Return to Normal, Actually Try Mindfulness, Tie Up Loose Ends, & Avoid Internalizing Others’ Emotions

Return to Normal

Monday: Returning to work finally after a two weeks of being out sick, actually felt like relief rather than ‘back to the grind.’ I was eager to catch up on projects I’d had to neglect, and return emotionally to a sense of normality. Fortunately, my coworkers were happy to have me back, and my boss voiced such appreciation of me that left me stunned. I’m lucky enough to believe that the fondness for me in the office was healthy to begin with, but my reception back recalls the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and fortunately, the feeling was mutual.

Actually Try Mindfulness

Tuesday: Dealing with the all too physical manifestation of stress for the last couple weeks, I’ve started trying to actually practice mindfulness exercises I’ve read in magazines, or heard about on TED Talks. The one that I recalled the easiest today was to ask myself where I am in the moment as a practice to stay grounded. I found it most helpful while driving, or when I got too engrossed in a project that I’d begin to find myself tensing up physically in my desk chair. Whenever I found myself mentally either too engrossed in a task, or tripping over one worry and landing into another in my solitude, I would stop mid-thought, and ask myself silently the simple question, “where am I?” I’d answer something like “I’m in the car. I’m driving to rehearsal. The moon is barely visible. It’s a pale blue.” Or, “I’m at work. I’m writing an article for the E-Zine. My back aches,” and I’d stand up and stretch. The practice was very useful, in that it made me focus on my needs, and see whatever inconsequential worry I was allowing to take hold of me, in a new, removed perspective, realizing the majority of them likely wouldn’t matter in a matter of days, let alone in five years.

Tie Up Loose Ends

Wednesday: I’ve been fortunate enough to be tasked with a couple new gigs recently, One little writing gig, contributing to an author’s promotions for his published book, and starting up with a company that does HR Consulting and Training. Having been immensely busy, I needed to finish up the first project before embarking on the new. So today, happiness meant working overtime to tie up loose ends. I began at a Panera, which got increasingly crowded closer to the dinner rush– guess I’m not the type to be able to work in a cafe just yet. So, I took advantage of having rehearsal directly after, and found a quiet spot at the theatre to continue my work. I finished the project that night after rehearsal. Relieved, I was ready to start on the next.

Avoid Internalizing Others’ Emotions

Thursday: Being more prone to empathy than the average person can be a gift, but often is something I’ve had to learn to temper and minimize. I am easily affected by another person’s stress, bad mood, or anger, and with lifelong practice, I’ve improved slowly in not internalizing others as much. When I was younger, the practice applied to friends, and, lately, I’ve had to learn to do the same with my coworkers. In such a small office, the tiniest snafu is felt throughout, and the teeniest sigh of exasperation echoes. Today, I tried to become more aware of when this happens to mentally remind myself that I cannot solve other people’s problems for them , as much as I would like to, and that my own responsibilities come first, which are a weight that is already heavy enough. Rather, what is in my power is to be kind and supportive, and to help once my own duties are accomplished, which are my first priority. In analyzing this problem at work, I realized how it permeates throughout my entire life currently, including my life working with other artists in my off-time. I’m going to start applying this helpful perspective regardless of setting. I need to focus more on the health of my own inner life, which is really the only one I have any control over.

 

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Be Honest with Myself & Find Peace

Today, my worry was soothed earlier than I had anticipated. I had reached out to my friend’s father on Facebook, and had his phone number at the ready, should my friend not get back to me by the morning. I wrote a brief message detailing my concern, and the freedom to withhold information, if he viewed my question as stepping into personal territory, in which he’d prefer no intruders. Fortunately, my friend’s father quelled my worry with updates, informing me my friend was optimistically on the mend, and he’d be released from the hospital shortly.

I was so relieved, I nearly cried, being at work the only force restraining me. I was able to nix one toxic emotion– fear. I knew he’d be alright. Shortly thereafter, my friend also texted me as I had asked him, to let me know he was tired, but better.

The next emotion has not been so easy to calm– guilt. All day I felt oppressively guilty for misjudging him. His dad had mentioned the difficulties of the last few days, implying this has been going on, indeed, for the time period in which my friend kept postponing our dates. He had been deliberately withholding the aggression of his symptoms, ironically to prevent worry.

I had to look inward for answers. How could I come to peace with my mistake? And, did this change how I felt about our budding relationship?

First, I analyzed out of what experiences my distrust had been born. That answer was easy: my baggage. But, my insight didn’t stop there: My baggage makes me more sensitive to feeling blown off, and I realized I now need more reassurance in a romantic relationship than I have needed in the past. I used to idolize the woman who needs no man, Mae West a prime example. That woman never got hurt, she was strong. Anything outside of that narrative would mean I was weak. But I’m not Mae West. I want an equal relationship, a partner with whom to be a dynamic duo, I want us to inspire each other, and to be there for each other, when the rest of the world makes no sense. And that means I can’t be Mae West. I have to learn a new kind of strength now, the strength to assert my needs in a relationship. I don’t need a man to be happy, or to change the world, but if I’m to have a relationship, it had better be a healthy one, in which neither ‘has the upper hand.’

In the past, I’ve dated men who would go days, plural, without talking to me, deluding myself into thinking ‘we’re both busy, we both have lives, I’m independent, I don’t want to weigh him down, this is good for me,’ only to be tossed aside when I was no longer convenient. I thought I could be that way still, but I can’t. This time around, the days we’d message each other, with no date night in sight, felt like romantic purgatory.

Every step of this relationship, I felt I had to watch my back, withhold real feelings for him, which were definitely starting to pick out furniture and test paint swatches on my heart. Every man I’ve dated, I’ve felt something real for, and he was no different. But, I couldn’t relinquish my power this time, I couldn’t bear to let him hurt me, because I don’t go back once I’m hurt, and I couldn’t lose him, even if that meant we could only be friends.

As soon as I saw the potential to be hurt again, I abandoned the relationship. He didn’t see me more than once a week, something in the past I’ve been okay with, but this time felt like not enough. He’d message me somewhat daily, but many days I found I was the first to send. He’d be late to dates consistently, even though I knew he shared a car with his brother, I couldn’t help but feel like less-than-important when tardiness was the shadow that loomed over the explanations of why he couldn’t arrive at all. Perhaps his excuses were to spare me from worry, I think they really were. But, excuses, even if true, when not the entire truth, make my head spin and wonder, the emotional scars left from others twitching like Potter-esque warnings.

I acted to protect my heart, something I’ve never done in the past. I’ve given my heart to too many people who didn’t deserve it. And I couldn’t give it over completely this time, even if perhaps this one did.

Romantically, I’m putting the onus on him to make his choice. We both knew this would likely be only temporary, but we would ‘see how it goes.’ I saw. I’ve had to re-evaluate.

My needs are different now.

I need a man who will make the plans he makes with me a true priority. I’ve fallen into the habit of waiting til the last minute to get ready, in case he cancels within the hour we are supposed to get together, with the hopes that if I don’t finish my hair or makeup within that time, I’ll be less bitter when he stands me up. This does not work.

I need a man who talks openly with me. My imagination is too powerful at times, and it will fill in the blanks of a story with images of several possible variations and outcomes, all of which logical, and likely worse than the reality of the situation.

I need a man who doesn’t just tell me I’m special, but acts in a way that make me know that I’m special. Pretty words don’t evoke any emotion in me anymore. I didn’t think I’d get to that point, jaded like the vixens in movies. But, I’ve been told pretty things ever since puberty finally worked itself out, and all those pretty things have ever gotten me has been excessive and lasting pain. Maybe I’ll date a man who doesn’t compliment me at all.

It’s not that I don’t trust people. I trust people too readily, and then fall too hard when I’m disappointed. I thought today I should do some kind of trust exercise with myself, but I’m not experiencing trust issues, or fears of commitment. The problem is far more simple than all that: I wasn’t honest enough with myself, and therefore not honest with him.

I was not open to my friend about my needs from the beginning, because I firmly felt he wouldn’t change to accommodate me, as none of them ever have. This was perhaps unfair, but not unwarranted. And truly, I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize my part in the sabotage of our happy ending, not even being fully aware of how my needs have changed. How could I assert them when I did not consciously acknowledge them for myself?

Today, happy meant finding peace with the events of the last two days. My peace is this: I know he was not lying to me, and he was likely trying to protect me from worry when he withheld more information (“the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” comes to mind).  I know that we are still friends, he still keeps me posted, knowing I’m genuinely concerned. I know that he’s got big life changes in front of him, changes that truly necessitate freedom. I know that I can’t really be a part of that freedom, because my needs are no longer as whimsical and easy-going as a younger me once had. I know myself better now. I need consistency that leads to commitment, because I no longer get butterflies in the beginning from excitement, I get indigestion from nervousness.

I need the comfortable stage. I need to know that when my significant other says he’ll be there for me. He. Will. Be. There. I cannot settle for any less. I know now that if I try to settle, I’ll inevitably sabotage whatever small successes we’ve achieved. It’s a priority I thought I could demote, but in fact just made it to #1.

We are still friends, and I’m immensely grateful. But the relationship stands where it does, for now. In friendship. I can’t give myself completely to anyone who cannot make my needs the priority that they must be. The love and loyalty that I give is more than worth the responsibility.

And though the future is fluid, and “life is ironic,” my needs come first next round, whether it be with him, or anyone else.

Take the Long Way Home & An Update– I Was Wrong

take the long way home collage

Every man I date comes with his own soundtrack, each one starting with a repetitive impending percussive intro, each with the potential to become his own song, only to resolve himself in Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust-ah.”

Today, I got subtly dumped (as in postponed for the third time in a row, this time with no alternative date in mind), his excuse seeming disappointingly unimaginative and irreprehensible. This excuse delivered via Snapchat Chat, the impermanence of his action stinging. I finally made our status clear, wishing him good luck in his future endeavors, asserting we wouldn’t have enough time for each other, joining the ranks of his exes.

Now to choose happy.

I was dumped this day at work, at 2:00pm, my bagel from lunch still not completely digested. Now, certain indigestion wasn’t a good enough excuse to duck out early, as tempting as that was. Having dated briefly by most standards, I was not irreparably broken-hearted. He was a friend first, we thought we ought to try, having agreed mutually that as soon as we felt our friendship was at stake, we’d end it. Now I think I fully understand why we are advised not to date friends, for fear such a choice will ruin or change the friendship. As much as I wanted to avoid that, it happened. How quickly we jeapordize happy memories in greed for more happiness.

I knew to manage my expectations with him. Still in college, I knew he came with a disclaimer. In fact, as the summer came to a close, knowing he had barely enough time to see me while he was in the state, I knew a long distance relationship was impossible. I could just see myself driving out to the boonies only to be told that Game of Thrones had hijacked our date night yet again. In short, I wanted to end it kindly, and in person. I truly wanted to retain this friendship. Where I went wrong was to provide warning.

Before our first opportunity to hang out, I had mentioned I wanted to talk with him, nothing was wrong, just wanted to “check in.” He seemed to clumsily circumvent the topic, saying he was in a place with “bad reception,” and could he call me later? Of course, I agreed. And finally the dreaded conversation had no choice but to take place essentially via text, old news for me considering this has been the case for not the last one but THREE guys. I expected more from this one. He wasn’t a Tinder date, he wasn’t a set-up, he was a friend. And I didn’t even merit a phone call. I played dumb. We will likely have to work together in the future, we’re both in the small village that is theatre, and I don’t intend to ‘salt the Earth’ here. I’ve tried that in the past– weeds still insidiously grow on that land.

Choose happy.

I left work later that afternoon, having finished my full day in spite of my disappointment. As I drove, I tried to think of what I’d do today to make this better, to make me happy. A workout  felt like too much to ask of myself, even though it had been my original thought from the morning. I turned up the radio, and let my hand slice through the impending fall air. Judah and the Lion came on, “I ain’t trading my youth for no suit and jacket…,” then the mandolin, “I ain’t giving my freedom for your money and status…,” the mandolin crescendos, “‘Cause everybody I know, everybody I know, is growing OLD, is growing OLD too quickly, and I don’t wanna go… No how am I supposed to slow it down, so I can figure out who I am?” By this point, the music is blaring, and I’m impassioned. I’m young. I’m free.

I take the long way home.

I drive a mile out of my way, and choose to pull into a forest preserve. I love being in nature, but I rarely manage it by myself. I intended initially to only park and listen to music, but when the DJ switched tracks, I was inclined to step out, and take a walk.

The local high school a mile away had a pep rally, blaring horns and drums echoed through the trees from the distance. Cheers broke through as I landed on the edge of a prairie swamp. Surrounded by life, cicadas and crickets competing for the loudest choir, bees swarming a bright yellow congress of flowers, and a hasty frog, startled by my imposition, dashed across my feet off the trail and into the tall grass. A sapphire blue dragon fly hopscotched across fat green leaves, and not one, but two monarchs sucked on bright pink wildflowers. The temperature dropped five degrees as I moved deeper into the trail, shaded by a thicker canopy of trees. The Earth awoke from its afternoon siesta with the gentle grumble of thunder, enough warning for me to start heading back to my car.

I felt peaceful. Happiness today meant contentedness, and a comfort in knowing this isn’t my last chance at love. With every exit, I learn the same message. Like the bumble bee once in view, and in a moment is lost to distraction, so will people love and leave. It’s in our nature. I will know I’ve found the right one when he stays. And in the meantime, I won’t regret my steps deeper into the trail, if even though more often than not I ‘get caught in the weeds.’

An Update: I Was Wrong

The last day has been draining. After not hearing back from him in 24 hours, no reply to the answer to a question he had asked, I started to worry. I messaged him ironically, “It’s been 24 hours, please let me know you’re alive, and I’ll leave you be,” assuming he was sick of me.

Last night I found out he is indeed ill, and in the hospital even. I got woozy. I feel I should set the record straight. I don’t know what to think anymore… Were the two prior postponements due to feeling ill? Have the precedents set by other men before him ruined my ability to be objective? The one time I refrain from granting the benefit of the doubt, he turns out to be telling the truth.

I’m far more jaded than I realized, the hurt from the past deeper than I thought. I quickly judged a friend, who, in my defense, has withheld what’s been happening in his life from me in general, only adding to my lack of trust, but the judgement weighed the most in mind, in spite of perhaps emotionally knowing better. My prior hurts the loudest voices in my brain.

Why did this time have to be different? I wish he was lying. Right now, I wish he was like all the others. Instead he’s sick, and I’m worried sick.