Lani: Not Thinking

I decided recently not to watch the news anymore. I just can’t. It makes me too angry, and I have enough tension in my life already, thankyouverymuch. So, I weeded all my political blogs out of my Feedly feed, and filled it with LOLcats and xkcd and other good stuff. Yes, I went back to my blogs when events took a turn this past week and I wanted to find out what was going on, but I left them again immediately thereafter and went back to cute animals on Buzzfeed.

Apparently, I was on to something. I just found this article from the Guardian, which states:

News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this week… thinking less, enjoying more. Trusting that, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, the arc of the universe bends toward justice. There are horrible people in the world doing horrible things, but there are many, many more good people, and I’m going to trust that’ll be enough.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this Leonardo da Vinci pancake, and you tell me if it makes you happier than your stupid Congressperson being stupid in stupid Congress. I’ll bet… yes.


Lani: Shameless

Original photo by Freemax on deviantART

So, continuing the discussion on shame… now there’s a fun time, huh?

We have this joke in our family. I’m not sure when it started; pretty sure it was Sarah. We jokingly told her off for something, and she hung her head to hide her grin and said, “You’re right. I did bad and I should feel bad.” This became an oft-repeated in-joke and it is kind of funny. But it shines a light on the problem with guilt and shame—the difference between you did bad and you are bad—and it’s something I’ve been trying to unravel for years, with some minimal success, but not enough. So hang with me while I unpick it, and let me know what you think.

Guilt is feeling bad over something we’ve done; shame is feeling bad over what we are. Guilt you can do something with; it’s based on action, so you can take action to wipe it away. You can apologize, you can do better next time, you can learn, you can grow, and the guilt goes away.

Shame is sticky, it attaches to your legs, giving extra weight and effort to every step, and the best you can do is beat it back so that it’s just on your ankles, maybe, but eventually it climbs back up, covering you until it’s way over your head. You can’t do anything with shame, because it’s not on you, it’s in you. It’s who you are.

I can see the argument for the value of guilt; we need to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes. But a lot of people think shame has a positive role in society, too, and of that, I’m not so convinced. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” we say. “I can’t believe you did that. Do you have no shame?” But recent research shows that shame is all bathwater, no baby. It doesn’t work as a motivator. It inhibits and paralyzes people. Shame might motivate people to change some things in the short run, but since the shame doesn’t wear away through action (the shame remains no matter what you do) eventually the shame consumes any energy the shamed person might have to make changes. If the shame is supposed to motivate you to change, because then the shame would go away, but the shame doesn’t go away, what’s the point of making the changes? It’s a de-motivator in the long run.

Fat shame. Gay shame. Female shame. (Yes, just being a female in this society means you will be shamed simply for having ownership of a vagina, no matter what. You’re either a slut or a prude; pick one.) Some of us can let that shame roll off our backs; we were raised by people who taught us better.

Some of us… not so much.

All these years, I thought it was guilt I was feeling, but the fact was, I was feeling shame. Whenever there was a situation in which anyone could possibly see me as being wrong (which, based on perspective, was pretty much every situation) I would feel this inner torment which I defined as guilt, but I don’t think it was. Guilt is about doing something you wish you hadn’t, and then taking action to rectify it. Shame is what you feel when you fear that it’s not what you did, it’s what you are. That there’s no escape; you actually are a terrible human being. And all it takes is one moment in which you have done something which someone could possibly perceive as the wrong thing.

That’s everything. If I buy sugar cereal for my kids, I could be seen as the best mom in the world (by the kids.) But someone at the check-out line could see me and not realize I never buy them sugar cereal, this is a one-time thing. That person might tsk and judge, and since they can judge me, they confirm my fear that I’m a bad mother, triggering huge shame.

The only way to avoid shame is being perfect on every level. As such, when I’m in shame (as Brené Brown puts it), I am vulnerable in those areas where it’s impossible to be perfect. I’m overweight, so my weight is a huge source of shame for me. I am obviously lazy, stupid, selfish, unhealthy. My mothering is a huge shame trigger for me, because sometimes it’s just impossible to be the mother I want to be. During the divorce, I had a few years of solid crazy and I did my absolute best for the kids, but every now and again we joke about how Sweetness ate nothing but bagel bites and pizza for two years, and it triggers my shame. Money is another trigger; a good person can support herself and her family. So when I was in financial ruin after leaving my husband, that was horrible. Every day, the same tape ran in my head.

It’s true. I’m awful. There’s no escape.

I’m just a bad person.

The other night, I was talking about this with Alastair, and I posed the question: Why is it so important to be a good person? Because that’s really what it comes down to with shame. The shame itself is supposed to work as some kind of emotional antibiotic; it kills the fear that we’re bad people, because if we really were bad people, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Therefore, the shame reminds us that we’re not awful people. It serves a purpose, and that’s why we hold onto it. Without it, we might not be good people, and that would mean…

… what, exactly? That’s where I’m sticking right now. I do care about being a good person, but I’m not sure I’m going about it right. I set impossible standards for myself, standards to which I would hold no other human being on this planet; I fail to meet those standards because they’re impossible; and then I torture myself about it. All just so that I know I’m not a terrible human being.

So… what if I stop placing so much importance on being a good person? What happens then? Do I become a monster? Will I be a worse mother? Will I make less money? Will I get fatter? Since I eat to comfort against the shame, that’s a pretty pertinent question.

That’s where I am. That’s where I’ve stopped. I should report; the shame has been much better in the last few years. Gradually, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t feel shame every minute of the day. Unfortunately, a side effect of the respite from shame is that when one of my triggers hits, it hits hard. I spin almost immediately. When you’re neck-deep in shame all the time, you get used to it. Now, if just a toe dips in, I freak out.

What’s your experience with shame? Have you kicked it? What do you think about shame vs. guilt? Are either helpful emotions? Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually felt guilt. I’m pretty sure all I’ve ever felt was shame.

Lani: The Choice

freakoutLately, because we are a lively and fun couple, Alastair and I have been having a lot of conversations about shame. We’ve been sort of clearing out the old bullshit, as you know, and one of the things we both struggle with is this idea that there’s just something Wrong about us, even if by most people’s standards we’re fairly lovely people. We don’t kick dogs, we don’t beat children, we try to be fair and kind and when we’re not, we try to own it. We’re your standard issue flawed but overall good people, but still… we just have had it ingrained that there’s something Wrong with us as human people, and it’s a tough mindset to kick. We both picked it up as children, and the things you believe as a child adhere to your soul with a death cling that’s near impossible to shake, no matter how much you might understand intellectually that you are not history’s worst monster because the propane ran out on your watch.

Recently, though, I’ve had something of a breakthrough. I’ve started to be able to choose not to feel the shame. This was never an option before. Every time I start to feel that shame, that guilt, or the panic, I just think, “I’m not going to do this,” and this huge sense of relief flows over me. It’s not perfect; many times the shame and guilt and panic just comes right back, and I choose again, and it ebbs away, and we go on like this until either the situation is resolved or I’m distracted by shiny new guilt, shame or panic. But sometimes, more and more often as we go, the choice works. I just choose, and the horrible feeling is gone, that internal poison (which really is physical poison, those stress hormones are supposed to come on when you’re being chased by a lion, not when you’re accidentally late on the car payment) just fades away.

It’s just… a choice.

The other night, we were having this discussion and I told Alastair, “You just choose,” and he couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Intellectually, of course, he could; we all understand intellectually what it is to choose. But inside, where it matters, where the poison seeps in, he couldn’t get it. How can you just choose and make it go away?

Quite honestly, I don’t know. I think I’m starting to be able to do it because I was loved so completely. Because I had people who loved me unconditionally through the worst part of my life and I was too weak to fight them off. Because things were so bad that I had to accept that these people just loved me, something in me began to heal. It’s been almost four years since all that began, and only now, just recently, am I able to understand that I really can choose. It’s so deceptively simple, and yet so infernally impossible.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about this week. I’m so grateful I’m beginning to be able to turn it off, although there’s still a long way to go. What’s your experience with this? Has anyone else been able to do this? Can you explain how it works? Because I can’t, at least not any better than I explained it here. I feel like there’s something here I’m just not able to put into words; can you?

Lani: The Wait

I get tense before a big transition. We’re moving in about six weeks, and I’m really looking forward to it. Once I can take action, I’ll be good. But in the meantime, I’m just… waiting… and I’m not good at that.

I remember the last few weeks before leaving New York for Ohio, after The Event which put the last nail in the coffin of my marriage so I knew I wouldn’t ever be coming back, but before the kids finished school and we actually left. That was about four weeks, and I hated every one of them. There was nothing to do but sit there and worry about what might go wrong, and in a situation in which I was leaving my husband, my home and my life to start fresh in my best friend’s attic with no job, no money and two kids to take care of… well, that was a thousand times worse than this. Right now, I’ve got security, and everything that matters to me, I’m taking with me. Nothing else in my life is changing except my location, and I’m going to a place where I have friends and a history and a future.

Still. I’m tense.

Life changes on occasion. Sometimes because of us, sometimes despite us, sometimes immediately and sometimes at a painful, glacial pace. But it changes, and for me, it’s changing once again. I like change, I really do, but I like it better when it happens now. Waiting is not my strong suit.

So, what do I do? Do I find peace with waiting, or do I endlessly research the best way to pack, the best pediatricians in Syracuse, taking what action I can until I can finally start taping up boxes? Do I accept that I hate waiting and spend my time obsessing, or should I try to remedy this flaw in my personality and find my zen?

What would you do?

Lani: This Week

Every Thursday, I’m supposed to come here and post what I’ve been thinking about. Usually, when I have a thought during the week, I scribble it down, schedule it for Thursday, and go on my merry way. I had those thoughts during the week, but never made it to the website, and now I’m here on Thursday morning without much to say, sadly.

So, I appeal to you, o Wise ReFabbers; what have you been thinking about this week?

Next week, I’ll try to get back on that horse, but I’m moving in May and there is simply not enough time for everything I have to do, so all I can promise is my best effort.

Lani: Sling that Watermelon

claire and brookeAs anyone who listens to StoryWonk Sunday knows, Alastair and I have been watching The Amazing Race. It’s been a huge amount of fun; exotic locales, crazy people who are great subjects for studying human nature, and whenever the kids ask, “Where is that?” we send them to the map to find it, and that makes us feel like good parents. It was fun, but not exactly life changing.

Until season 17. Yes, I’ll admit it; Season 17 of The Amazing Race changed my damn life.

What happened is this: Best friends and home shopping hosts Brook Roberts (nickname: Bam) and Claire Champlin went on the show, and they laughed and had a great time and fought a little, but when they did, they were positive and respectful to each other. The big moment for me came in the first leg of the race, when Claire got hit in the face with a watermelon.

Did you watch the video? That looked painful. Like, really painful. Alastair and I shouted and said, “Oh my god!” and thought her face was broken. But here’s what happened.

Claire was not happy. Life for her, at that moment, was not great. She acknowledged that. “I can’t feel my face!” But she didn’t freak out. She didn’t get pissed, she didn’t throw things, she didn’t yell about her bad luck. She took a moment, acknowledged the pain and shock, shot a watermelon seed out of her nose (I’m presuming; they didn’t show that) and kept on going with energy and commitment.

And that’s when I was like, “Oh. That’s how you do it. Acknowledge the suck, then line up another watermelon in the slingshot and shoot down that suit of armor.”

Look, for years, I’ve known it. Stay positive. Keep things in perspective. Don’t freak out. Don’t whine. And I’ve tried it, all my life, but from a place outside of myself; inside, I’d still be roiling. I would feel my frustration rising, and I would say, “These are the things I need to do,” because there’s nothing I hate more than that moment when someone looks at you with disappointment because you’re acting like an asshole. So I would force myself to play positive until I ran out of energy, and then I’d scream and yell and throw a fit when I was alone, if I could get away in time. If not, I’d throw my fit for witnesses, and I’d get that look and just despise myself.

But watching these wild women from Reno, Nevada kick ass and take names on one of the most fun and patently ridiculous television shows in existence… that sent the lesson home. Finally, I got it. To appear positive, to pretend you’re not feeling what you’re feeling, is external, and it takes your energy because you’re denying the reality of what you’re feeling. Years and years of denial builds a series of mild frustrations into roiling rage, ready to spark off at the slightest provocation. So the rage is exhausting you, and the fake exterior is doubly exhausting you. To truly be positive, you have to be internally positive. That conserves fuel instead of burning it all up. It’s not about being positive for other people, so that I don’t make them uncomfortable or get that look. It’s not about containing my rage so that I seem, from an external perspective, to be holding it together.

It’s about acknowledging that the situation sucks, feeling and releasing the frustration and anger, then getting up and putting the next watermelon in the sling. It’s about what I do internally, not how it appears externally. That’s the choice. That’s where I’ve been going wrong.

Pardon my duh. And thank you, Brook and Claire.

(And here’s another video demonstrating their awesome.)

Lani: Busy

pinkieWow, life has suddenly gotten insane. Book due, lots of clients (which is nice), we have our apartment lined up in Syracuse, moving in May, kids finishing off the school year, and it’s a snow day. Whew!

I always admire those people who are completely in the moment. They never get flustered, never run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Just… zen. I’ve tried meditation, yoga, mindfulness, the power of now. All stuff that sounds great, but I think I’ve come to a realization that it’s just not me.

I like being busy. I like the rush. I like the sense of accomplishment. Of course, I also get exhausted, worn down, and burnt out, which isn’t so great. Then I need a week on the couch to recover. But sometimes I wonder if there isn’t some kind of balance between the zen and the rush that can accommodate both ideals, because no matter how I try, I’m never going to be that zen girl. I’m always going to be high energy, excitement, enthusiasm, and I think one of the big realizations I’ve come to lately has been that I need to accept who I am and work with that instead of against it.

So, how do you balance the Pinkie Pie part with the part that needs to say, “Om,” once in a while?