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relaxing into my skin

March 8, 2013

I’m a night owl. Last night/this morning, I went to bed at 4 AM. I woke up this morning at 9:25. I also need a lot of sleep — 5.5. hours isn’t nearly enough — so I’ll go to bed earlier than usual tonight, and probably really early Saturday night.

I love taking naps, but they’re tricky for me because I tend to fall into a deep sleep. Instead of waking up in 30 to 40 minutes, I wake up after two or three hours, and often feel groggy for the rest of the day.

In my first “big” job, I had to be there, ready to start, at 7:45 AM. The job was located in downtown Chicago, in the Loop, and I was then living, with my parents, way out in the western suburbs. Iirc, I took the 6:20 train into the city. I didn’t have a car, so I rode a bus to get to the train; the bus arrived at my stop around 5:55 AM. “Sleeping until the last possible minute” meant getting out of bed at 5:30 AM. But it often had to be before that, as I was practically catatonic when I woke up that early. So if there was the slightest hitch in my routine, repercussions made a mess of my whole day.

One day in particular remains vivid. It was winter. It had snowed the night before. The streets in downtown Chicago were slippery, salty, and slushy, as I walked to my job. I tripped and fell, into a slushy puddle, drenching my clothes on the right side. I scraped my knee, and jarred my whole body. I hurt all over. I was close to tears. But there was no time to waste! I was due at work in 10 minutes! I got there on time that day. Drank a cup of vending-machine coffee, as usual, to “perk” up and warm up. Pasted on my customer service smile. And gritted my teeth, standing there in soaking wet clothes all day, aching all over. One customer didn’t think I was cheery enough, and yelled at me. Then reported me to my manager. I wasn’t particularly contrite — I didn’t have the energy.

I think the latest time one of my jobs ever started was 9 AM. Most were 8, or 8:30.

Going all the way back to that first “big” job, I’d noticed that, no matter how much coffee I drank (and that job was when I started drinking coffee), no matter how long (or short) I’d been upright and moving, I didn’t actually “feel awake” until about 10 AM. Right around 10 AM, my brain suddenly cleared, and I felt peppy, and raring to go. I had another surge of energy around 4-5 PM. And if I didn’t get to bed before 10 PM or so, my brain would kick into high gear, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all.

I didn’t learn about “biorhythms” (my natural energy cycles) until about three years ago. But even then, newly unemployed, my big concern was figuring out how to maximize my peak energy times. Something was still out of sync though, and I never did figure out what it was.

= + =

As I’ve let go of all my former attachments, for the first time, I’m actually exploring my biorhythms, in real time. Now that I’m not telling myself mean-spirited stories about being a lazy slacker if I don’t leap out of bed every morning at 8 AM, change into clothes, and then have a ‘productive’ day until going to bed at a ‘normal’ hour (say, 11 PM) . . . I can notice that there are definitely days that I am a whirlwind of energy. And I accomplish a lot on those days. But generally, even those days, I don’t leave the apartment until 11 AM, or noon. (Writing morning pages has complicated this picture.)

On slower days, if something in my mind wants to be written — like this morning — I can be all set up on the bed with my laptop, dictating, within 15 minutes of waking up.

I started a pot of coffee during my set-up period, but it’s an hour later, and I haven’t drunk any of it yet. I drink coffee for a whole host of reasons, including enjoyment of the morning ritual, and liking the taste, but I don’t really need it to ‘wake up’ like I used to.

In warmer weather, I have a host of clothes that are fun to wear, and comfortable, and easy to slither into at the beginning of the day. But in the winter, like now, I have to pick layers, and I’m never warm enough, and layers mean bulk and uncomfortable-ness. So if I know I’m going to remain inside the apartment all day, I tend to stay in my pajamas until late afternoon.

I used to feel really guilty about that. I didn’t stop doing it, but Mrs. Nocerino (my screeching introject) shamed me for being a lazy slacker.

It was only fairly recently that I thought to myself. . . if I’m most productive between midnight and 3-4 AM, and I need a lot of sleep, why on earth am I expecting myself to be out of bed, moving around, and wide awake at 8 AM? Why am I holding myself to schedules that grew out of jobs (that I no longer have)? Schedules that I now realize were horribly unsuited to my body’s preferences. Doing all of this is not — as Mrs. Nocerino would insist — holding myself to a ‘higher standard’. Instead, it’s self-hating. Newsflash: I’m not a morning person! In fact, I’m the opposite of a morning person. That doesn’t mean I don’t get anything done; it means I get stuff done at other times.

When Spouse and I first got together, I had the idea from somewhere that we were both night owls. I’ve only recently realized, he’s not. When he ‘sleeps in’ on a Saturday, that means he stays in bed until 8 AM, maybe 8:30. Even if he was up until very late (although for him, that’s almost never beyond 1 AM).

I was spending so much emotional energy plugging data into my trusty algorithms that I never noticed what was Really There. Spouse is a morning person. Like my parents. I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend who was a night owl, so I never got even emotional support for figuring out what works for me, and then going with that.

The next big thing I’m working up to is actually creating things in the middle of the night. (Usually, I’m reading, or thinking. Or, during warmish weather, out walking.)

+++

Now that I’m not constantly judging myself harshly, I’m discovering subtle nuances in myself.

I’m actually pretty self-sufficient emotionally.

I have definite preferences for things. I already have boundaries. Encroachments on my boundaries absolutely ping — but I have to be paying attention. And when I notice, I have to do something to defend them. Unconsciously or subconsciously, I’ve been ‘pushing back’ all along, but I mostly didn’t (consciously) realize I was doing it. So when I consciously pushed back, it felt awkward and uncomfortable, which I thought was a function of how rare it was. Or how I ‘shouldn’t have to do it’.

Nowadays I recognize how good it feels to push back. To not look to other people for what I need, but to find ways to get it for myself. And then I don’t owe them anything.

Now that I’m not telling Spouse every little thing, I realize what I shouldn’t have been doing before. I was oversharing. I was expecting other people to soothe me. I hated it when my mother did both to me, but I didn’t realize I was doing the same thing to other people. I bet I was exhausting to be around.

I’m not actually very similar to most people. Personality wise. What I care about most. What I spend most of my time thinking about. Even Spouse, my best friend, doesn’t much care about the things I’m most interested in. For years, I’ve been searching for friends to share these things with. But I don’t need friends to share them with. I didn’t know that before.

Back when I was still friends (with someone I’ve since broken up with), she once declared she would introduce me to people as “non-neurotypical”. I remember wondering why she thought her judgment of how my brain works would need to be one of the first things she would tell someone else about me. And her manner was odd too: she acted like she was doing me a favor. Still, I was so excited to have someone in my life who (seemed to) want to help me explore why I had problems with things other people found easy. I hoped for better work-arounds, and I welcomed emotional support while we (I thought) sought them. It took me much longer than it probably should have to recognize that in every single situation where she did things differently than I did, she thought my way was not just different, but defective. She didn’t actually respect me at all; she pitied me.

I should’ve pushed back a lot more. I felt uneasy in that relationship from the very beginning, but I told myself I was being ‘too sensitive’.

As I write that, I recall a relative telling me I was ‘too sensitive’. That time it wasn’t my mother. But invariably, the person telling me that wanted me to ignore feelings that asserted I was being mistreated. Studies show that emotional pain feels like physical pain. And our bodies don’t produce physical pain unless something is truly wrong — something that demands our attention so it can be addressed. I’ve been shamed for responding to physical pain too.

There’s something weird here. Okay, we feel pain because there’s a problem that we need to address. Maybe the problem can’t be fixed outright, depending on what it is, but we can experiment with conditions, and thereby change what we’re feeling (or we can work on our feelings directly) — if not eradicating the pain, at least (hopefully) diminishing it.

I am highly motivated by pain — because I want to stop it. For a very long time, I resisted acknowledging that to myself, because it somehow seemed negative.

Everyone in my family of origin sneers that I have a ‘low pain threshold’, as if that’s a moral defect.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, all of them are in constant emotional agony, but they just pretend they aren’t (or are possibly not aware of the reasons they feel like shit all the time). Most of them self medicate somehow.

My mother self medicates in at least a handful of ways and historically, she had me to overshare to, and I would help soothe/manage her feelings for her.

But soothing someone else’s feelings can only ever be temporary relief, at best. The pain always comes back because the underlying problems are still there, unaddressed.

On the other hand, I address my problems. Over and over and over, in some cases. I experiment, I explore options, I try everything I can think of. Occasionally I ask other people for suggestions. If I’m in pain, never mind agony!, I don’t stop working on stuff until it gets better.

How can trying to fix/improve things possibly be considered a moral defect?

Hmmm, well, if the system that perpetuates everyone’s pain seems to be inevitable? Necessary somehow?

This suddenly reminds me of what Julia Cameron wrote about what blocked creative people gain from being blocked (which, perhaps not coincidentally, occurs in the week I’m currently in, #5, Sense of Possibility):

“We listen to other people’s ideas of what is self-destructive without ever looking at whether their self and our self have similar needs. Caught in the Virtue Trap, we refuse to ask ourselves, ‘What are my needs? What would I do if it weren’t too selfish?’

Are you self-destructive? This is a very difficult question to answer. To begin with, it requires that we know something of our true self (and that is the very self we have been systematically destroying).” (p. 100)

I know a lot about my true self. And I’m learning more all the time, especially now that I’m not constantly condemning myself for not being just like everyone else. But even when I was condemning myself, I was highly motivated to stop feeling whatever pain I was in.

Maybe that’s why I’m not just ‘creative’, but actually producing creative stuff. And maybe that’s also why I finally seem to have found my way to emotionally healthy practices. Yes, it took (what seemed like) a really long time, but I never gave up.

Heck, this is, iirc, the 5th time I’ve tried The Artist’s Way process. I think I’ve had 7 different counselors (since age 13). I’ve read hundreds of books on psychology, interpersonal dynamics, creativity, etc. I’ve experimented. I’ve slowly learned how to hear my inner voices, and then how to heed them.

+++

Maybe not just getting to this point, but the arduous journey that getting to this point required, has been necessary training, or apprenticeship, for what I perceive is the next big thing.

I had thought I was already ‘off the map’, but I feel the next leg of my adventure will be places I’ve never thought about, never even imagined, myself going. Places I couldn’t have imagined myself going before finally finding myself comfortable in my own skin.

For years now, I’ve known in my deepest self that I wanted to be an avant-garde artist, I wanted to be an iconoclast, I wanted to be a visionary mystic. But I had no idea how to do any of that. I wasn’t sure was up to it — that I had what it took (whatever that was). But now I know, I’m ready to jump off the cliff anyway. I’m eager to jump off that cliff. And I think I’m as ready as anybody can be . . . for everything to change. For my whole sense of what the world can be to become different.

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