Discomfort

I’m a much happier person now, and my friends are noticing. As a result of numerous conditions, I’ve been less consistent about posting since the summer, which kind of confused me for a while. Recently, it clicked in why I don’t write as often. I stopped attending counselling, so my old wounds aren’t being ripped open as often. I’m employed now, so I’m getting my weekly fill of conversation with both customers and coworkers. I was working full time for the past six months, where I was feeling drained after work most days. I’ve also been ill for most of the fall season. Not resting like I needed, combined with abusing my body in order to go out and have fun. Going to part time at work has cleared my mind a lot. Critically, Carrie is available to chat with me a lot more now, whereas she couldn’t process as much with me when she was in school. I’m always trying to write some big emotional and meaningful post, but I’m sure that gets exhausting for some of you. I haven’t written a silly and pointless post in years now, so it’s a little scary worrying that I’ll lose some readers over it. In the end though, I have to do what’s right for me, not necessarily what will get me more clicks or make me more popular. Sometimes what’s inside me is a silly joke, and sometimes facing the meaninglessness of pain and suffering. I hope things line up for me to sit down to dump my thoughts online more frequently.

Starting to find balance in recent weeks. Now that I’m getting my needs met better, I have some room to see what’s going on and areas where I need some work.

Discomfort is a signal. It means things aren’t right, but the discomfort itself isn’t the problem. It points to a conclusion which requires work to arrive at. Lately, I’ve had a couple things fall into place because I accepted the discomfort for a time. There are also times when I’ve lost big due to my unwillingness to engage with an uncomfortable situation.

Ordering my iPhone X was an ordeal. I bought it and chose to have it delivered to my home. I was quoted two weeks, but then I was pleasantly surprised when it shipped a week early. I spent the day at work, frequently checking my tracking, but then in the middle of the day it said there would be a delay due to extreme weather conditions. Disappointed and stranded, I had no choice but to wait. Luckily I had the next day off, which was a Friday, so I could wait at home so as to not miss the UPS delivery person. The tracking never updated to tell me whether it was out for delivery or when it would arrive, so by 5 o’clock, I called UPS to ask if they had more detailed delivery information that I couldn’t access. The agent told me that since there was no indication that it was out for delivery, it must still be waiting on a pallet inside a truck, meaning it would deliver by Monday. Frustrated from waiting anxiously all day, I couldn’t handle the cabin fever anymore and went for an angry and cold walk around the neighbourhood. About an hour later, I got home and found a UPS delivery notice that said they attempted delivery around 10 minutes after I left for my angry walk. Fortunately there was a UPS Access Point nearby, so I walked there and picked up my phone. Much discomfort.

Massage. I’ve been to several massage therapists and physios over the years, even one acupuncturist, but only recently have I met one that truly connected with the trauma present in my body. I’ve mentioned to all of them that my trapezius muscles house deep, dark secrets, but only this new one actually connected with them. I don’t understand how multiple people and techniques can operate on the same muscles with only one reaching the emotional knots. At the very least, that one person processed their own trauma from a past injury. Some mind-body connection shit. I’ve always felt better after all of my previous appointments with the other specialists, but I hit a new level after this latest one. It was deeply uncomfortable and painful having some years-old problems twisted out of my neck and shoulders, but I felt better immediately after.

I still have the tendency to overestimate my abilities. I’ll take care of a huge task early in the day, and I won’t realize the toll it took on my until after I’ve overcommitted the rest of my day. I’ll wonder "WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?" It’s like my body has seized up and I can’t really function anymore. When my discomfort levels rise, that’s when my cravings set in. Sometimes it’s used to ease the pain in my chest, sometimes it’s a compulsive behaviour. When I work long stressful days, I need to watch hours of TV to bring down my anxiety enough to fall asleep; usually Futurama helps. Nowadays, I’m learning to live with general discomfort. Pain can’t always be avoided. Sometimes it’s fairly straightforward to take the time to process a feeling, but in the moment, it can also help to live with it. Driving in the winter here in Alberta can be quite messy because of the sand, gravel, and salt, so it’s not a great use of time to wash off every single little spot. Lump it together into a carwash on a warm day on a later date. I spent two years during The Struggle processing all my emotions bottled up since my childhood, but now I’ve put a cap on it in order to move on with my life, which has allowed me to process it little by little. When you have a backlog of work to do like that, it helps to work overtime and weekends to reduce the burden, but you can only do that so long before you start creating new problems which reduce your longevity. I’m done working on the backlog, so now I’m also trying to enhance my day-to-day by not obsessing over every little wrinkle. Life is messy, and not every painful experience needs to be treated as a tragedy.

I use my dependencies like fixing a leaky roof using cardboard boxes. Sure, it doesn’t always rain, so I may not always need resilient infrastructure. But in a real downpour, I’m unable to comfortably withstand the storm. Whenever I resort to my coping mechanisms, each can of fizzy sugar water and each bag of instant noodles, it’s like throwing newspaper over the cardboard. Temporarily patching over the holes in my roof can fool me into believing I’ve fixed the underlying problems and that I’m a self-regulating adult, but it’s actually a very costly and draining way to live. Sometimes that’s all I can afford to do anyways. Maybe a full remodelling of the roof isn’t a project I can afford right now, so all I can manage is to quickly patch over the problem while I deal with issues in the basement. What I’m trying to do differently these days is to withstand the discomfort of not relying on a quick fix. By resisting the temptation of my distracting vices, I can more clearly see the reality of the underlying problems driving my compulsive behaviours. With all the fading and crusted cardboard and newspaper lining the roof, it’s hard to even see where the leaks are coming from. How many holes are there? How big are they? Is my problem stress-related? Is my marriage part of the problem? Are my friends healthy for me? There are many similar such questions that I can’t answer until I can handle a higher level of general discomfort.

If I continue to avoid most forms of discomfort, I won’t achieve anything meaningful. On the other hand, is that so bad?

A friend recommended a book called “Adult children - The Secret of Dysfunctional Families” by John and Linda Friel. (Warning: I’m going to talk about my family. Leave now if you’re tired of it.) It’s firing off so many connections in my brain, helping to explain so much of how and why my family turned out the way it did. For instance, families with no clear chemical dependencies can still operate in the same dysfunctional ways, and you resort to certain tactics as a child in order to cope and survive. The simple and impossible trick is to undo those compulsive behaviours once the environment changes when you’ve been doing things a certain way your whole life. I stopped talking to my family who sometimes ganged up on and gaslighted me, which taught me indirectly to follow the crowd. I want to quote many long sections from the book, but one particular passage gave me permission to cut out my family:

This happens all the time unless the whole family eventually gets help. Little brother will continue to act out in more and more serious ways until he either grows up and leaves home and gets help, or until he gets put in jail, or dies of alcoholism, suicide or in a reckless auto accident. If he's lucky, when he leaves home, he'll try to get help on his own.

If the family still resists getting involved in treatment, his therapist will recommend that he stay away from the family as much as possible and that he develop a "new" family system to replace the old dysfunctional one. This new system may be a therapy group, a 12-Step group, such as A.A., Al-Anon, ACoA or some other structured support system that follows a functional set of rules in which little brother does not have to "feel crazy" to fit in.

In more and more cases nowadays, what happens is that the entire family does get involved in treatment; and not just for little brother's sake. Enlightened therapists and an enlightened general public are helping families to see that problems like these are really symptoms of problems in the entire family system, and that when one member of the system is displaying a serious problem in adjustment, it means, in most cases, that all of the other members are experiencing problems, too. It's just that these other members' defenses and roles are more socially acceptable and less troublesome on the surface.

I still get blamed for the problems of my family when really I’m a signal of problems lurking underneath the surface. I blew the whistle because I saw something going wrong, and people treat the whistle as the true problem. Because of the narcissistic nature of the issues, most outsiders can’t see past my family of origin’s carefully crafted external appearance (or they believe there can’t be anything deeper since they know my family better than I do). It’s been two years since I stopped talking to them, cutting off the primary source of the turmoil and discomfort in my life, and now I’m doing better than ever. People still wag their finger and warn me I’ll need my family when life gets tough because their own families are probably supportive people, but mine were the biggest reason why my life was tough in the first place. People still ask when I’ll soften up and let them back in to my life, but this book has helped solidify my position in waiting for them to change. If I were to let them back in my life, we’d all resume our roles, and maybe I wouldn’t be around much longer after that. Now that they’re gone, I can preoccupy myself with more important and uncomfortable problems, like helping Carrie with her private psychology practice.

This all comes from trying to deal better with aggressive people. Two people at work have pulled me aside to offer mentoring and assistance with whatever I needed, and this area arose as my main weakness. I’ve had numerous encounters where I sensed my discomfort rising, so I went with my instinctive reactions to run away and shut down. I distrusted the feeling of my spidey senses sounding off, assuming it to only mean danger. Leaving your comfort zone isn’t positive or negative necessarily. Just means it’s uncomfortable.

Intrusive Thoughts

Part of the experience of trauma is that it’s difficult or nearly impossible to regulate intrusive thoughts. I never knew this was a phenomenon until I grew older and sought professional help. It explains why my whole life I’d heard criticism that no one was really voicing.

One example right now is how I’m paranoid about privacy. Part of that comes from growing up in church where adults scared me into behaving because Jesus was always watching. Nowadays, our society hands over its privacy for free so that corporations can monetize it. Data is the new oil. Whether it’s a fitness tracker, social networking app, or a personal blog, we don’t seem to mind how we broadcast intimate details about our lives. We’ve taken on these risks for decades prior, but only recently have they been weaponized against us. Edward Snowden helped reveal to the world how governments are tracking citizens of their own country or those of others, and in a large sense, there was a collective shrug and dismissal. Yes, it’s a crisis, but a lot of people continued on their merry little way. And with the critical mass that social networking has reached, choosing to not participate isn’t enough. People will still take photos of you and post them online. We live in the Orwellian world of constant surveillance, but instead of having it forced upon us, we invited it into our homes.

One aspect of mass surveillance that I take issue with is when it’s used to oppress the already-marginalized. Activists for the queer community, women, and people of colour are closely monitored while white supremacists roam free. One aspect of personal security audits is to evaluate your risk profile. There are different security requirements for an average citizen and a politician. In general, I think I’m twice as cautious as I need to be due to my trauma. I put a lot of effort into never breaking any traffic laws while driving because I never want to encounter a police officer. I make several backups of my information, both locally and remotely, such that I don’t expose myself to the risk of data loss. Friends have poked fun at me for wearing my tin foil hat when it comes to privacy, but I also don’t think they understand at a deep level the degree of vulnerability I feel on a daily basis. Feeling even a little exposed is a frightening position for me. A quick fix is to stop blogging so openly about all the ways people can and have hurt me, but that’s not the life I want to live. I must write. I must express myself. There are numerous areas of risk where I feel exposed, and though privacy is just one of them, it’s an important one.

Counselling helped me to realize that even though I feel a certain way about my personal safety, grounding myself in objective facts and reality can keep my mind from running away with anxiety. Reminding myself of ways that I’m able to protect myself, as well as how I’ve done so in the past, is a great way to empower myself and to lower my fears. It’s important to distinguish the hand-waving and minimizing people often resort to in order to slap a band-aid on an emotional wound.

"I had a rough day at work."

"At least you have a job."

There’s a time and place for taking perspective, and that’s after the emotions have been acknowledged and normalized. However, not only do I have to give credibility to my intuition and emotions, but I also have set up guideposts for them with cold hard facts.

After acknowledging my childhood abuse, I was faced with a decision. Either I could live a quiet and restricted life, or I could blast through it and try to live life to the fullest. I chose the latter, and I paid dearly for it. It’s still a constant battle for me to feel comfortable in my own skin because of the physiological impacts of my trauma. I have the tendency to get so absorbed in video games to escape the uncomfortable feelings that it can hurt other areas of my body. Sitting on the couch with controller in hand, playing for hours at a time, it becomes very painful once I finish a gaming session. I played Starcraft II for the first time in a while, and I left after one mission because I was feeling super dizzy. Sometimes we need to talk about our problems, and other times we need to shut up about them. Due to how my brain works, it’s better for me to resort to escaping my problems since I’m a bit obsessive.

My coping mechanism can be both the solution and the problem. If I don’t sleep well, I’ll feel disconnected from my body all day. Then I’ll turn to obsessive behaviours in order to feel reconnected with myself. I’ll eat delicious junk food until my tummy hurts from stretching. I’ll drink the hyper sweet fizzy sugar beverages. Binge eating and video games tend to exacerbate my anxiety, which leads to worse sleep. Sleepiness and exhaustion enhance our cravings for fatty and sugary foods, and Coke is my productivity drink of choice when I didn’t sleep well. Then it ruins my sleep. Right now, the gym is my saving grace because of how effective it is at tearing my mind away from my intrusive thoughts. Failing that, sometimes I need to zone out using various news feeds, but it only works when I’m bothered by small to medium issues. Otherwise, I would have to read for so long that my eyes hurt, which simply shifts the problem and usually still leaves my brain hurting from the original issue. That’s why dancing is so important to me. It combines physical exercise, friends, delicious drinks, good tunes, and tons of fun. Dance therapy.

We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind

Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance

Well they're no friends of mine.

  • The Safety Dance

There is a positive aspect to having obsessive thoughts. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage, especially in aspects of design. I’m able to look at a problem and walk around, asking a hundred questions in order to crack the puzzle. It’s helped me design electronics and 3D models, and it helps me to learn and improve my performance in various areas at work. On the same token, it can be a challenge to turn off the designer’s mindset. It’s super annoying to look at everything and wonder “how would someone use this if they were hearing-impaired or colourblind?” While it’s a useful and worthy perspective to take at times, constantly thinking can be really annoying. Brains are stupid. What good have they ever done on this earth?

I’m happy to be in this space. I know what I need, and now I simply need to follow through. I never used to be able to escape those nasty feelings, and they would pile up week after week. That’s probably why you’ve read so much on this blog about what’s bothering me. Every once in a while I try to write about what I’m grateful for or what’s going right for me, and it’s a practice I’m trying to do more regularly. Healthy minds already fixate more readily on negativity than on positive thoughts. You could receive 20 compliments and feedback on one “area of growth,” and you’ll forget all about the nice things people said and only remember the bad one. It requires more effort for me to appreciate the little bit of life I got left.

I’m going to part time hours at work. I’ve been working too hard both at my job and in my marriage, so I’m going to let Carrie carry me for a while. I’m burning out. I feel like my mind is sending commands to my body, and all my body responds with is a shrug.

Me: "Let’s go brush our teeth and sleep at a reasonable hour."

Also me: "Nah, let’s eat instant noodles and watch Futurama until we pass out on the couch instead."

Not everyone gets a life partner who’s willing to pick up the slack. Carrie is fortunate to have me, and I’m lucky to have her. That’s a pretty good thought to allow to intrude on my mind.

Longsuffering

Picture the worst suffering you ever experienced. Now imagine that you went through it just so someone else didn’t have to. Like Redbull, martyrdom gives you wings -- angel wings. Life’s hard. Marriage is hard. To make things easier, I use a sacrificial mentality. I may not enjoy carrying out certain chores, but doing it for someone else makes it easier. That perspective can help in a pinch, but it also gets old.

I’m a firm believer that if you sow generously, you’ll reap generously. If you put out good energy, you’ll get it back. I don’t really worry much about getting paid out immediately for everything I do. Sometimes I should. When you realize you’re suffering in order to help another person, you get an instant boost from that simple shift in perspective. It’s a mentality that can be abused, especially when the martyr needs validation and credit for their suffering. Sometimes people suffer when they don’t need to, and they start crying out for attention when they realize no one is praising them.

People usually live in a disconnected way. I used to work extra hard in order to be happy, whereas if I had stepped back to take an inventory of my life, I could have been happier with way less effort. When I earned more, I spent more, which required me to work more, then I bought more stuff to compensate for the extra stress. It’s normal for our lives to become inconsistent and hypocritical, like when I hit the gym and immediately follow it up with a bucket of fried chicken. We aren’t perfect, but we can make our own lives more comfortable by trying to be more connected and consistent. I’ve been playing the victim lately in order to keep us going, but now I’m running out of fuel.

It’s heroic to be viewed as the bad guy when you’re really the good guy. You’re the champion that the people need, not the one they deserve. You’re giving up the credit due to your name. The praise you receive for being a martyr is so inviting that some rush into suffering just for the look. The narrative is so powerful that even someone who has it all can look very sympathetic to the less fortunate. It frames the situation to give you a very flattering look. It’s more impressive to say I lost 15 pounds than to say I never put on that weight in the first place.

There are only a few times in life when we can exert superhuman strength. Turn on the turbo jets and get things done. We all have that capacity. Parents fend off wild animals to protect their kids. People can lift cars when they’re trying to free someone from a collision. Others work three jobs in order to provide a life and education for their siblings. The trade-off is that the turbo boost is limited. You can only use it a short time before you need a rest. Even Goku can only go Super Saiyan for a limited time.

IMG_0018.JPG

Carrie and I have at least one crisis per year, and we’re just wrapping up the 2017 edition right now. It’s been a tough couple months. I’m tired. I don’t daydream anymore, but I do have stressful nightmares. The work that I’ve been doing this fall is hard to see. I listened to Carrie vent even though I wasn’t in a good space to listen. I held her when she cried. I took care of myself when she couldn’t support me. It took a lot of energy, and I drew strength from being a martyr. By pushing my own limits of suffering, I was helping Carrie through her storm.

And now I’m ready to collapse.

Nostalgia

My high school friend got called to the bar recently, so we had a mini high school reunion. Following weekend had a wedding for a friend from university, whose reception was actually at the university. Even ran into an old professor randomly that weekend, so I guess the theme for this week is nostalgia. When I went to Edmonton, I felt like driving around some old roads. I hadn’t visited in some six months, but even prior to that, I only really stuck to a small portion of the city where my friends and I hung out. There’s a whole bunch of the city I used to drive through or spend time in which I hadn’t really seen in years, so it was nice just driving around the neighbourhood I grew up in, taking the routes I used to take to go to church or school, all those little connecting roads. There’s been lots of development in the city, and lots of interesting construction. I don’t like to live in nostalgia, but I appreicate being able to visit the feeling every once in a while. It keeps me grounded, reminding myself of my roots and where I came from. At the same time, I realize that not speaking to my family anymore means I cut off access to a lot of where I came from. I’ll miss looking through photo albums of when we were kids.

Lots of little anniversaries this time of year:

  • Hernia surgery.
  • Friend got married.
  • Pokewalks. Still got 9 eggs waiting to hatch.
  • Started going to the gym.
  • Some friends moved away.
  • Quit my job.
  • Employment insurance.
  • I bought Philips Hue light last year to help regulate my sleep by syncing it with the sunrise and bedtime. I only just got around to doing that just a few weeks ago.

What’s the purpose of nostalgia? How does it fit into people’s lives? Why am I feeling it now?

There’s value in tradition because it’s a foundation we can build on. Friends often introduce us to new ones. We can derive new information based on information that we already know. Small machines are created to make micro machines. Once we have a stable base, then it’s easy to take risks so long as they don’t threaten our headquarters. Our brains can’t handle new stimuli all the time. It’s overwhelming when nothing is familiar, so the brain filters out the known variables so that we can better handle the unknown.

I’m living a new life. I’m turning my back on my family. I’m not pursuing engineering work at the moment, even though I just started wearing my iron ring again. Carrie is done her four years of school, and now we’re both making money again. I’m finished at the moment with counselling and working through my mental illness and trauma directly, but I’m maintaining it daily. In a couple years, Carrie and I will start having kids. Feels like we’re starting a new chapter here, and before moving on, sometimes it’s good to review and even re-read the previous chapters to remember what happened. It provides context and history to new situations, which inform how you should feel and respond moving forward.

Nostalgia is comforting when the world changes too quickly. I’m going through a lot of changes. I re-watch a lot of old TV shows because there aren’t that many good ones out there, but it’s comforting to hear the same old funny jokes. I like to eat the same foods. Some adventurous types like to only eat at new places, whereas I prefer to eat places that are consistently delicious.

Part of why I spent two years in counselling was to increase my adaptability to change. I could barely handle working full-time, so when there were changes to my regularly scheduled programming, like leaving town for the weekend, I did not recover quickly. I’d work, and that was about it. I couldn’t help Carrie with groceries or cleaning. I’d be watching TV for pretty much the entire evening, barely getting ready for bed before passing out. I did almost nothing on the weekends, whereas now I’m learning to cook new recipes so Carrie has good food to pack for lunch. Probably not a big deal for you well-adjusted adults out there, but it’s a big accomplishment for me.

I’m normally not really a nostalgic person, so if I’m feeling it a lot right now, that tells me I’ve been more stressed than usual. My three year resolution runs out in January. I used to be chomping at the bit to take on extracurricular activities, but I banned them almost three years ago in order to retain my sanity. Even after it expires, I may just want to keep chilling. A couple more months and then I think I’ll be healthy again. Sometimes I get wild ideas that need to be brought into this world, but I just feel tired right now. I don’t even feel like drawing some deep, grand conclusion from this whole experience into this post. It could also be this cold that I recently caught.

It’s tempting right now to prepare to hit the ground running once the resolution expires, but if I’m feeling stressed enough to feel nostalgic right now, I’ll take that as a sign that I should keep resting.

Freedom

Whenever I can, I do nothing at all. There’s only so much you can do to tidy, file away, reserve, pick up. I don’t really have an urge to do much on my days off, which is a new experience for me. I don’t really feel like playing Breath of the Wild. There’s nothing terribly interesting on social media. I have enough new music on my to-do list that I don’t need to get too adventurous. Nothing I even really feel like printing these days. This is how life calms down. Back when I was in the corporate rat race, I felt like I was never doing enough. Even on my weekends, I had to relax extra hard because I worked extra hard and I was extra miserable. Now, I try to not be so extra. Eventually I want to get back into reading more books.

My schedule now is pretty light. Work five days, get two days off. On my days off, be productive during the day. Otherwise, if I sleep all day, I won’t sleep at night. Part of that productivity means writing on the first day, editing on the second, then hitting publish. About once a month, I go out with my friends, and we go hard. Sundays, there is family dinner. Every night before bed, I stretch my feet and neck so that the simple act of existing isn’t so painful the next day. I’ll meet up with a friend once a week or so. Any more than that, then my structure falls apart. Any changes to that structure puts pressure on everything afterwards, and then I stop functioning. I’ve found my rhythm. Steady state. Homeostasis. This is what I’m capable of for now, and I need to protect my schedule dearly.

Sleep solves and creates many problems, so it’s a matter of using sleep effectively as a tool. Through my worst days, sleep was usually a way for me to escape my situation momentarily so that I could recharge and attack it again. Thomas Edison famously napped whenever he was stuck with a problem. Sleep serves a couple functions, one of which is to improve your memory. Your memories are rearranged during your REM cycle, tossing out information you don’t need and consolidating the data you use more regularly. Even now, when most of my bigger problems have been put to rest and my day to day problems are smaller in size, sometimes the only way to solve an issue is to sleep on it.

This week, I somehow got around to processing a painful experience from a previous job. I was tasked with recreating someone’s work but in a format that was easier to audit and understand. I was given ample time, but the problem was much more complex than it seemed at a high level. Hint: they always are. I delivered it late, but I never heard anything from my manager. He never mentioned anything about it being late, asked why, checked in to see if I needed more help. That’s fine, but I also expected him to be more of a leader than that. He went to great pains to make sure the rest of the team was in check and had the resources they needed, but I was left out in the cold. I never knew he was upset about it until I got my annual review. I knew that I didn’t communicate my struggles and needs, so he wasn’t wrong about my performance. Nevertheless, the pain stuck with me. I was blind-sided, and I felt betrayed. I knew he was taking jabs at me behind my back with other coworkers. For some reason, that popped up this week. I had been thinking about it unconsciously for the past little while, but ultimately it was an unresolved issue that kept hurting me until I dealt with it. If I hadn’t created the space, the peace and quiet at home, creating structured unstructured time, it would have gone on continually hurting me.

“Don’t take it personally.” You hear it all the time, and it isn’t always helpful. “Just get over it.” This advice comes from people who currently aren’t hurt by whatever it is you are complaining about. There’s no empathy there. There’s no understanding that you’re human and that your reaction is understandable. It’s how Barney deals with getting sick:

It’s like when you’re rock- or wall-climbing. You’re supposed to rest the majority of your weight on your legs, but when you’re more experienced, you can use your arm strength and claw-like grip to lift yourself up. People with weaker upper body strength can’t “just do it” compared to someone with more developed abilities. Emotionally, we all have some ability to muscle through whatever is bothering us, and each of us has different strengths for dealing with different emotions. However, the energy to do that eventually runs out, and then suddenly you’re the one that snaps when you least expect it. You can’t always tough it out in every single situation. Since I’ve dealt with a lot of my deeper wounds, I’m less sensitive now. I still have to be aware that everyone has a different level of sensitivity, so I can’t just assume that since I’m okay now, everyone else should be too. People like to say that "time heals all wounds," but that’s not true of trauma.

There was a dead bee laying in our building’s basement. We go down there maybe once or twice a month, depending on what we need to put into or take out of storage. This huge fuzzy bumblebee died and laid itself to rest in the hallway on the way to our storage closet. Now, it’s already a creepy basement with poor lighting and fading architecture, and I was traumatized as a child by a bumblebee. We had this apple tree in our garden, and I went outside to pick an apple to sate my appetite on a hot summer day. I grabbed a juicy apple and bit into it, and as I was walking back to the house, a bee decided to pollinate my ear, which I guess must look like a flower to them. I was stunned for about 5 seconds, then I started freaking out and batting at my ear, shaking my head, screaming, and running inside. Pretty quick series of events, but ever since, I haven’t been able to get rid of the heightened fear whenever I hear a buzzing sound close to my ear. I wasn’t stung or anything, but I simply can’t handle little flies, mosquitoes, and especially yellow bugs like wasps or hornets. Anyhow, seeing that huge fuzzy bee in our storage area triggered that fear. I could have dealt with the trauma directly, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s the biggest worry I have, especially living in the frozen wasteland of Canada. After seeing it about three times over a couple months and reacting the same way every time, freezing up in fear for a second, I decided to remove it. I didn’t have a broom or anything, so I just kicked it with my sandals until it was outside, where the cleaner would remove it that night. Ugh. Gross. Blech. I shudder thinking about it now.

I think trauma leads to addiction, and I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to orange soda. It pulls me into the moment. The bubbles burning, coupled with the sweetness, makes my mouth taste the cold, tingly, citrus nectar. It draws my mind out of the troubles that might be plaguing me from the past or the future. It’s also super warm in our place most of the time, so it’s partly just another way to cool down. There are many things we do to draw our minds into the present, like playing on our phones, watching TV, going to the gym, taking a walk, video games, drinking and smoking. As long as the pain or pleasure is strong enough, it transports our headspace from wherever it currently is towards the present. I’m not drawn by the thrill of gambling in a casino per se, but that feeling still exists inside me, just in different areas. Taking questionable risks, betting on shaky ground, feeling a hot streak. Sometimes it happens when I’m 3D printing a detailed model. Addiction is incredibly complex, and I don’t claim to have much insight into how it works. However, I’m trying to play with ideas in order to get a better grasp on the parameters and impacts of my behaviour. Some nights I can’t sleep until I’ve snacked a bunch and drunk an orange soda. When I get stressed, all I want is a fizzy sugar drink. That can’t be great for my health long term.

Freedom. Why did I go through two years of counselling and let my world fall apart? Why did I go to school? Why do I write? Why do I fight so persistently with Carrie and not give up until we find a resolution? I wanted to be free of the trauma that trapped me, and now I have more control over how I regulate my emotions. I’m free from my family now, whereas I used to feel so poisoned with toxic stress and anxiety when I talked with them. I worked through my PTSD so I could live a normal life. I think addiction and trauma are so interrelated because they both point to a feeling of being stuck, trapped in a cycle. There’s a way to break out of the prison, but it’s really difficult when everything is falling apart at the same time and you can’t catch enough of a break to get ahead. My two most recent examples of creating some room was from a painful experience at work and a traumatic childhood experience with bees. Not only did I need to create space in order see the problems, but I also needed to deal with those emotions in order to create more room. The purpose is to live freely. Now I’m not afraid of going downstairs. I know there won’t be a monster hiding down there to terrorize me. It’s a straightforward mentality dealing with physical wounds, but we tend to ignore our emotional wounds.

It’s a new experience being able to peel away my mind and heart from an emotional situation and to decide whether or not I want to proceed. Being so sensitive before, most overwhelming scenarios would max out my anxiety and stress, and it would take days or weeks just to calm down about it. Now I can negotiate my emotions in the moment. Instead of thinking of a witty comeback three weeks later in the shower, I can come up with a response almost right away (or the day after). It’s a remarkable change. I used to just tell myself positive messages like “don’t let it bother you” or “you’re better than that,” but it never really started working until now. I used to need several hours a day to put my emotions on ice, and as a result, I was completely unavailable to Carrie after a work day. Now I can bounce back much quicker using several coping methods, and I’ll even clean up the home and get ready for bed early instead of simply passing out on the couch. I’m crashing and burning a lot less. Way less boozing. Eating my emotions less. I’m even being proactive and intentional with my free time, figuring out ways to get ahead for tomorrow’s needs. I spend less time feeling confused about what I’m feeling, why, and what to do about it.

I’m functioning better. I’m staying within my window of tolerance more often. Before, my stress would rise quickly and fall slowly, but now it rises slower and falls quicker. I can even avoid stressful situations altogether! Imagine that. Instead of letting my addictive tendencies derail my life, I’m creating balance through sleep. By taking the time to deal with my emotional wounds, I’m free to operate in the ways that I like, such as using my free time to do my chores and run errands. With that free time, I can do whatever I want, like doing nothing at all. That allows me to see new problems, and dealing with those problems creates room so I can sleep or do nothing at all. It’s a healthy cycle. It’s liberating.