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Wk 0: nurturing myself

December 3, 2015

Last night, I found out I wasn’t accepted for a Hedgebrook residency in 2016. I join the ranks of >1800 disappointed writers, which illuminates just how much of a longshot applying was.

Cognitively, I ‘feel’ sad and empty, but right now, those are just words. My strong visceral emotions are MIA, but I know they will show up in their own good time.

It’s probably even for the best, as my poetry ‘project’ — an unheard of 3 years long — began winding down between the time I applied (July) and the end of this year (now).

I’ve felt long overdue for doing entirely other things, but my emotional energy had run aground, so I was stuck until it shifted ‘on its own’.

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December and January are historically such tricky times of year for me, I thought I’d try something different to respond to this disappointment: 7 weeks of nurturing myself.

It’s actually kind of daunting how hard it will likely be.

I have executive function deficits that plague me every day of my life.

I get seasonally depressed in the winter.

I have chronic depression, so I cycle in and out of episodes based on… something or another.

Especially when the weather’s cold, rainy, and/or snowy, I struggle with mild agoraphobia. No doubt a brisk walk around the neighborhood would lift my spirits, but I can’t bring myself to bundle up and actually leave the apartment.

Did I mention I have dysautonomia? My internal body temperature is low at the best of times, but my hands and feet are freezing most of the time. I love bare feet, but I can’t do them in the house because it’s never warm enough on the (carpeted) floor. I wear socks and slippers all year round; I always sleep with socks on. When my feet and hands get cold enough, my brain basically shuts down to higher function. So I have good reasons not to risk getting chilled (outside).

Sometimes it’s taken me the entire night to warm up sufficiently to feel warm when I wake up. But once I get out of bed, that warmth will rapidly disperse. So I stay in bed longer because ‘toasty’ is lovely. I get a later start, but daylight is shorter, so the hours available to go out and do things are shorter too, which is stressful when things (inevitably) get pushed back over several days in a row. In a week where I need to accomplish something unpleasant that requires going out and/or calling someone, I never feel like my ‘own time’ is really my own.

If I get moving late, it might be too late to drink coffee with breakfast, which I look forward to as a friendly ritual. Or if I’m going to an early morning movie, coffee is out. Or if I’ll be in the car most of the day, can’t drink coffee beforehand.

Because of the weather, I use up calories much faster than I do in the summer, which means I probably should be eating more often. Gods, eating is the biggest drain on my executive function, every damn day. I eat less often in the winter, because the bother of it overwhelms me. That creates a vicious circle with being too cold. It’s a wonder I’ve ever accomplished anything in the winter.

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{{ I feel sad and empty and exhausted writing all of this stuff down, but… that’s what I’m feeling, and I’m expressing that, which is, itself, a way of nurturing myself. I’m not stuffing anything down, ignoring it, scolding myself for feeing it, etc., etc. }}

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I grew up the eldest child to parents who pressed me into service parenting them. So I know how to make other people feel encouraged and emotionally-supported. I know how to listen (seemingly endlessly). I have a rare talent for finding the silver lining in even the most dire circumstances. I’m difficult to shock. I have high tolerances in almost all directions for unusual behaviors — except for deliberate cruelty and unkindness, which I abhor and condemn.

I genuinely like most people (at least at first).

There are approximately 100 people on Twitter whose timelines I seek out occasionally because I really like them, and am wondering how and what they’re doing. They’re often people that I stopped following, though, because their everyday stream was so baffling/annoying/stressful. Trying to engage with them personally… often doesn’t work either. I mute and unmute, follow and unfollow and re-follow, trying to find a way to stay connected and yet not be overwhelmed with alien utterances.

I don’t actually understand other people. I never have.

I keep trying though.

Once in a blue moon, someone on Twitter says something to me directly that shows that they understand me in a way that I recognize as myself. That happened yesterday, when my friend renewed my faith in … the universe, I guess. Thank you, Michael!

I don’t receive direct feedback very often, from anybody. But usually when I do it’s… puzzling. There are so many layers of things I don’t understand about whatever the comment was that… I’m overwhelmed at even trying to sort out what I could ask them to clarify. Some things are likely socially taboo to talk about, but those will be the ones I really need to understand. Beyond that, though, the way other people see me — at least the things they will admit to me that they think or feel about me — bear almost no resemblance to how I think of myself. So, it’s feedback, but to what? If I were to ‘truth’ it with my own data, where do I apply it?

What I really long for is insightful feedback. Something that shows me that the other person is inhabiting a similar universe to my own.

The most reliable way to do that is… counseling. Starting in 1978 when I was a (grieving) kid, I’ve been formally counseled by 10 mental health professionals: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, a pastor.

I’ve informally received advice from many, many more people than that.

Advice is… rarely what I want, need, and certainly not what I can use.

I have had to be in desperate circumstances before turning to asking others for advice. And the advice I received was… worse than useless. It was destructive. It was discouraging. And it showed me that the other person… had no idea what kind of person I am. No idea. Which is its own utterly demoralizing thing.

+++

I don’t actually know how to nurture myself, but I can learn from doing it. I can discover what works, what doesn’t, and maybe figure out why.

Writing about the process will give me a record.

Someday I’ll look back and marvel at my progress.

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