2023 Theories (Threeories)
Not resolutions, but more like predictions
I’ve never felt safer.
I’m the most established and secure I’ve ever been, and it’s relieving. I had a moment the morning of New Year's Day, sun peeking through the windows while I was still lying in bed. “I’m finally safe,” I thought. I've identified with my suffering for so long that I scarcely know how to thrive. It's only been a couple weeks, and I already feel the changes from accepting this new reality. I’m too tired to make resolutions, so taking a passive approach. Looking forward for the year, I have a few theories that would be cool to see.
Theory One: Resting
As a decision-making aid, whenever I have to choose between doing more or less, my default choice will theoretically be to rest. I've been proposing this idea at least annually for the past decade, but this year, one difference is I have a better understanding of why my self-regulation has historically been so poor. Armed with the knowledge of ADHD and Attachment Theory, the power of Adderall's amphetamines, and the benefits of some eight years of therapy, rest is starting to become reality. I used to have several large projects on the go, each of which would randomly yet regularly call for me to invest Just A Bit More® time and effort now to save some in the long run; a stitch in time saves nine. Now that most of those projects are closed out and their documents archived, it's time to pack up and go home. The tiredness I'm currently feeling is probably compounded by the damage I’ve done to my body with all the drinking, late nights, chronic stress.
My sleep cycle is shifting from the strict six hours starting at midnight to a more fluid seven and a half, starting anywhere from 10 PM and ending somewhere between 5 AM and 7:30 AM. I'm also napping a lot more, especially on weekends. It's not ideal for sleep hygiene, but I don't think my body is complaining so much about the extra slumber.
Theory Two: Reading Books
One hope I had after graduating from university was to spend more time reading books. I tend to find enough interesting analysis online from tech pundits, but long-form blogs aren’t quite at the same calibre as well-researched books. Being in a heightened state of chronic stress didn't really allow for intake of quality reading material. Throw in unmanaged ADHD too, why not? It was pretty discouraging whenever I'd somehow be able to force myself to sit down long enough to crack open a book, eventually to find myself merely passing my eyes over the same paragraph 10 times without taking in any of its information. Alas, reading books and actually absorbing their contents is possible and practical again, and it feels great. There's only so much internet content a person can and should consume, but how can you avoid doomscrolling with the way our societies are shifting during this pandemic? Reading books feels like a rebellious act of self-care against the vicious capitalist cycle of working too hard and stewing in chronic stress.
In following through with my commitment to reading books, I'm keeping a promise I made to Past Jon. My therapist once mentioned a technique about rescheduling an emotion when you didn't want to deal with it in the moment. She said that by returning to it at a later time, not only do you perform the beneficial act of actually feeling the emotion, but you also build trust with yourself; building accountability by following through on commitments. That concept simply did not land at the time. Why should I have to build trust with myself? Reading is allowing me to appreciate what that means. It’s certainly preferable to the alternative of betraying myself.
Theory Three: Moving My Body
One of the ways the stress cycle manifested in me was through either hyperfixating on work/hobbies or becoming a couch potato. So I could either sit for hours at my desk or stare blankly at the TV, play vidya, and blast music. One result of relying too heavily on these coping strategies was a stiffening of my body, merely shifting the problem from my mind to my body. Consequently, I developed a monthly routine of seeing a physiotherapist and massage therapist, regularly maxing out my health insurance and health spending account each year for these two services before paying out of pocket. Additionally, I had a recurring appointment to go dancing at the club most weekends, but that isn't really an option in Calgary anymore. As much as I might want to, and for all the new initiatives in the local music scene, the dots simply aren't connecting, so I have to find some other outlet for physical exercise, like yoga, ebike, walks, gym. I'm seeing success with limiting exercise into blocks of 10 minutes at a time. Sharing activity data with a few people with the Apple Watch has been surprisingly fun and motivating.
Theory Four: Seeing Friends and Chosen Family
I'm fortunate to have some very special people in my life, and I want to keep up the dates filled with coffee, ramen, laughter, heart-to-hearts. This theory has been going strong for a while now, and I think the trend will continue this year.
Theory Five: Reducing Stress Intake
The name of the game is to reduce stress intake. It has been less than practical for me to avoid or prevent it from entering my system, at least until this year. I've developed a new mantra when it comes to taking on more stress: “that's so pre-23.” I got some practice in 2022 by snoozing some decently important projects to the following months, so I hit the ground running in 2023. I've always had the ability to say no, but the harder part I was lacking was putting my foot down even when my rejection was rejected. I would say no, the other party would also say no, and after a few exchanges back and forth, I would eventually fold. Reminding myself that buckling is “so pre-23” is that little extra bit of sauce that helps me get from “no” to “abso-fucking-lutely not.”
From Theory Two: Reading More Books, I sat down to read for a decent chunk of my holiday break. I unsuccessfully tried to read a few books outside of my usual genres. I don’t know why but psychology books are just doing it for me lately, so I picked up “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Maté. You’ll recall him from my ADHD reading as the author of “Scattered Minds,” who was especially poignant when discussing Attachment Theory. Fun fact, now that I'm certain I don't want to raise children, I'm planning to get a vasectomy. For the interested, my doctor pointed me to this clinic, and I've already submitted a request for an appointment: https://intramed.ca. I encourage men that have sex with women to consider it. Another topic for another day.
"When The Body Says No" is an exploration of the connection between chronic stress and disease. “The research literature has identified three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, the lack of information and the loss of control.” Central to the discussion is the body's stress response, managed by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal axis (HPA). It's the critical link between the psychological and physiological realms, and the book essentially serves as an intro to the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), the study of the connections between the brain, nervous system, and immune system. There are some surprising patterns amongst patients with certain illnesses, and the work is ultimately a call for more research in the area connecting psychosocial factors with physiological illness.
Now that modern humans don't have to fight off animals in the wild, the same stress response meant to save yourself from physical danger is now used for navigating softer ones, like social exclusion and unkind words. Similarly, animals use anger, in the form of growls and physical displays and such, to prevent unnecessary injury. Failing to mount the trauma responses (fight, flight, freeze, faun) results in stress. This book forced me to examine the impacts of suppressing my anger and redirecting it at myself instead of the people who caused it. Ouch, man. Rude.
Since the dawn of time, I've semi-consciously suppressed my anger. One of the chapters of the book touches on attachment. (Of course it does. We should call him Gabor Mattaché.) The idea behind suppressing anger is that the youngling seeks to preserve their relationships, even if temporarily or artificially, with their attachment figures by redirecting the full heat of their rage. That fire must land somewhere, and unknowingly, the child typically ends up burning their own hands in the process. Even at a young age, I realized that I couldn’t keep going if I was constantly processing all of the excess anger typical of dysfunctional relationships, so I simply put it away in cold storage.
I’m going to highlight an interaction with an old friend. They were going through some tough times in their personal life, and after fucking around, they were finding out the consequences of their actions. During this time, I tried to be a good friend, staying nearby while most of their other friends turned their backs. That was all well and good for a time until their struggles started to grow, and then my support started to look more like a lifesaver in a heavy storm than simply a friend being empathetic during tough times. They started clinging to me, desperately trying to get me to hang out with them every day, every weekend, and this carried on for months. I was going through my own struggles, so while I enjoyed their company enough to escape my situation occasionally, they were hanging on for dear life. I didn't see the tentacles slowly wrapping around me.
It slowly became clear that this person was taking advantage of my generosity. I should have gotten mad and set stronger boundaries. However, since I had completely disarmed this particular emotional tool, I just let it keep happening. As a result, I was dragged down along with them, and I had to find out the hard way that I needed to not only let them go but to run for the hills. In failing to do so, I only enabled their behaviour and worsened my own problems, which remained unsolved for longer than necessary. A similar situation repeated itself in 2022, but at least this time, I was able to say “no,” and eventually, “absolutely not.” At the same time, since I was slow to respond, my body had say “probably not,” but it was still good enough as a combined response.
At a minimum, I need to pace myself when it comes to the emotional labour of reconnecting with anger. Recall Theory One: Resting. In the past, I’ve delved headlong into long-term issues that needed patience and time to fully resolve. I'm going to leave the questions alone and keep my heart open until the universe presents the answers. Maybe I still feel that way because I never knew how to wield my anger in a healthy way. I already feel better as I write about it even a little, even though it's so upsetting. Nature is healing itself.
Wrap It Up
I'm the safest I've ever been. From this new environment, there are some theories crystallizing for 2023, such as resting, reading, seeing loved ones, minimizing chronic stress, and reconnecting with anger.
Reading "When The Body Says No" showed me that the child with insecure attachment preemptively shuts down anger at others and instead redirects that anger at themselves to protect their interpersonal relationships. I'm reminded of the time a close friend took advantage of my generosity, but I recently used anger to protect myself. My body also had to say "probably not," but based on my family history, any anger response from me is better than nothing. Let's see how the other threeories pan out this year.