Saturday, December 26, 2015

Misunderstood: In Defense of Myself

Every child, every teenager, goes through that: Nobody gets me phase.  Right?  I'm not fond of absolutes, so saying every is a toss-up to me, but I think that in general, that statement is pretty true.  Adults tend to laugh because "they've been there", of course the kid "is being dramatic", and "will be okay".

I've heard all of this so often throughout my life; it's no wonder I believed it.  Growing up, I felt like a stranger to everyone I interacted with.  As a child, I just wanted to be an adult, and wasn't afraid to tell anyone.  I generally didn't relate to other kids around me very well.  Sure, I made friends, but more often than not, I found myself explaining to them my thoughts and feeling; having to justify my view.  No, I'm not mad you went off campus for lunch without me when I had to make-up a test.  But, yes, I am hurt that you didn't tell me that you went, when I would normally have been invited..  The fine line, that fine distinction, I had trouble articulating as a kid/teenager.

Or, I would foul a pass in a volleyball game and the coach would tell me what to do better and I would respond with "I know".  It wasn't the most conducive or coachable response; I understand that now.  However, the coach's response of: "then why didn't you do it in the first place?"  always frustrated me.  I could never explain that I knew the theory of how to do it correctly, but just hadn't been able to get my muscles to do what I wanted.

In college I had this problem with Riley a lot, but rarely with other people.  I missed my high school friends and I hated being misunderstood, so my solution was generally to just avoid befriending people.  It's funny, in high school, I didn't start actually making friends until right before I transferred at the end of my sophomore year, when I know longer had anything left to lose.  Similarly, I didn't make friends until my senior year of college, when it didn't really matter if I was going to be misunderstood so I took more chances.  The pain of people just not getting me has been with me most of my life.

So when I moved in with my high school friends, the only people I feel like ever understood me up to that point in my life, I hoped it would go well.  It ultimately didn't and I feel for very much the same reasons as usual.  I had the opposite schedule of everyone, so I could rarely go to events.  When people would schedule events but not invite me/tell me about them and then I found after the fact, I would get upset.  More than once I came home unexpectedly early for some reason and found an empty apartment, not because they didn't want me at the event but because they knew I was busy.  My frustration stemmed not from the fact that they didn't plan events that I could go to (basically an impossibility) but from the fact that they didn't tell me about events that I couldn't go to.  And it reached the point where they stopped telling me about events entirely because they were afraid I would be mad I wasn't invited (again, not why I was upset in the first place); this logic always seemed circuitous to me.

When we lived in the apartment together, we had a dinner schedule and people signed up to take days.  But, when I was in tech and someone chose not to make dinner that night and I got home expecting dinner, I got angry.  I wasn't angry that there wasn't food.  I wasn't angry because I was hungry.  I was angry that they hadn't texted me and told me there was no dinner.  Not having food at home was a solvable problem, but I hadn't been given the opportunity to solve the problem because of lack of communication.  For me, it's always been those fine distinctions that people just don't seem to get about me.

I am constantly seen as being angry.  When I got left in a subway station in New York alone, when I finally caught up to my friends, I was told that I was having a tantrum and over-reacting.  My fear and hurt and anger at the situation was completely glossed over.  And even if I was over-reacting (which I'm not convinced I was), my emotions were declared invalid.  More often than not, people withheld information from me "because they were scared I'd be angry", which of course only upset me more.  I couldn't convince them that if they'd only given me the information up-front, I wouldn't have been angry at all.  So in that situation with my apartment, like my relationship with my family, I gained a reputation for be angry.  People began to treat me like I was always going to lash out at them and so it became increasingly difficult not to do something.  It's not to say that I don't have a temper.  I undoubtedly do.  I would also say that it is now firmly in hand though.

And my complex and guilt about anger now is almost crippling.  It's new baggage that I'm beginning to work through, with some success, I'd say.  But the first time I got truly angry with Wendell I just hugged myself and sobbed so hard I shook and felt like I would tear myself to pieces, trying to withhold my anger, to feel some other way entirely.  When I could finally speak, I stated my case in clipped tones and I apologized for being angry.  And Wendell complemented me on how well I had expressed myself (once I could speak again).  I was so shocked I stopped crying and couldn't only stare at him.  There has been one or two times where we've gotten angry at each other unjustly, but most of the time, I will explain while I'm mad and generally Wendell will say: you're right.  And I'll apologize for being angry and he'll say something like: no, you get to be angry when I do something that stupid.  I'm still shocked every time it happens.  And even when I am justifiably angry (which apparently is more of the time than I realized (?), I get near crippling anxiety.

The other reputation I seem to constantly get throughout my life is that I'm stubborn.  And like my reputation for being angry, it's not completely unjustified.  I was incredibly stubborn as a child.  If my parents told me to do something, I frequently wouldn't just because they had told me to.  But like with the anger, I've gotten better at choosing my battlefield.  I've frequently taken to saying (these days): "that's not a hill I'm going to die on".  But people still call me stubborn, because when someone does something I truly believe is wrong (morally/procedurally/legally/etc), then I am going to say something.  And if someone presents pressing evidence that I'm wrong, then I am going to concede.  I generally even try to say the words: "I was wrong" because someone, it's frequently just important for people to hear those specific words.

I said them to my mother the other day about something inconsequential and she joked that she need a tape recorder to record them because they shocked her so much.  And I turned to Wendell and told her that I say them all the time when I actually am wrong and he immediately and vehemently backed me up.  There's a fine line between being stubborn for the sake of pride and being stubborn because what's right needs to be stood up for and I'm trying hard to find it.

But that's the problem.  I'm changing constantly.  I've changed hugely and while my stubbornness and temper are things that will always be there, they're things I try to use and not let rule me now.  People aren't seeing the changes in me though.  They think they know me, when they either never did or no longer do.  And it is so frustrating and hurtful to me, because I am striving every day to be a better person.

So having Wendell just get me is the most incredible thing I could ever ask for.  To start explaining my motives and have him say "I know..." and then finish my explanation for me, demonstrating that he does know exactly how I'm feeling; that he exactly understands my motivations.  I don't constantly have to justify myself to him.  He's never assuming the worst of me.  The other night we fought (we do fight, but they've always been minor thus far) because I criticized a fix he'd made a work. While my criticisms were valid, he was hurt.  And his point that he hadn't had time to fine-tune his fix, in my opinion, made my criticisms unnecessarily cruel.  When I tried to apologize, he wasn't ready to hear me yet, and rebuffed me, so we both ended up feeling hurt.  By the end of the show though, we had talked through all of this to the point of understanding each other and ended the fight with thanking each other for being understanding.

That's a new situation for me.  It's an incredible situation for me.  I hate fighting with him and thankfully it's rare.  But I am so happy that thus far we've been able to talk through things not only civilly but to the point where we gain new insight into each other.

Maybe all I've ever needed was a single person to actually get me.  I'm not sure, but I'm more at peace with this than I really ever have been.

Though that statement isn't entirely fair.  Janey gets me and really always have and she's always been a wonderful supportive friend.  She's just in the middle of two groups of people that she understands both of but whom don't understand each other.


About a month ago, I started taking extremely mild anti-depressants.  About a month ago, my work troubles and my family's health problems finally took a turn for the better.  I'm not sure which one has helped lift my depression, but I'm so grateful.

Between my mother's cancer, my father's two pulmonary embolisms, and my sister's chronic and plaguing sinus infections and headaches, there's been a lot of family stress.  Between trouble with my standing in my union, being passed over for a different position by someone new who had less experience, and by being saddled with a position I'm not fond of, there's been a lot of work stress.  And these two sources of stress have, together, created a nigh irrepressible weight that I'm constantly struggling under.

As with everyone person, I've struggled with self-esteem throughout my life; believing that I am competent, capable, and worth other people's time.  Generally, I've mostly gotten to the point where I do believe that most of the time.  So, when people tell me that I'm not good at something, I can evaluate their opinion critically to see if I believe them or not.  The situation at work, with the new and less experience people be promoted above me (and several other coworkers) shattered my confidence.  And once it was shattered, the depression settled in, and I just couldn't regain my confidence and belief in my self-worth.

That's what I've found with the depression is that it isn't just sadness, as I've read in so many articles by people with depression.  For me, it typically manifests in this inescapable and irrepressible sense that I'm not worth anyone's time.  And where normally my self-esteem would kick in at that point and logically point to all the evidence to the contrary, with the depression hanging over me, I found that none of that evidence meant anything.  The feeling was going to remain and it was not going to let me shake it.

I'm personifying the depression, but that's not for literary effect, that's because it's how it felt; how it feels.  It this thing I live with that I can't escape or run from or hide from.  It imposed an overwhelming sense of futility and while it never, thankfully thankfully, got to the point where I didn't see the point in life, it definitely got to there point where I could see how people could get to that point.

And the overwhelming guilt I felt when burdening my boyfriend with all this baggage was one of the hardest parts.  We've been friends for awhile now, so he's seen me without the depression.  But the depression started right around the time that we got involved and so we've never really been together without it looming there between us.  He didn't leave though.  After my breakup with Riley and the fallout that caused between my friends and I, I was truly terrified that I'd scare him away.  I told him that and he laughed and told me he still liked me and that I didn't always have to be good company.

And when I told my family, they were shocked.  But they didn't run away either.  They didn't necessarily help either, but they didn't run.  If they had run; if my boyfriend had decided that while he loved me, the depression was too much, I truly wouldn't have blamed him, but I don't know what I would have done.  This thing stripped away every defense I had against doubting myself.  If I hadn't had that external support, getting through, surviving (and I do mean that in the least dire way) to get my on internal support back, wouldn't have been almost insurmountably harder.

So I'm grateful.  Endlessly grateful that they have helped me.  And understood that I can't always do this on my own.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Personal Boundaries and Self Sacrifice

Christmas, and, indeed, every holiday that involves family, makes me introspective.  A somewhat favorite topic of pop-culture lately seems to be the idea of personal boundaries.  The concept that a person needs a sense of self and to hold to their principles even when people, particularly friends and families, are testing or imposing on those principles.  

When put as simply as that, the concept is delightful and extremely important.  The idea is important to prevent resentment that comes from performing acts out of sheer obligation.  But it's always bothered me, because most of the articles I've read (which have been a great many at this point) have preached that when faced with a request that imposes on you, that you should hold firm to your boundaries against such an imposition.

Before tonight, I had never read an article that mentioned that perhaps doing something that is an imposition doesn't always breed resentment.  My problem with this psychological tenant is that, as the word implies, tenants do not encompass the whole of the situation.  I am not entirely convinced that performing something out of sheer obligation is always unhealthy or problematic, but that isn't what I would like to address.  What I would like to address is that doing something that is an imposition or something solely for someone else's benefit when you truly want to do it, won't breed resentment.

And while it could be argued that it is selfless, it is also a form of selfishness, because a person's gratitude for service or help rendered is frequently more than enough repayment for my actions.  We both benefit, so where is the harm?

I've gotten into arguments with friends about this and it, for me, is something that is decisive in my relationships with others.  While yes, doing something for someone because you'll feel good about it is selfish; I believe that not doing something because you don't want feel obligated is a different for of selfishness, and one I personally am less tolerant of.  In the first situation you both benefit in your selfishness.  In the other, one suffers while you benefit from your act.

I realize that people can't control when they will resent feeling obligated.  I realized people can't control whether they will actually feel good about going out of their way for someone.  But I have found that if you truly do care for someone, you will want to you out of your way for them.  Nevertheless, herein lies the conundrum.  You can't force yourself to feel a particular way and if you will truly resent an obligation, then I do agree with the advice that you shouldn't do it if it will make you unhappy.  It is simply my belief that it is best to strive to want to do acts of kindness for other to make yourself happy.  Unsurprisingly, however, I have no idea how to accomplish such a thing if it does not come naturally.

My other problem with most of the literature out there on setting personal boundaries is the advice that you should make your decisions regardless of how other people will react.  If you are going to do something that will upset another person, you should do it, because their feelings aren't relevant and/or have no bearing on the situation.  But humans don't live in vacuums.  We are social creatures and while another person's feelings on a subject shouldn't ultimately and unilaterally decide your actions, if you care for them, if they are a large part of your life and relevant to the choice you're making, then I believe you should keep in mind their feelings.  And if you don't have a reasonable idea of their feelings on the subject, then you should ask.  And if they tell you unsolicited how they feel about a topic, I believe that carries even more weight.

If my boyfriend has had a hard day, but I've made plans, I might still go out.  But I might stay in an comfort him and hang out with him, because it will make him happier and that will make me happier.  I'm not saying that I'm obligated to stay and comfort him; I'm saying that in many situations, I will be happier with changing my plans and staying than if I went.  But, there are times when my plans are the more important element and I'll keep them.  I'm not going to abandon my boyfriend though.  I'll maybe buy him ice cream, or make plans with him later that night, or text him and amusing article, or poke him in the ear (long story).  There's always compromise and I feel like most of the articles I've read would say the conversation has to go like this:

Him: I had a really hard day.  My coworker yelled at me and then I made a mistake that resulted in costing money.  I ended up with a flat tire because I hit a curb when someone almost served into me.  And it doesn't help that you have plans tonight.

Me:  I'm really sorry that sounds awful.

Him:  I would love if you would stay with me tonight instead of going out.

Me:  I understand that you want me to stay, but I've already made plans and I need you to understand and respect that.

My problem with the above conversation is, that instead of continuing the dialogue, it cuts it off entirely.  By explaining that he's imposing on my boundaries and he needs to respect that, you've ended the conversation, and no matter how nicely you say the above, you've basically created an ultimatum, which I feel like, people generally respond poorly to.  I also feel like the above scenario assumes that my boyfriend knows nothing of having boundaries and that I need to educate him on them.  The firm phrasing also, I feel, conveys a sense that he is intentionally trying to test my resolve and boundaries, instead of just making a request because he's not feeling well.  While it's true that he could be testing my boundaries, I tend to assume the best of people and would like to make allowances for this not being the case (I also think this assumption depends a lot on the individual person involved).

Generally (though my relationship is far from perfect), my conversation would go more like this.

Him: I had a really hard day.  My coworker yelled at me and then I made a mistake that resulted in costing money.  I ended up with a flat tire because I hit a curb when someone almost served into me.  And it doesn't help that you have plans tonight.

Me:  I'm really sorry that sounds awful.

Him:  I would love if you would stay with me tonight instead of going out.

Me: You know I love spending time with you and it's even more important to me when you're not feeling well.  Most times I'd cancel my plans and stay with you, but this time, it's really important that I go out.

Him:  I understand.  I'll miss you though.

Me:  Oh!  I finished Alloy of Law and know you'll love it.  Here let me grab it for you if you want.  I know reading often makes you feel better.  And hey, if you want and will still be up when my plans are done, I'll grab us some ice cream and we can hang out afterward.

Him: I don't want to impose or make you go out of your way.

Me:  I'm your girlfriend, I get to claim first right of imposition and I'm honestly happy to do it. 

Him:  Well then, that sounds nice.  Thank you.  You're the best.

This is pretty much exactly a conversation I've had with him before and I don't see the harm in it at all. It assumes that he's not trying to impose or manipulate.  In fact, he tends to know when he's imposing and mention it.  This isn't the case with all people, as I said above, but just because someone is pushing on your personal boundaries doesn't mean you need to rebuff them.  And I still don't believe that doing something that will make someone you care about (or even just an acquaintance) happy, and won't make you unhappy, is wrong.  

It's all about balancing your boundaries with that sense of self sacrifice.  And I struggle with people who have a low sense of self sacrifice, because I tend to have a high sense of it.  I feel like this is bragging or boasting, but I also think it is something that is intrinsically characteristic of me and not something I would care to try to change.  People have a lower sense of self sacrifice which means they're going to watch out for themselves more because it's the only way they can stay happy, and that's okay too.  I just struggle with accepting that.

The problem that I have with so much self-help literature/blogs/theories/etc is that is written as an absolute.  There's often a lot of: This is the only healthy way to react to something and everything else is wrong.  And I struggle with that perception so much, because I firmly believe that there is always a better way to do something.  A better way to balance caring for yourself and caring for others.  A better way to make yourself happy.  A better way to know when people are trying to take advantage of you and when they're just hurt or upset.  And I am always going to look for that better way.  I do things the way I do now because for this moment, they're what I know as best, but I intend to improve.

My bottom line: I believe setting personal boundaries is extremely important, but sacrificing for other people isn't wrong as long as it doesn't make you unhappy.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A good partner will...

I thought I'd written a post when Wendell (look, I found a pseudonym other than Boy!) started dating, but it turns out I was mistaken and it was actually a journal entry, not for public consumption.  Anyway, it's been about six months since I got involved with Wendell.  Closer to four (maybe? I'm not exactly positive on the timing) since we started dating.  And I keep waiting for the honeymoon/new relationship phase to be over.  And it keeps not happening (much to my delight).

Things have been so easy and we've fallen into a rhythm that we both love.  It helps that we get to work with each other through May.  Somewhat shockingly, it's easier when we're working together than when we're not.

Anyway, there have been so many things that I've learned in the past six months.  Things I wish I'd known sooner; things about relationships that people just don't tell you.  So I'm writing them down.  I still have so much in life to learn, but these are things that I believe to be undeniably true.

There's someone out there for you.  Hell, there's a bunch of people out there for you.  If you leave your current relationship, there is someone else out there for you.  In fact, numerically speaking, there's a bunch of people out there who will fit into your life.  You aren't trapped.  You aren't worthless.  There are people out there who will love you for you.  You just have to keep looking long enough to find them, which sucks.

Being alone isn't bad.  I write this from the perspective of being in a relationship now, but I learned over the last year and a half that not being in a relationship doesn't make you less of a person.  Getting to know yourself, being your own person without relating it intimately to who someone else is, is so so important.  And if you don't ever want a relationship, then good for you for recognizing that fact.  (Even now, my bedmates as I write this aren't other people, but my dogs and cat).

If you think you aren't being respected, trust yourself.  There's obviously a point that you could take this that would be too far; there is for pretty much everything.  But if your partner is gas-lighting you; telling you you're over-emotional, over-reacting, burdensome, whiny, etc, then examine your relationship very closely.  Is it actually worth it?  Is your partner actually your partner?

A good partner might consider doing certain things a burden, but they'll want to help you.  I just spent the entire weekend with the worst cold of my life.  And Wendell spent the weekend with me; made me tea, soup, etc.  Was it fun for him?  Really not so much.  Was it a burden?  Well, yes, it fit that description.  Did he mind doing it?  No, he wanted to, because he loves me and wants to see me happy (and in this case, healthy).  And I thanked him profusely for all of his help.

A good partner wants to see you happy and will sometimes want to sacrifice their comfort to ensure that.  (rephrased: you should make sacrifices for each other).  The other week my grandparents wanted to have dinner and I wanted Wendell to come.  He's not the most social of people, and wasn't sure he wanted to go.  I did my absolute best to tell him that it was fine, but he also knew, without me expressly saying it, that I was disappointed.  And so he decided to go, and actually did have fun.  This is the type of thing that we both try extremely hard not to abuse, because it quickly becomes manipulative.

A good partner will communicate with you (specifically) well.  They don't have to be a good people person to communicate with you well.  Wendell certainly isn't what either of us would call a people person.  But he gets me.  He understands me.  When I say something that isn't quite factually or actually what I mean, he gets me well enough to understand my meaning, and won't correct me on the phrasing (except maybe jokingly).

A good partner will tell you the truth. Even when it hurts.  Even when they'd rather be alone, or with friends instead of you, or in another/additional relationship.  Even when you know it might hurt them.  Even when you know their response might hurt you.  Even when everything in you just wants to shrug is off and say: "it's okay" when it's not or "I don't know" when you do know what's bothering you.  And if you both do this, then you can trust each other, unequivocally

A good partner will accept you even when you're not good company.  A good partner won't desert you just because you're going through a bad patch.  The number of times I've been told that it's okay that I'm upset; that it's okay that I'm angry; that it's okay that I'm not good company, in the past six months astounds me.  I've been struggling with depression and anxiety and haven't been all that fun to be around lately, and yet he still supports me.

There's more.  I know there is.  But these mean so very much to me.  And if you're looking for a partner (or really even a friend), look for these qualities.