A Lesson in Resigning

My twenty fifth birthday was one of the saddest so far. I didn’t feel like celebrating it, few people remembered about it, and at the end of it I couldn’t fall asleep: I was projecting the things I heard about being over twenty five onto my future. It made me cry. I was anticipating that I’d have the same problems I used to have, and that the only difference would be that I’d be less emotional about them. I was anticipating a resignation from my ambitious plan to gradually change the things that make me unhappy.

That’s what I heard people over twenty five become: emotionally cold, and resigned. Everyone gets those projections somewhere. They might be ridiculous and untrue, but they stay with us.

But, of, course they don’t have to define our future. We all have our needs, dreams, and plans that run against any bleak visions of the future that other people or the present feed into our minds. I, for example, need to listen to myself more. I dream about filling my life with interesting books. I have the ambitious plans I mentioned above.

And all of it didn’t go away when I turned twenty five. Quite the contrary: with each success and failure in fulfilling the above, I’m more and more aware of what these needs, dreams and plans mean to me… and in the end, it’s them that define me, not the projections.

Resignation is tempting, very tempting sometimes. It makes things so much easier to say: “this is too hard,” and give up. But I wouldn’t want to do so when I care about something deeply. And of course I care about my needs, dreams and plans deeply!

There is another kind of resignation, though, one I didn’t know until this year. It came unexpectedly naturally to me – a person used to fighting her own perceived weaknesses – after someone casually exposed my “people anxiety” by pointing out that I curled up when someone else sat beside me.

I always tried not to draw attention to my fear of people, wanted others to see me, ideally, as a confident person, and hated it when somebody made comments towards the contrary. I wanted to become confident, there and then, even if only in the eyes of some random beholders.

But at that moment, I resigned from pretending, and from my own hasty efforts to get rid of the anxiety (one of the things that make me unhappy, part of the big plan). I acknowledged the state I was in at the moment, and accepted the exposure, thinking: “yes, I am scared, why would I deny it?”

And, even though I’d never have expected any kind of resignation to be good, it was good for me. It had a calming effect. I’m not really sure how else to comment on this, or what to call this new kind of resignation, so I’ll just leave this discovery here for your consideration, and mine too. Maybe it will make us both more accepting towards ourselves…?

Post scriptum: Two days after I scheduled this post, during a yoga class, the teacher unexpectedly summed up my roundabout reflections on resignation by saying that all work starts from the place we’re in at the moment, and it can’t start from the place we would like to be in. It seems that everything around me conspires to teach me something.

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Old Habits Die Hard

My recent therapy sessions have taught me a new way of looking at some of my more painful experiences: namely, to see them as habits.

The word itself doesn’t sound painful, does it? It sounds rather… light. Undramatic. Normal. And that’s what I wanted — to see my experiences, and deal with them as I’d do with normal things. Like bad habits, which might be sticky, and one might be too lazy to get rid of them, but they are not a matter of Fate — one can change them if one wants to, and if one applies to it.

One of my more painful experiences — or bad habits — is to think of myself as a victim: unprotected, unhelped, and abandoned. I probably got into that habit some ten years ago but, sadly, it still makes me do stupid things, like rejecting help, calling people’s good intentions into doubt, or mistaking sporadic lack of help for general unreliability.

Of course, I hate this tendency in me. It reminds me of a bad time in my life, it makes me feel guilty of an unfair mistrust of people, and I don’t really like thinking, let alone talking about it. But I wanted to get rid of it, so I brought it with me to therapy.

After some time, I decided that, without disregarding the pain associated with it, it’s best to approach it simply as a habit. And through practice, perhaps through doubt and disappointment, with a lot of patience, possibly with support from others, and certainly with my own happiness in mind, I can get rid of it.

“I’ve done that before. Damn, I stopped eating crisps!” I thought.

Have I had much success so far? Not really, no. Only yesterday, I mentally accused my significant otter of being generally unconcerned about my health just because he refused to once again wash the shower cabin when it was my turn (I ask him to do it because washing stuff is tricky when you have skin problems).

But I checked myself: “oh yes, that’s that old album playing — the one about people being unhelpful — I don’t like that one.” And I thought that no otter, even the significant one, is obliged to fulfill my every wish, especially if they’re tired, and I washed the stupid shower cabin myself.

So there is some progress… But equally important as the slow progress I am making is the fact that, even if thinking about my habit still brings some pain, and fighting it is anything but easy, I feel so empowered when I treat it this way. Seeing myself as a victim is no longer some vague “way of being” thing that I cannot change, no matter how hard I try. It’s a habit that I decide whether to keep or not.

And I already decided not to.

Learning Not to Take Chances Away

You know what I like about therapy?

The fact that the therapist I go to does not judge me. And even more than that: she does a thingy thing that makes me forget the concept of judging people as such. It makes me stop being hard on myself and, at the same time, stop worrying about how other people judge me.

How does she do that? No idea. It’s probably a professional secret.

The kind of judging I have in mind here is the negative one – one that takes something away from its object. When we say to ourselves “I’m hopeless”, “I’m good for nothing”, or “I will never succeed at anything”, we take away from ourselves the chance to prove ourselves wrong. All said and done, no point in trying any harder and searching for new paths towards self-realization if the current ones indeed do not seem to lead anywhere.

I am giving examples of self-judgement here on purpose, because I know that many people judge themselves harshly and nullify their chances for improvement all the time.

Do they do that to other people as well? I don’t know – I probably belong to the lucky few who do not have to face such shitty behaviour. If they do, that’s too bad. What I do know, though, is that we should not readily assume that other people keep judging us negatively in their minds. Without getting us any closer to any kind of truth, it may only make us nervous…

There is another, positive kind of judging, though – one that gives us something. In our interactions, we do that all the time: we judge whether the person we just met is worthy of our trust; whether we want to talk to them, find out more about them, hang around with them some more. This is normal; were it not for this kind of judging, we would probably drown in all this wide inter-human sea…

But what am I driving at? I am definitely driving at something.

Here is the thing: if you already know the difference between the positive and negative kind of judging, give up on the latter. Don’t take chances away from yourself. Don’t take them away from others.

This is what I keep telling myself, and therapy helps me maintain this attitude of not taking chances away, watching myself and others with interest, and learning something new about ourselves every day.

And you know what? It is much more interesting this way.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

This Is Going to Be a Good Autumn

For a couple of years now, the coming of autumn always meant trouble for me: won’t a rainy October deject me? Will I have gathered enough strength to be able to get up from the bed every morning? Won’t the persistent thoughts that I’m worthless and should’ve died long ago come back? Oh, those regular autumnal thoughts; moods quite fitting for the unfriendly autumnal weather.

“This autumn, though, is going to be a good one,” I’m thinking now, even when the wind is raging all around me, all I can see in the darkness is some lights reflected in the wet asphalt under my feet, and all I’m dreaming about is to finally stop this trudge-along and fall asleep in the warmth and quite of home.

This autumn is going to be a good one because this autumn I let myself do just this: take care of myself when I’m feeling so bad, and cold, and gloomy. It doesn’t mean that every time I get back home from work, I hit the bed right away. Sometimes it means that when I’m irritated, I turn on Yukari’s “Echo”. When I feel lonely, I reach out to a friend, or just think about the few I have. When I haven’t slept well at night, I put off this damned difficult task I’ve planned to finish today until a better time.

There’s no point in nurturing irritation; that parasite will devour the greater part of your energy with much enthusiasm if you let it do so. I won’t do myself a favour if I go on pondering the loneliness of my existence, either. It’s better to go back a couple of days or weeks, and recall that it doesn’t always feel this way. And what about work, what about sacrifice? I value both very much, but not more than my own well-being. The world needs me? Well, it probably does, but probably not too much; not to the extent where I’d have to carry on all stressed out and exhausted.

But what about autumn, and the wayward thoughts it will bring me all the same? …I can tell you that this year is the first one when I feel that I don’t have to yield to them. I already know those thoughts well enough to be able to stop the one that, running at full speed, would hit me and send me flying downwards a murky autumnal depression. They are my thoughts, and I can do with them whatever I want to — not the other way round.

So this autumn, instead of picking up all the fatigue and dejection that autumn will inevitably bring me as if it was the greatest of gifts, I’m going to take care of myself. I’m strong enough now to make it a plan, and I think I’m strong enough to keep to it, too.

And that is all. But this little is enough to say that this is going to be a good autumn.

P. s.: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

What It’s Like to Have a Rat

I have a rat. It’s been sitting on my desktop for a few days now. Like all rats, it has the tendency to reappear in bad times.

It appears whenever I’m sad for a period of time longer than a few days.

I won’t show it to you because it’s a very private rat, just like my sadness is a private business, most of the time.

But I can talk about it if I want to. I wasn’t able to do this when I was younger. The rat had to stay somewhere out of sight, in the basement, I think (I was never quite sure of its whereabouts back then).

Under no circumstances did I want to see it, let alone let anyone else see it. Rats aren’t nice animals, you know.

But amid all this maturing, thinking and rethinking, I discovered that you can make friends with your rat even if it’s not nice.

Perhaps you’ll also be able to tame it so that it doesn’t eat you from the inside anymore. I haven’t yet convinced mine to stop doing that.

But I’m trying. When times are bad, I’m putting it on my desktop and say hello to it every time I switch on my laptop so that it feels accepted, and appreciated, too.

Nothing to be scared of — I tell myself, and it gives me that serious, reassuring look.

szczurek
This isn’t the one from my desktop. This one was drawn by lotny.

Have a great day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.

What Would You Like?

The question that our title
has cast in deathless bronze
is painful yet so vital,
we owe it a response.

~ K.I. Gałczyński, trans. S. Barańczak and C. Cavanagh

We all have dreams – I could start by saying this if I didn’t know better. Dreams never come true – I could also start by saying this if I wanted to discourage you from reading my blog. This post is going to be about dreams and disappointment – I start by saying this because I don’t feel like trying to sound clever.

It would be nice to believe in what we get from films, books, and people who are perhaps too lazy to think over the old truths that they repeat: that all of us have dreams. But unfortunately, not all of us, and not in all circumstances, can keep up enough hope to sustain a dream.

All it takes is to face a terminal disease, extreme poverty or violence. In other words, if your life falls apart, you may become temporarily unable to dream.

A tragedy is not always the case, though. Some people, at certain points in their lives, simply don’t have dreams. And I’d think it’s perfectly all right if only I couldn’t be bothered to think about the reasons. But I am bothered, I am indeed very much bothered by the reasons.

There might be a multiplicity of them, and I might not be able to account for all of them here. All right, all right: I’m actually able to account for only two reasons, namely that:

  1. We’re happy with our lives as they are, and at this particular moment we just want to enjoy it, and dreams get kind of sidelined, or…
  2. We’re afraid of disappointment… which is completely understandable because disappointment is unpleasant. If it felt pleasant or neutral, I guess it wouldn’t be called disappointment anymore.

Well then, let’s be afraid of it, I’d say if I didn’t know that this fear might become unhealthy and lead us to give up on dreams.

It’s a very simple mechanism. If, as children, we were repeatedly told that we can’t disappoint other people because we hurt them by doing so; if, all too often, we saw other people being unable to cope with disappointment; if we experienced disappointment ourselves and couldn’t cope with it – we’re almost sure to be afraid of disappointment later on.

But there’s nothing to be afraid of… or at least there shouldn’t be, don’t you think? Disappointment is part of life and, in most cases, the human psyche is strong enough to cope with the pain it brings.

However, that is not enough for us to stop being afraid. Perhaps those of us who are will never stop being afraid. So, perhaps it’s worthwhile to learn how to cope with it? Learning a few coping methods should help to relieve anxiety, no matter the cause of it.

But who are we supposed to learn from if so many of the people around us are so clearly not good at handling their own disappointments? So many of them, resenting life that it’s not as good as they expected it to be, obstinately offended, neglect their own, and sometimes also their loved ones’ well-being.

I don’t know. I don’t know who to learn it from and, as you’ve probably noticed by now, I haven’t come up with any tricks of my own either. So far, I don’t think I have answered a single question I asked myself on this blog – I just write them down as homework to be done in the future.

But I already know one thing: I don’t want to give up on dreams for reason number two. I don’t want to forget how to dream just because I am afraid of disappointment. I don’t want to linger in this special kind of apathy which prevents us not only from making our dreams come true, but in the long run, also from knowing what they are.

That’s why, for a start, I suggest pulling your old dreams out of the waste bin and examining them closely – perhaps they still fit? And if not, I suggest asking yourself once again, bravely, in a demanding tone, this one important question: what would you like?

It’s painful yet so vital – you owe it a response.

Have a good day,
Renata

Post scriptum: You can read a Polish version of this post at uczesiemowic.blogspot.com.