in the B terminal. Our flight has been delayed 2 hours. (*Later it was cancelled altogether.)

I didn’t think I’d be going back to Houston today.

Yesterday my anxiety disorder was winning, the trauma of the past few years had caught up with me again. I was so afraid I could only lie around and cry, and hug pillows. In those moments I admitted my darkest fears to myself and insofar as I can, to my sister and mother.

Fear looks like forever. It colors my work grey and meaningless (at a time when I have doubts about the value of most academic work). It tells me that I can never break up with anyone because I will never find another person to date. Logic says otherwise, but my life has thus far been governed and sabotaged by fear. Because I have listened to the fear above all other voices.

My sister asked me what my instincts were telling me. I think that’s the same as what my friend (and dog-sitting buddy) Sera refers to as the soul, and listening to the soul’s voice. My soul was telling me that E wasn’t really right for me, but my fear was telling me that I didn’t have the time to keep looking for someone who might fit better. I never did lose my feelings of high anxiety around E, because he was too close-lipped about himself, too concerned with his facade, too concerned with managing himself and the people in his life according to some corp-speak philosophy intended to deliver him maximum return on his investment. Perhaps needless to say, he was a salesman for a living– viewing people in utilitarian terms was his job.

When I hit my social limit, which doesn’t take long, or (that one time) objected to being abandoned (meaning he announced he “had to go”) at a party where I knew only him, he urged me to “network”, because “you never know who you’ll need, when.”

We weren’t a match.
But he was incredibly kind, and chivalrous, and called me “sweetie” and “babe”, which were firsts for me. He was ex-military, he was ripped (fit), and these were firsts for me too. I was fascinated by him.

I didn’t sleep again last night, but somewhere around 3AM, the fear ran out of materials to burn. Soul says I need to change therapists. Check! Soul says to find a good acupuncturist. Check! Soul says to focus on my work, and really examine whether I truly don’t enjoy it, or I’m currently just suffering from the malaise that comes with being in the middle of a massive project. Soul says to not actively look for a new partner. The latter is the hardest for me.

I told my sister something I deeply believe: I am happiest in a relationship. I want to feel taken care of, and like I have someone watching out for me. I pick one person at a time in the world to trust, and throw my trust into them almost entirely … and immediately. I feel like I’m drowning without that person because I don’t know how to take care of my own emotional needs. I would do anything to preserve a relationship with my chosen person, even when it proves to be a poor fit. This is why I was married for so long. Does this sound like any of you?

The fear is chemical. It is illogical. And it is wrong. It whispers to me that I’ll have regrets, that I’m doing everything wrong, that I have to hurry, that I’m not safe by myself. My fear is a liar.

I have read that distracting oneself from fear is misguided, that it means one isn’t dealing with one’s feelings. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. When the terror grips me I will continue to spiral illogically downward if i don’t intervene with aggressive distraction. Or talk it out.

I have to trust more than one person. This has been a big theme of the blog lately. I mean enough trust to text them when I am freaking out, and believe that they will tell me when it’s a bad time, and they can’t talk, trust that I will not “bother” them.

This is what I’m trying / have tried:
-Meditation
-A house purifying ritual from Mrs. B’s Guide to Household Witchery
-Acupuncture
-Group Therapy
-Individual Therapy
-Reading some good books- I think when going through a crisis, books for pure pleasure are as important, if not more important, than “constructive” books
-Yoga (of course); also volunteering at the yoga studio to meet new people.
-Getting a housemate – this makes such a difference to my sanity.

Tell me, what helps you keep the fear at bay?

A Woman Walked By

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I was walking along River Road in the sun, staring at nothing. A little old woman with snow white hair, a blue blouse, and a pair of cropped khaki pants stood by the narrow road side, around one of the sharp turns by the narrow bridge. She regarded me with blue eyes that reminded me of my own. She said “Hello.”

I said Hello, and moved to trudge past.

She said, abruptly: “What would make you happy?”

I startled, visibly. “What do you mean?” My voice was trembling. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. They’d been shaking all day, since I’d been up most of the night with the fear returned to me so strongly that I thought I was going to die of it again. Or need to turn myself into a mental hospital for oversight to keep myself safe.

She waited, looking at me directly. “Honey, you know what I mean.”

I could feel the tears in my throat. “I just want to be happy.” I corrected myself, “But that isn’t what you asked me. I’m sorry.” I wanted to break down, just collapse onto the ground and wail until my voice gave out:  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Instead I whispered to her: “Why am I never good enough?”

Her facial expression didn’t change. “You’re always good enough.”

“I just watched Fellini’s 81/2 last night,” I told her “One of the characters said two things: ‘I feel like I’ve made a mess of everything in my life. And my work.’ and ‘I’ve always forgiven everything in the men I love.’ Both of those things are true for me.”

She nodded. “So what would make you happy?”

“To be loved by someone who knows how lucky they are to have me. I’m tired of being the only one who knows that.”

The woman scoffed: “You’ll always be unhappy so long as you’re waiting for someone else to make you happy.”

I looked at my feet. “I know that. But …”

“But you don’t feel it right now. I know, I know. But you need to focus on your soul. And your fate.”

I must have made a face unwittingly because she continued:

“I know, I know, you millenials don’t like to believe in fate anymore. But-“

“I’m 35!”

“Same thing. But I assure you, you have a fate. You have a destiny.”

“No, it’s not the same thing,” I cried. “I have made a mess out of everything. I’ve ruined everything. And I’m already 35 and I want a do-over.”

“Well, aren’t you melodramatic. You sure like torturing yourself, don’t you?”

“…”

“This mess you’ve made, you needed to make it in order to get to your destiny. Now you need to figure out what would make you happy, without involving any other souls, and do that.”

She turned to walk back down the gravel path to the farm house, while I stood there in the sun, listening to the wind in the leaves, shaking harder.