Archives for posts with tag: emotion and reason

“Lazy” Sunday morning sipping coffee, feeling the lift of recent inspiration, and contemplating a recent discussion with my Traveling Partner on the topic of “second hand stress”. It’s a thing, Google it. (I got 462 million hits on that search term, with the first page of links mostly being pretty useful and informative – at least as of October of 2022). Here’s one article. My partner shared this one with me. I found it decently informative, with some useful suggestions for observing and managing second hand stress. Cures? lol. No. There is no “cure” for stress, if by “cure” you mean “some reliable means to wholly and permanently eliminate the subjective experience of stress”. That’s not a thing. Stress, in general, is something we experience for reasons. It has a purpose. There is no “make it go away” approach that suits every need in every moment, there just isn’t. I definitely recommend letting go of that notion. It’s not helpful.

“Anxiety” 2011

Learning to differentiate between stress (and anxiety) that rises to the level of becoming disordered, from the useful experiences of stress or anxiety that could prompt us to make a change, follow through on circumstances, or move away from danger, is an important bit of growth and personal development. For those of us with already-identified anxiety disorders of one sort or another, it becomes doubly critical to be able to distinguish between needed, useful, “positive” stress, and the chronic disordered sort that creates so much chaos and unpleasantness. Saying so doesn’t make it easier. (Keep practicing.) It’s fucking hard.

Learning to skillfully practice non-attachment and to avoid becoming fused with the emotional states of those around us is another incredibly useful (necessary?) skill for managing stress and anxiety. This is definitely an area that I personally need improvement on (for real). The very same love that draws me to my Traveling Partner and fills me with such delight and warmth and affectionate regard also (sometimes) sucks me into the trap of becoming fused with his emotional state – and when that emotional state happens to be one of frustration, annoyance, anger, sadness, or other “negative” emotional experiences, it can result in my becoming mired in despair and sorrow, or fear, or feelings of inadequacy (when I find myself unable to “fix it” for him). That is the sort of thing that can quickly build a mood-wrecking spiral of emotions in our relationship, as we trigger each other, back and forth, our individual experiences of anxiety and stress feeding on each other and just making things so much worse. Becoming skilled at emotional non-attachment without having to “run away” from an uncomfortable experience has the added result of making us that much more able to support one another.

…I gotta work on that…

Listening deeply is a skill that can be helpful for sorting out whether an experience of stress and anxiety is entirely my own… or a mix of my own and my partner’s emotional experience, or actually just nothing to do with me at all. Sometimes it is hard to listen to someone (particularly my partner) tell me that I’m causing their unpleasant emotional experience – but that doesn’t take away from the truth of it. Sometimes that’s just real, and saying so has nothing to do with intention or blame-laying. On the other hand, it’s their emotional experience, and regardless of cause that’s theirs to manage.

Because love matters more. “Emotion and Reason” 24″ x 36″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic details and glow 2012

We’re each having our own experience. We each have our own “emotional climate” and “emotional weather”. We each live our own life, alongside those we love. We are not the being others see us as; we’re who we are. Individual travelers on life’s sometimes-shared journey. The perceptions of others don’t necessarily align with our perceptions of our self. Similarly, those people so dear to us, that we love so much..? They aren’t who we think they are, or even who we see them as; they are their own unique self, independent of our impressions, experiences, assumptions, thoughts, or recollections. Funny how often we think we “know” someone “better than they know themselves” and funnier still how rarely that is actually true. Worth thinking about.

The tl;dr? “Second hand stress” is a real thing. Our partners deal with it. We deal with it. Our colleagues deal with it. We deal with it. Every one of us. All the time. Our results vary. Breathe. Exhale. Relax. Let it go.

Begin again.

I’m still “work in progress” as a human primate. I’m aware of that. Lots of character – lots of “character flaws”. Sharp as hell… dumb as fuck. Filled with good intentions, infused with vision, sparked by inspiration, and eager to exert my will to create the life I most want to live… mostly. I’m also capable of unreasonable anger, making incorrect assumptions and poor decisions, and sometimes barely have the will to lift my hand to take a drink of water when I’m thirsty.

Sometimes I get wrapped up in a moment, and without realizing I’ve done so, I get lost in someone else’s emotional experience, vacillating between wanting to “solve the problem” and wanting to be emotionally supported – over an experience that isn’t even my own. I forget that I’m a separate person, and put effort into “centering myself” and my experience, and completely lose any comprehension that someone else has actually come to me for support. Not particularly helpful, and definitely unpleasant for that other person, who probably feels not only unsupported, but also regretful that they ever brought whatever it was to me in the first place.

“Emotion and Reason” 18″ x 24″ acrylic w/ceramic and glow details, 2012

Today my Traveling Partner came to me, frustrated, angry with a project going wrong, dealing with the challenge of the day. I managed – I think – to listen. To be available and present. To hear him out without trying to solve the problem (he did not ask me to solve the problem, just to listen). My only assertion, beyond sufficient response to ensure he knew I was listening (in spite of the busy workday just over my shoulder), was to acknowledge his obvious frustration, and to share that I was sorry I did not have some immediate solution I could offer (at all). He thanked me for listening. He went on with his day.

This was, for me, still a very deeply emotional experience – but it wasn’t mine. It was his. The intensity of the emotions I was feeling? A mixture of his emotions being shared, and my PTSD shrieking in my consciousness that intense negative emotion from a male partner is dangerous – “fix it, fix it NOW, or get out! Get away! Danger!” Today, I pushed my fearful consciousness into the background long enough to really listen and be there for my aggravated partner. I stayed present and engaged, in spite of his obvious emotion. It was hard. This is one of the most difficult things I ever have to do, even when my partner’s emotions have nothing to do with me or something I’ve done/not done – in spite of requiring only as much physical effort as it takes to not run away. (It surprises me how much physical effort that does take, though.)

I got back to work when he walked away. My mind still struggles to let it go and really move on. There’s this “sensation in my spine” that tickles my awareness with a lingering sense of urgency and restlessness. I know these things will pass. I keep “wanting to help” – in spite of my absolute lack of potential do so in this particular circumstance. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I sit with the awareness that my desire to help is most definitely built on a foundation of terror; my PTSD reminds me of all the things that could follow, leftovers from another life and a very different relationship. Another breath. This is not that life. Not that relationship. I hear music in the other room, and the sounds of my Traveling Partner working.

Men have emotional lives. Men need to talk about their feelings (just as anyone else might need to do). It’s okay to listen – really listen. Be there. In the abstract, I know this, and it is “so obvious”. In the moment I’m actually called upon to be there, listening, it’s still sometimes quite terrifying. I sip my tea – made for me with such love, earlier this morning, by this human being who puts so much heart into listening when I need to talk. I’ve got a lot to learn about love, and I’m not surprised that there are so many opportunities to practice. This tea is pretty sweet, and I am pleased to “do more/better”, this time, even though it feels a bit as if I’ve done nothing much at all. I see the progress. I let myself sit with that awhile, reflecting on the moment over this nice cup of tea. Soon enough, it’ll be time to begin again.

…I wonder how things are going now? I will fearlessly check on things when I take my next break…

Sipping my coffee and listening to the rain fall.

I’d been watching the rain fall, through the open curtains of the patio door, but in a careless moment of conversation with my Traveling Partner over our morning coffee together, I managed to inhale when I meant to swallow, with the end result of choking on a mouthful of coffee, about half of which ended up in my sinuses. While also hilarious, sort of, this disrupted the flow of conversation, and also made me incredibly uncomfortable and cross. Emotions spread like a brush fire in this household, particularly when we’re both so open, and vulnerable, and still sipping our first coffees early in the morning. Rather than attempt to pretend it away or struggling with it, I took my uncomfortable self and my coffee into my recently thoroughly tidied up studio to write, and reflect, and hopefully get past this (physically) uncomfortable moment. 🙂

He sticks his head in the door of the studio, and asks how I’m doing. I’m already okay by that point, and say something mind numbingly uninteresting about clearing out my spam folder. lol

This week my partner had taken time to hang curtains in the rooms that didn’t have any. All the windows had shades, so it wasn’t really a privacy thing – more to do with comfort, quiet, and temperature control. I am impressed with how much difference it makes! My wee library? Sounds like a library; there is so much quiet in there. The other household noises don’t really get through, if the door is closed, and the addition of curtains over the window have made the space somehow more finished looking, and even quieter than it previously seemed. The window looks out into the space between our house and the one next door, where both have air conditioning units placed, and also where the trash bins are located; it can be noisy on trash days, or when our neighbor comes home in the wee hours, or when the a/c cycles on… I mean… yeah. It’s noisy along that wall. Well, it was. Not so much now and I don’t really understand how a couple panels of soft fabric make so much difference. Hell… I’m even okay with not knowing how this works. I’m frankly delighted, and that’s enough.

I’m fortunate to be in a partnership that results in pretty reliably good quality of life. We each do our part. Our skills and abilities overlap in a few places – which is handy sometimes – and even more of our skills and abilities complement the other’s. Where things get super exciting (for me) is those areas of life where we just don’t have much common ground, skill-wise. I’ll likely go to my grave seriously impressed by some of the things my Traveling Partner has done to ensure we live well and comfortably. Partner. Husband. Lover. Friend. “Battle buddy” on days when it feels like the world is against us. I sit here sipping my coffee and feeling wrapped in his love. It’s nice. I’m fortunate.

Another sip of coffee, considering my good fortunate in life, these days, and generally… I take a moment to also be appreciative of the choices I’ve made, myself, to be in this place. I’ve made changes. I’ve grown. I’ve faced traumas and done much to put my chaos and damage to rest. I’m for sure not perfect, but I’m also not a passive observer of my experiences; I’m living my life, with my eyes open and my arms spread wide to embrace my circumstances on this journey to become the human being I most want to be. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always as I expect it to be – but I’m not a passenger in this journey; I’m in the driver’s seat, in my own life, and that feels so good to me.

Another sip of my coffee, and I find myself wondering and hoping if I do enough to provide an emotionally safe environment that my partner and I can both thrive in. I’m aware that it isn’t “all about me”. Ups and downs are real enough. There is emotional weather – and emotional climate. (I chuckle quietly, grimly pleased that our relationship is not facing a “climate crisis”, in spite of occasional “stormy weather”; the sentiment and experience please me, the metaphor strikes a grim chord.)

I find myself back at the titular recommendation. “Let the rain fall.” Yes, definitely do that. Honest tears falling in a moment of stress can be an enormous relief. No tears this morning. 🙂 I’m just saying – it’s not a reasonable expectation that we would be reliably able to “control the weather” – even emotionally. Especially emotionally? I’m often surprised (and yes, horrified) that we treat our emotions as enemies, so often, pitting them against our ability to reason and be “rational”. As if rational thought alone was some sort of super hero, and emotion the exaggerated all-powerful bad-guy our hero fortunately defeats in the end. Emotions are not the enemy. Maybe fear of them is? Maybe the panicked free fall that sometimes happens when we’re swamped by emotion, or “flooded”, or “triggered”, is the greater threat? We don’t make a point of educating children (in public schools, as part of structured curriculum) to deal with their emotions skillfully, such that those powerful feelings are an advantage, and something to value and appreciate. Isn’t that odd? Considering what a huge part of our experience of living our lives our emotions happen to be? We experience emotions long before we begin to reason skillfully, or think critically. We experience emotions without having to be educated to do so. Emotions require no training to have them. There they are. Being.

“Emotion and Reason” 18″ x 24″ acrylic w/ceramic and glow details, 2012

Emotions are part of who we are. Easy to take “personally”. Tempting to dismiss as lacking value (particularly negative emotions). Sometimes overwhelming. Sometimes at odds with what we “think”.

Let the rain fall. Feel the feelings. Acknowledge them. Be there for yourself. Continue to make the best decisions you are able to make. Continue to practice healthy self-care – and also to treat others well – without regard to the content of your emotional experience in the moment. I don’t say that as any sort of “telling you what to do” thing – I’m just saying, this approach seems healthy to me. I work on it. I fail more often than I’d like to. We live in a world where there are a lot of people so thoroughly uncomfortable with emotions – theirs or anyone else’s – that it can feel uncomfortable to be honest and open with our own emotional experience. Still, seems worth doing to make the attempt. I’m far happier as a human being, treating myself with consideration about my emotions, and really giving myself a moment to understand them, feel them honestly, and working to make actions and decisions dependent on a balance. Emotion and reason. Not either/or.

My coffee is cold. I’m rambling now. It’s time to begin again. The morning feels pleasant, and I feel merry. 🙂 This is a lovely place to begin.

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…

The morning is off to a difficult start. I woke in pain after a restless night. My Traveling Partner also woke in pain, and considering every time I was awake, he was also awake, I’m reasonably certain both of us have had less than ideal sleep. I make coffee. We don’t manage to enjoy it together – we aren’t enjoying each other very much this morning. While this does suck, it’s a temporary thing, and it will pass. I focus on other things.

I seek to be kind with my words, and to speak gently.

I already suspect today is one of those days on which whatever my best effort happens to be, it may fall short of ideal. I’m tired. I’m dealing with unmanaged pain. I’m aggravated. Is it me? Is it “us”? Is it just one of those very impermanent situations that will pass when it passes and simply be forgotten? Is it more important than that? I fuss quietly to myself, sip my coffee, and work on breathing through it, and letting it go. I work on not taking it personally. These are “practices” for me because they do indeed require practice. Steady. Regular. Repeated.

Kinda feels like I’m almost always standing in hot water. It’s frustrating, and this morning it is holding me back from enjoying this moment.

I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I focus on “now”, bringing my mind back to my breath, again and again. It’s something. Is it enough? I find myself wondering what conversations my Traveling Partner has with himself on mornings such as this. I wonder what he does to get past the difficult moments of life with a brain injured partner with PTSD. Doubtless it is not always an easy experience… How does he avoid fusing with my experience? How does he nurture and soothe himself?

Tomorrow, I am taking a break for myself, and driving out to the coast to walk on the beach, and listen to the wind and the waves, and be still and solitary for a little while before returning home. Another breath. Another moment to relax. I contemplate the drive without much eagerness in this particular moment right here. The morning is a difficult one, and I’m struggling to distract myself.

Human primates seem always to be trippin’ over something or another. Emotions are part of the human condition.

I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I turn to respond to my partner when he opens the door to ask me to empty the little trash can in my studio; it’s trash day. He’s preparing to take the bins to the curb for pick-up. Life is… so ordinary. Difficult moments are only that, moments. They pass. They are finite. Sure, they recur. My results definitely vary. I often find myself wanting or needing to begin again. I keep practicing, and instead of “looking for signs” that things are somehow worse than a moment gone wrong on a difficult morning, I let it go (again).

We put caution signs everywhere… but we create the hazards, too.

I am reminded that we make most of our own drama, and routinely blow small shit way out of proportion. Human primates are messy, complicated, and emotional. We aren’t as smart as we think we are. We’re prone to reasoning poorly, and reacting emotionally to circumstances in which our emotional reaction lacks value or utility – and expecting our emotions to have all that going for them is asking a lot of feelings. “Do not touch the edges of this sign.” No kidding.

Also? Stay on the path. Breathe. Keep practicing.

Begin again.