Archives for posts with tag: listen deeply

I enjoy the thought that my Traveling Partner and I are sharing this journey, walking a shared path. Now and then I am reminded that it is, however pleasant, an illusion. We are each having our own experience. We walk our own path. Survive our own hard mile. We endure our own dark night of the soul. We, each, alone care for our innermost heart, and nurture our tenderest wounds. The reminder was powerful, and I am so grateful I was merely a bystander to two paths that suddenly diverged on a Saturday morning. I don’t know if this is a sad story or not, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t – certainly it is a story of change.

I was having coffee with a friend. We get together now and then, on a Saturday morning, and catch up on life and things. A couple, strangers, came in shortly after we sat down, and sat near us, sort of off to the side, definitely within our view, and close enough we could not avoid hearing their conversation, which I’ll share as accurately as memory permits…

He held her chair. This ordinary looking man of apparent middle-class means, allowed his companion to get seated, and they ordered. She thanked him for picking her up from the airport, and for taking her to breakfast. How thoughtful. She smiled. He shifted uncomfortably before speaking.

“So… welcome back..?” He laughed uneasily. His smile was fleeting, and somewhat nervous.

“Are you okay?” she asked, without looking up from her phone. This seemed somehow significant to her companion, and his posture straightened, and the look on his face became resolute, and more sure of himself.

“Yeah. So, about that. I’ve decided to end our relationship.” She laughed with a bit of disbelief, then looked into his eyes and her face sort of… froze. “I wasn’t sure how you’d take this, so… the least I could do was take you to breakfast…”

“You wanted to be in a public place so I couldn’t make a scene!” she hissed, leaning in close. Her face was tight with tears she was fighting. He… was still calm.

He inhaled deeply and sighed. “You’re right of course. I’m sorry. I needed to feel… safe. This is hard. Hard for me, too.”

“Why?” she demanded with a quivering voice, “someone else…?”

“No.” He sounded sad, and lost. “I just… there’s a lot I want to do for myself, to explore on my own. I just… I want to be myself, no compromise, no obstacles, no negotiation, and I haven’t felt able to. I’m sorry.”

They both sat quietly for some time, just drinking their coffee. My friend and I sat drinking ours. Occasionally looking at each other in a soft, sad, “what the fuck?” sort of way, each in our own thoughts, about our own partners, our own paths, our own lives.

Eventually, the man at the nearby table busy quietly breaking up with his partner spoke again. “So… I’ll need the keys to the apartment before I go. I … um… I had your stuff packed up and put in storage while you were out of town, and… um… yeah. I don’t want you to come back to my place, at all. I packed your clothes and things and they’re in your car… I’ll… I’ll just pay the check and take a car service home… is… what I planned.”

She sat looking astonished, helpless… I sensed that it might turn to frustrated fury at some point, and hoped that everyone would keep their heads, and find that calm center in their storms. “Is this happening?” she said quietly, in a child-like voice, as if disbelieving. “Five years, and then… this?”

“Yeah.” he said, “It’s happening. I’m going to go now. Please don’t call, I’d like this to just be… over.” He hands her an envelope, and her numb hands accept it.

“What is this?” she asked.

“It’s an inventory of your things. Please email me if I missed anything. Also… I, uh, paid off your car. I mean… I bought it, but, um… it’s yours.”

“You’re not taking it?” she accused, almost snarling the question.

“No. Why would I?” he asked patiently, “I don’t hate you. I’m just… done. Okay? I mean… I hope we’ve over this really fast, and we both move on with better… other things. …I’ve got to go.” He put his jacket on, and looked around as if he did not expect to see the place again, ever, and left.

The woman sat quietly, staring into her coffee. The other customers seemed also uneasy. Conversations seemed quiet, muted, as with a respectful silence. I know I was, myself, uneasy. I sat with my friend, each of us taking a turn at small talk, both of us thinking about two people – any two people – at any airport, seeing each other again, after some time apart, and suddenly, one path takes a sharp turn for a very different destination. Now and then I glanced her way, although I don’t know what I was trying to see.

My friend and I finished our coffee. We hug and agree to “do this again soon”. We both know we don’t really want it quite as it was, this time… I walk away feeling introspective, and a little bit blue. What if it had happened to me? What about you? What would that be like…? What would you do? I sigh, as I unlock the door of my car, ready – so ready – to return home to see my Traveling Partner, again…

…My “Traveling Partner”… nonetheless, we each walk our own path. We’re fortunate, any of us, to share the journey for a while, aren’t we? It’s not likely we’ll share the journey “forever” (that’s a child’s fantasy, I suspect). I spend the drive home contemplating love, thinking about what it takes to build, maintain, sustain, and nurture love. Thinking about what I’m good at love-wise, and what I still need so much work on. I think about all the things in the world I would like to see and do and be and experience along the way… and I think about sharing it with my Traveling Partner. I think about not sharing it with him. Would I love life any less if our paths diverged? I like to think not…but it would be so painful to find out. I put myself in her shoes, imagine myself sitting with my coffee, alone unexpectedly, no plan, no place,… I breathe, exhale, and relax, grateful that my path, for now, is different. No assumptions. No expectations. Aware that change is a thing that can happen unexpectedly, to anyone, at any time. Firmly, studiously, I am not taking love – this love – for granted. There are verbs involved. Choices. No map.

I took comfort in arriving home to welcoming arms, and a chance to begin again.

Merry Giftmas, one and all. 🙂 I hope your holiday shines brightly, and is filled with warmth and love. Presents are nice, sure, but presence is what we’re really after, isn’t it? 😀 I hope you spend the holiday with those you love most, and who love you in return.

Just in case things skid sideways unexpectedly casting a dramatic shadow over your festivities, here are some thoughts:

  1. Breathe
  2. Don’t forget about self-care
  3. Listen deeply (maybe more often than you “hold that thought” to rush into a reaction or reply to a perceived error; we’re each having our own experience)
  4. We’re each having our own experience (that seems worth saying twice)
  5. Meditation helps
  6. Seriously, take a step back, get a few minutes of quiet time for you, and meditate 🙂
  7. If you’ve got to make an assumption, begin with assuming positive intentions
  8. Let small shit go
  9. Savor the connected, beautiful moments of holiday charm, however small, however brief; filling our hearts with our best moments is a very good way to address the less ideal moments
  10. Put love first

Anyway – I hope you have a lovely holiday, filled with laughter, and joy, and all the most wonderful things about the holidays (whether you are with friends, family, or alone and far away).

…I’ll be home for Giftmas…

I’m finishing a short work shift, today, on Giftmas Eve. My thoughts (and heart) are with my Traveling Partner, waiting for me at home. The tree twinkles merrily, there, and I’m eager to find out if I made Santa’s “nice” list this year… pretty sure I did… I’ve been very good, this year. 😀

Treat yourself well. Treat others well. Your results will no doubt vary (mine, too) – it’s fortunate we can begin again. 😀

I’ll start here. 🙂 It’s not a bad starting point for restoring perspective, a reminder that we’re all human, all having our own experience – and that we’ve all got “problems”. The path we walk really isn’t paved. Life’s journey doesn’t have a map. We’re each having our own experience – literally so individual that it is pretty easy to wander around thinking “no one gets me” and feeling we are not being heard, or feeling attacked, while the person on the other side of that interaction feels exactly, precisely, very much the same way.

…That gets awkward when we’re sharing labels (but maybe not definitions, or experiences, in any practical way).

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to living with PTSD, lately. Not just mine. Yours, too. Ours. Theirs. Someone else’s. It’s not an easy thing to love someone who has PTSD. It’s not easy to live around it. It’s hard on our loved ones. Hard on our communities. Hard on familial relationships, friendships, and colleagues. None of that should derail any one of us from a committed effort to being our best selves in every moment in which we are able. Live around PTSD long enough, we may even begin to accumulate some damage of our own, related only to that experience.

I’ve been looking at this complicated puzzle for a few days, after a contentious moment with someone dear to me, whose PTSD may be as bad as mine (although as yet undiagnosed, it’s nonetheless very real, and a difficult complication in a relationship very precious to me). They were having an off day, and I missed the signs of symptoms flaring up. I overlooked a known trigger for this dear one. They “came at me” (verbally) reactive and confrontational, irritable over what looked like “nothing” to me, from my perspective on the outside looking in. I have PTSD, myself, and even after some years of managing my symptoms fairly well, I have my challenges, some almost daily. My dear friend’s flare up became confrontation, hostility, and words thrown at me that seemed absent the context of what was “really” going on. I could not recognize myself in their reflected perception of me. (I didn’t say that. I didn’t do that. That’s now “how it went down”!) I reacted. I became, myself, triggered by their anger and frustration. My own symptoms flared up. I had forgotten about the PTSD on both sides of our human equation. Fucking hell.

Aside from feeling like an insensitive asshole, I also managed to make things worse, simply by being myself in a difficult moment. It was hard. We got past it, but even now, I see that moment in my friend’s eyes, when we interact, and it’s been days. My feeling of emotional safety in the relationship feels shaken. (I’m not sure there’s any reason to feel that way, realistically, but PTSD isn’t about what’s real right now, and any tendency to treat it that way is likely to make matters worse, unfortunately.) I don’t know how to help my friend heal; we’re each having our own experience, and I too need healing. 😦

I know I have more to say about this, but I also know I have more thoughts to think, more to turn over in my head, more questions to ask and to answer. This? It’s advanced coursework in life’s curriculum. I do my best.

I’ll just say this one thing and move on for now; PTSD isn’t the same from one person to the next. It’s more like a fingerprint carved into who we are by the trauma we have survived. We can label a group of symptoms as “PTSD”, but it’s a long damned list, and each person suffering with lasting PTSD has lived their own experience. What triggers one, doesn’t trigger another. How we react, as individuals, to our very individual triggers, is a further complication; there are a lot of differences.

It did get me thinking about one thing that helps, generally; be the best version of ourselves we each can be. Be kind. Be willing to listen without jumping in with a correction. Be compassionate about just how fucking hard this is. Don’t try to make it a competition; our own pain nearly always hurts worse than anything we can really understand anyone else to be going through. Maybe avoid diminishing or diluting someone else’s message if they trust enough to share that they are in pain, or triggered, or overwhelmed; let it be about them, about their experience, and empathize through deep listening (instead of, for example, commiserating through “common experience”, which often misses the point of someone sharing in the first place).

Trust that these are things I consider myself; it’s a lot of work to look through, and beyond, my own symptoms, to “be there” for someone else who seems seriously unconvinced that anyone else could possibly have it as bad as they do. Let them have that moment. What they’re saying is more about the fact that they are in pain or struggling than about whether, or how much, you are. It’s not a fucking contest. I “get it wrong” every bit as often as I “get it right”, I think. I definitely need more practice.

…Having said that… Maybe also don’t overlook what is being communicated if someone is trying to connect and empathize by suggesting they understand through their own experiences. Maybe they really do. How much does that suck??

I’m just saying… be there for each other. Understand that the enormous variety in human experiences and perspectives really does mean that there’s a lot of shit going on in the world, that people endure every day, survive and move on from, that just really really sucks.

Did I mention being kind? It’s a good starting point… And it’s time to begin again.

I woke about an hour ago. It’s a bit past 3:00 a.m. now. Little point in attempting to return to sleep. No idea what actually woke me. For now, I’m dealing with this sinus headache, but, and this is just real, I’m almost delighted that I can, mostly, just breathe. The vertigo, which I think may be a result of sleeping with my neck at an odd angle, combined with this head cold, is a cruel new addition, and I’m already “over it” (meaning to say, I’d very much like to be done with this whole mess, now, please…).

I worked yesterday, from home, and wrapped up the day about 2 hours early, compared to a typical Monday. I honestly wasn’t good for much. Today, either, potentially, but I am feeling “up to it”, and no coughing or sneezing, so far, and able to breathe (mostly)… I may go into the office today. I sit here sipping icy cold grapefruit fizzy water, wondering if I really will. The advantage is small; I have more monitor “real estate” there, and this allows me to work somewhat faster, with more things open and easy to see. That’s it. The disadvantage? If I am still contagious, I get everyone on my team sick (small office space), and potentially also everyone I talk to. That’s a dick move. I resolve to stay home if I start sneezing or coughing, and decide that if I do go in, I’ll go quite early, and overlap with folks for a much shorter period of time, keeping my hands washed, and wearing a mask. If nothing else, the mask itself will discourage conversation, and reduce risk further.

…I’ll probably work half a day, get the essentials done, take advantage of the efficiency of the big monitors, and cancel live calls/meetings that involve face-to-face participation.

My coffee is very good this morning. I feel content and alert in spite of the ridiculous hour. My body feels mostly pretty comfortable, very little pain. The discomfort I do feel is largely to do with this cold, and I’m clearly getting over that. I find that to be very good news – honestly, I have shit to get done. Not being up to doing things sucks. I keep sipping this coffee, between physical therapy exercises, and wait for this vertigo to clear up; if it doesn’t, I’ll stay home. Driving to the office in the dark, in the rain, and also with vertigo? That just sounds fairly stupid.

Back and forth… water… coffee… work from home? Go to the office? More water. Another sip of coffee. How do I best take care of this fragile vessel? Water. Chicken broth. Tea. Sleep. More sleep. More water. Limited use of cold care remedies, and only those that are definitely effective, and don’t mess with my head. More sleep. More water. More broth. Food when I can eat. I don’t know what works for you – do that, though, I suppose. I do this. 🙂 I’d been going through a record-breaking number of Kleenex’s there for a day or two, but this box next to me has been open now for more than 12 hours, and it’s still half full. Progress.

…Oh, damn, do I enjoy being able to breathe? Oh, yes, yes, I do – so very much. 🙂 It’s nice having that back.

I find myself looking forward to the cold autumn air and the rain fresh breeze, when I step outside, into the pre-dawn darkness of morning. The house is comfortably warm, but not hot. I feel a bit overdressed for the indoor temperature, and remind myself that my coat is in the bedroom closet, my partner still sleeping. Going to work without my coat, in this weather, in this health, seems fairly dumb; I’ll have to go get it, probably waking my partner. :-\ It is what it is. I remind myself he would comfortable do so, himself, were the situation such that he needed a clothing item from the bedroom, while I am sleeping. lol No coat = no commute. 🙂 That’s some solid self-care decision-making right there. 🙂

I look at the time. It’s very early, not quite 4:00 a.m., but getting that kind of head start on the day will be a huge win for reducing exposure to any lingering contagion, so… I guess it’s time to begin again. 😀

The possible (likely) impeachment of the US President? I don’t care right now, at all. Local weather? I’m indifferent; it’s meaningless. Work? Connectivity? Housekeeping? The appointment I have scheduled later? Nothing matters beyond one small (huge) thing; I’m sitting alone, heart aching, while my partner is elsewhere, also alone (an assumption), and probably having a less than ideal experience, too.

…I’m not even sure what went wrong, exactly. We started down the path of a conversation… we converse daily, often, and manage both deep conversations, and light-hearted banter (and lots of things in between) quite effortlessly, most of the time. Was I pre-disposed towards frustration, after spending a morning frustrated by technical difficulties, on a rare day working from home? Was he having his experience from within a context that had him potentially predisposed toward difficulties, himself? Is this even “about” either of us, at all? We are each having our own experience – this much is reliably true. I feel, at the moment, sort of bitter, rather heartsick, fighting off tears I don’t want to deal with, and feeling that I am a failure as a partner because – how can I not manage something so fucking basic as a conversation??

In all respects it was a lovely morning to start with. I sit staring disinterestedly into this 3rd cup of coffee, trying to hold onto the morning’s delights. Elusive. Those moments feel as if they were only a dream, now. I am acutely aware I have a “routine” check up with my therapist coming in a couple weeks, and I find myself struggling with a feeling of shame over maybe really needing that time, even after so long, and so much progress. It flares up as resentment and anger, then recedes as a sort of sad gray shadow over my experience, and a hint of despair and futility. “Doesn’t it ever stop…?” My demons attack where I am weakest, that’s a given, and I’m unsurprised by the bleak feeling of doubt, the sense of loss, of abandonment, the feeling of hurt and unworthiness. Damn, this is shitty.

…I hope he’s okay (he’s probably feeling shitty, too).

I look into my coffee mug again, as if I were even going to drink it. I put the cup back down. I also don’t care about this cup of coffee – not compared to how much I care that I am enduring this moment, or that he is enduring his… or that we ended up in this place, in the first place. This coffee doesn’t even smell good. I made it the same as always. No interest in drinking it now. It just sits. Same as me. Just sitting here, mired in this mess. I tried the “walk away and calm down” approach to handling miscommunication and frustration… it does not seem to have provided any useful benefit. I mean… I suppose it’s better than waiting around poking a hornets’ nest until one or the other of us seriously lose our temper. I can’t stand raised voices. Instead… oh sure, it’s fucking quiet, but… I am isolated with my despair… my most dangerous personal foe. “Misery loves company”? Nah. I don’t buy that. Misery doesn’t love a fucking thing, it’s grim, stoic – a loiterer who takes everything pleasant and destroys it without hesitation.

…I even know the steps to take to not be here… and can’t raise the motivation to do a thing about it… like giving up. The futility becomes a quiet waterfall of hot tears. A lifetime of frustration and learned helplessness clench my jaws. My back aches with the weight of it. This? This right here is another very human experience. (“It’s just a moment”, I hear my internal reminder on autopilot, “this will pass. It’s just weather, not climate.” I can’t hear it; it feels very distant and irrelevant.)

Too fucking human. So… what’s to be done about it, then? Yeah, um… I don’t know right now. I’m too busy feeling hurt and filled with chaos and damage. Let me get done with all that, then I’ll move on to doing something else… probably sort myself out at some point… maybe even begin again.