Archives for posts with tag: put your own oxygen mask on first

What a peculiar day. It’s nearly at an end. I began it well enough, waking from a very restful night, having slept in. I woke in very little pain. All very promising as beginnings go. Somehow, something just… wasn’t. It was strange. I sat a long while. Not exactly meditating. Not exactly daydreaming. No music. No coffee. I even ended up chatting with my traveling partner for some time before I ever had coffee.

I did have coffee, eventually. I shook off my ennui enough for that. The rain continues to fall. I enjoy the sound of it. I took my coffee on the couch, and just sat for some longish time, then a distracting email message reminded me of a practical task that needed to be handled. Once that was done, I found myself feeling grateful to my traveling partner for his help on all sorts of practical things I tend to muddle up because of my injury…which got me thinking about gratitude generally, and people who were ‘there for me’ long ago, at various points when I earnestly needed help… I thought, too, about who I am now, how I feel about those things now, and whether or not I also felt I had ‘said thank you’, shown my appreciation, or taken an opportunity to return the gesture at some other point. Am I the woman I most want to be?

I found myself enjoying some time on writing notes for holiday cards and letters to far away old friends, and thinking about how very precious our connections to each other really are. Time well spent.

I spent the afternoon wrapping up other practical details of life, after the nasty weather deterred me from driving in holiday traffic. Marveling at how people can be such dicks to each other, in the abstract is one thing – wasting part of the weekend being pummeled by it just didn’t seem the right choice today. I realized at that point that I might not be where I thought I was within myself. I got things done and headed home, thinking about the recent South Park episode (s19e10 PC Principal Final Justice) and wondering if the scenes of imminent family gun violence might have messed with my head more than I realized at the time. I later made an observation to my traveling partner that it might become a favorite episode, having done something amazing I had never been able to do for myself; it trivialized the threat of violence at the hands of a loved one in a comedic [for me] way – it rendered some of my chaos and damage harmless – a cartoon. That’s powerful. But… in that initial moment, the panic just at the edges of my consciousness was very real, and although it didn’t take me over, it is part of my experience.

Welcome in my own experience.

Welcome home.

At this point, I’m past all that. I took care of me with great tenderness and compassion. I’ve gone through some things, over the years. They’re behind me now. I did a load of laundry, had some dinner, and made a fire in the fireplace – the first since I moved in. It’s a lovely quiet evening, no music, no video, just the sound of the crackling fire, and the rain. It’s enough, and I am okay right now.

I am groggy this morning. As I scrolled through my feeds, skimming headlines, I felt a sad tug on my heart to see so much violence and hate. It’s hard to watch. Fear and anger escalating with the excessive media use of buzzwords and sensationalism to gain readers (and dollars), and more or less mostly innocent citizen bystanders (consumers) caught in that sticky web of emotion and salesmanship. I found myself actually feeling physically ill, and surprised by the intensity of my reaction – then realized I was probably nauseous from my medication this morning.

It is easy to be swept away by powerful emotions.

It is easy to be swept away by powerful emotions.

I heard footsteps run past my front door, which is unusual at any hour in this neighborhood, and somewhat alarming at 5:45 am. Combined with the negative headlines, I feel my anxiety creeping up, and ‘home defense’ drifts across my thought-scape. I recognize the trend, and pause for a few deep breaths, taking time to re-engage in ‘now‘; I am okay right now, and there is nothing in my real experience of the  morning to cause me fear or hurt me. It’s pouring rain outside, and a stranger running by is likely just trying to get from the parking lot to the front door without being drenched. Fear doesn’t care about reason, and I find more often than not that taking time to be present in this moment right here, and awake, aware, and mindful there is nothing for fear to build on. There are plenty of terrifying ‘what-if’ scenarios I could run in my head, and even make life decisions on, but it seems a foolish waste of limited mortal lifetime, when there is also so much joy in which I could invest, and partake.

Violence does exist. Choosing not to live minute-to-minute defending myself from fear of violence is one of many possible choices. I have friends who choose differently, and live prepared for violence with an ample arsenal of firearms, open carry permits, and weekend visits to the range for target practice just in case violence ever visits them at home. I have other friends who choose to live with the fear of violence, and without taking any particular steps to secure their own safety, just taking on the fear itself, deepening and investing in it, and letting their fear drive their decisions and rhetoric. I have friends who do neither; they are not convinced that violence exists in any real sense, they have experienced little of it themselves and for them it is very far away and abstract. I know people, they are not those I would call ‘friend’, who live differently with violence; they are violent. People who lash out in anger, seeking to do harm, to injure, to be avenged, to punish – they see themselves as righteous and justified, doing what is ‘right’ or ‘necessary’, and don’t recognize the damage done as being in any way wrong. I see them out in the world, snarling at their loved ones on cell phones, or on the bus, spewing righteous anger and vexation in interactions with strangers – people they couldn’t possibly know well enough to hate – and treating their loved ones even worse. The headlines tell the tale of each of the many sorts of human beings interacting with each other. Violence added to the mix generates sales headlines. Scary sort of world we’ve built, isn’t it? We’ve chosen this. You and I – all of us together – this is the world we have made.

How will I make the world better, myself, in some small way? How will you? If enough of us just keep at it, can we turn this thing around? It probably begins with small simple things, like not yelling at your partner in a moment of anger, or like really listening when a woman is talking about the challenges in her experience of being female, or like taking a deep breath and not freaking out when something goes wrong, and maybe also putting down the handheld devices and making eye contact – and conversation. Setting aside the inflammatory news articles might also be a good start, and maybe sharing positive news more often than negative news could be helpful, too. We could cast our vote with great care, really thinking about the consequences of our choice, by thinking ahead to ‘our’ candidate winning, and imagining the reality of every one of their stated policies becoming real – what would that be like for us? For those people over there? For someone else? We could fact check our fears, too, that might be useful, and refrain from getting into emotionally driven arguments with people when neither involved party has an educated insight into the issues, rather than just spewing emotional garbage at each other until someone gets hurt. We could approach every interaction with another human being as though that other human being is (they are) every bit as human as we are, ourselves – and fully due the same consideration and courtesy we would enjoy experiencing, and then behave that way. We could each simply not kill someone today, or tomorrow, and also refrain from voting for – or hiring – people who seem to favor violence, killing, or incarceration as a solution to the world’s problems. We could invest more of our global resources in human life, than in ending it – both right here and home, and over there on foreign shores.

Domestic violence is not a separate thing from war. Child abuse is not a separate thing from terrorism. Hate is hate. Fear is fear. Abuse of power isn’t less abusive when it is between a parent and a child than it is between an elected leader and the constituency, or between law enforcement and a citizen – but we’ve trained ourselves to excuse so much violence in the day-to-day social landscape that we are ill-equipped to reject it at all. Enraged screaming, slamming things, and breaking stuff at home is not a far distance to travel to murder – and tolerating it socially by making excuses for domestic violence is not a far distance to travel to sending strangers children to die in foreign wars by voting for fear-mongering xenophobic extremists. Seriously. We are each so very human… Fear is easy. Anger is easy. Hate is easy. We have the potential to offer each other so much more. Choose. You can, and so can I – and we do.

This seems glum this morning. I don’t mean it to, honestly. I feel rather hopeful – the very power to choose that finds us here with the world in the state it is,  is so profoundly powerful that we have each moment, this moment, every moment, to choose differently. I guess that while that is indeed incredibly hopeful and promising, it’s a tad glum too, because the people who could benefit the world by choosing differently than they do are not likely to be the people who read the words I write – and I am just one voice. I am regularly cautioned that I am ‘not being realistic’ or that I ‘don’t understand violence’ – often based on the assumption that I have little experience with it. It’s frustrating – sometimes frustrating enough to evoke actual anger, a powerful reminder of how easily we could be tempted to stray into the realm of violence ourselves, in a moment of emotion.

Be love.

Be love.

Here’s the thing though, the hopeful bit, we really do have the power to choose change. It’s a good day to change the world.

I spent the weekend relaxing quietly, and taking care of me. I considered writing more, once or twice, and even had the occasional worthy notion to reflect upon. I chose differently. Instead, I took care of myself gently, and spent the weekend relaxing, recovering from the long week, and building emotional resilience for the week to come.

In the middle of autumn, a rose blooms.

In the middle of autumn, a rose blooms.

This morning I scroll through my feed noting the pendulum swing of opinion in action; French flag overlays disappearing quietly in favor of newly outraged articles about terrorism elsewhere in the world, other deaths, other wounds, other pain, accompanied by reminders that all these lives matter as well and… where was everyone then? I see articles wisely counseling the use of language that refrains from honoring terror groups with dignified titles, and asking that we not culturally dignify terrorists with honorifics or titles crafted to convey legitimacy. That makes sense to me, language has power. The reactive articles from pundits on the opposite end of the political spectrum reflexively spit back resentment that any change is asked of ‘the righteous and justified’, seemingly unaware that being one of ‘the good guys’ requires acts of goodness, not just a naming convention. What a mess we’ve made. Certainly, it is at times like these that it is most apparent we are very fancy monkeys; we do not easily agree on what is ‘good’ or most suited to our kind.

It’s strange how little part politics has to play in the life of any one individual human being. It’s a choice. One choice among so many, and we make tons of small choices every day. Treating each other well, truly, and without regard to our origins, our politics, our lifestyle, our beliefs, or our circumstances, is something to aspire to. People who successfully treat everyone quite well are a joy to be near, to stay connected to – to love. Behavior is chosen. What choices must I make differently to be that person – someone who treats everyone quite well, and is a joy to be near? How do I change the world when I make choices based on whether or not the outcome fits into ‘treating others well’? I reflect on these things most days.  It isn’t enough to consider, to think, or to wonder; there are verbs involved. There is a need for balance; among all the people I wish to treat well is one person I am often most likely to overlook – myself.

A busy work week begins soon. How will I choose my actions to ensure I treat myself, and those around me, truly well? What choices will I make to secure a comfortable experience, pleasant, fulfilling, and content? What choices will I make to provide that experience to others? How can I do better by the woman in the mirror today, than I did yesterday?

Blue sky between rain showers.

Blue sky between rain showers.

I turn the thoughts over in my head somewhat fretfully. I notice I am picking at the edges of my cuticle, left hand, index finger. I smile, and recognize that as small as it is, I could start with not tearing my hands to shreds with fussing and worrying. It’s a start. However small, as starting points go, each moment I choose to stop something damaging, and continue with something helpful, I begin again. Each new beginning holds the power to change the world.  Perhaps it isn’t ‘everything’ – but it is more than nothing, and it is enough to choose, and to choose again. It is through our choices that we change the world.

It’s hard to dodge all the news about the ‘upcoming’ US presidential election – next year. I’m fairly bored with the bits that are about the election itself, and like many citizens I already have a good idea who I will vote for when the time comes. All the fuss and bother between now and then is just media foolishness, marketing to undecided voters, and a ludicrous waste of time and money for everyone else. Well – my opinion. I’m sure people who make their living marketing human beings for sale to voters probably feel quite differently about these sorts of things.

The barrage of human interest details, media-marketing of character qualities, and increase in spin (both positive and negative) spilling all over every pundit, issue, or moment that might brush past an ‘issue’ relevant to the upcoming election also tends to highlight some peculiarities of human beings that I do find worthy of study. I study the use of bias to drive cultural opinion. I study the use of social media to manipulate public opinion by charismatic grass-roots personalities, YouTube celebrities, and professional pundits. I study the deliberate use of inflammatory language to shift public opinion such that really horrible treatment of other human beings seems somehow… acceptable. I study the ferocity with which human beings strive to ‘be right’ – or to prove to someone else that they are, over the objections of other thinking and other experiences.

I most particularly study my own reaction when I read something, or interact with someone, and find one human being or another in some way ‘lacking’ humanity – a ‘bad person’. I’m very much aware that some people whose speech or actions I find entirely reprehensible quite likely seem fully justified and justifiable to the person using the words, or taking the action. Cops shooting people, for example – as a human being, I often find the circumstances (as presented by the media, that I’m able to be aware of) objectionable – and therefore, the law enforcement person who committed the act seems ‘in the wrong’ to me, and potentially ‘a bad person’ if they take their action to the ‘court of public opinion’ and try to excuse or justify it. From my outside perspective, I see the dead person as having every bit as much to live for, and every bit as much significance, as that law enforcement person. I don’t understand how people take a life without being affected by that action, myself; it is inconsistent with my experience of the value of human life. That’s an intense example, but there are equally troubling examples that don’t involve life or death in such an immediate way – politicians who push to cut government programs that benefit the working poor don’t focus on the impact those changes would have on people who rely on that help, they focus on the intended benefit to the bottom line. Employers who don’t pay a living wage don’t put their emphasis on any awareness that their employees are having to rely on government programs to make ends  meet, they focus on gross margin, and meeting financial goals. Most people, most of the time, think they are ‘the good guys’. So very very often we are not the good guys at all. It’s worth thinking about.

What is truly the outcome of my words, my choices, my actions – even my opinions and values? Who is being hurt by what I say, and what I do? I’ve given up on making an effort to ‘be right’ – even at work, which has real moments of hilarity; people definitely tend to expect a person to stand firm on some opinion or policy moment-to-moment, and being more invested in a greater understanding, and questions over answers, is unexpected. (I make a distinction between being accurate and ‘being right’; the former is about data, the latter about opinion.) On those rare occasions when I get pulled into a discussion where I feel I may ‘be right’ and inclined to defend that position, I notice pretty quickly; I question why I think I am right, and why I feel moved to defend my opinion – would the stronger position be to ask questions (and listen to the answers), and find a shared answer, an inarguable mutually respected truth, or a new solution? Listening has more value than ‘knowing’. All that worthless certainty generally just adds up to waiting for a turn to talk and not listening (or learning) much at all.

Just for fun, when you are reading articles in your feed, or listening to politicians talk, ask yourself ‘who is this position hurting?’ Just that. Go with the assumption that the more certain someone is, or the more they fight to be recognized as ‘being right’, the more likely their position does have unacknowledged consequences – collateral damage at a minimum – and ask the hard question; who is this hurting? Make a point of acknowledging for yourself the fundamental legitimate humanity of each human being participating in our culture (yes, all of them, even ____ ). Isn’t it easier to talk about cutting social security benefits if we don’t also have to think about elders who count on social security to live on in their final years, and what the practical realities of that scenario really are? Isn’t it easier to talk about ‘constitutionally protected gun ownership’ if we don’t also focus on innocent lives lost to gun violence, to accidents, to misuse? The media knows this is difficult stuff and applies a generous helping of spin – depending on their preferred audience – to ensure our attention is ‘well-placed’ to keep us glued to their channel for their advertisers – it sure isn’t about ‘truth’, or informing us.

Compassion was much harder to develop or to experience when I was firmly focused on being right. Turned out ‘being right’ has a lot less value for me, personally, than compassion has.  I’m sometimes fairly dismayed at how willing human beings are to hurt each other in the name of being right. It’s not a pleasant quality. Being willing to listen more, and being committed to letting go of ‘being right’, it is also hard to allow myself to look at another human being (however ludicrous or evil their opinions seems to me to be) and judge them as ‘a bad person’…but it is appalling to me how many people build their fame (or notoriety) on treating others poorly… and how often we allow, or encourage, it. Maybe it is time to stop rewarding such people with our attention – or our votes? Well… it is for me.

Walking my own path.

Walking my own path.

Thoughts over coffee on a chilly autumn morning. It’s a good day for taking time to listen. It’s a good day to include my own in the voices I listen to myself. It’s a good day to recognize the value of my attention and to be quite selective about what media is allowed past my eye holes into my thoughts; the profit margin of any one business, pundit, or news outlet is no concern of mine (and I am aware that it is their sole concern as a business). It’s a good day to change what I hear about the world by setting boundaries, and asking questions: “just the facts, please”, “who profits from this position/proposal?”, and “who will this hurt – and how badly?”

I am fortunate that I slept last night. I wasn’t sure I would when I laid down to attempt it. An unexpected rise in the OPD [Other People’s Drama] levels in my life occurred on an order of magnitude sufficient to rouse my PTSD, and it hit me hard and derailed my pleasant evening.

I find myself making a funny face in response to calling it ‘unexpected’, when I consider the source; some people are OPD embodied, and once identified the only thing unexpected is that I found myself mired in it again.  It’s morning, though, and I did sleep, and my coffee is hot and tasty… it’s very tempting to stand in the patio doorway and shout into the dawn “You have no power over me!!” It would feel good. It would feel affirming. It would feel powerful. It would be dishonest – because I sit here, even now, concerned for my traveling partner and how he is treated by an entirely other human being than myself, and struggling to let it go. Truly, it’s not my relationship, not my drama, not my experience, and realistically I know the healthiest thing for me is to trust my traveling partner to take care of himself and make the best possible choices that meet his needs over time, and simply be here for him if he turns to me for help.

It’s hard to stand by and watch someone I love being chronically mistreated. I sometimes find myself feeling guilty for leaving a bad situation, myself… I know what long-term abusive behavior can do to one’s heart, mind, and soul – and there’s nothing of value to be had from that experience, besides leaving it behind with lessons learned. It is, of course, my own perspective on things, and because I have been more severely abused in other prior relationships and bear witness quite personally to the damage done, my testimony itself may be suspect – I am damaged, and it colors my perception. This doesn’t make me ‘wrong’ or ‘incorrect’ or lacking in ability to share my experience then (or now) – but it gives people who want to doubt me quite a lot of basis to support their doubt if they choose to. That’s more OPD in the making right there; putting doubt in my path as a sort of mirror of damage reflecting into another mirror of damage, and me sandwiched between defending my perspective and wondering what’s real.

I know some things from experience. I know leaving an abusive relationship behind doesn’t result in immediate cessation of suffering, nor guarantee healing – there are verbs upon verbs, and much practicing to be done to return to a state of wholeness and wellness. I know living in the context of abuse and mistreatment has literally no positive qualities to be had – and that people who are abusive may or may not ever change their behavior (or their intent), and whether they do or not, the damage is done. I know that I alone have the power to choose to walk away from being abused – and no one, however close to me, can make that happen, or ‘fix’ what doesn’t work on my behalf – and I know this truth is quite true for everyone who chooses to love someone who mistreats them. However much I love my traveling partner – I can’t rescue him from being mistreated in a relationship with someone else. That frustrates me, and the process of ‘being there’ for him when he needs emotional support re-exposes my own wounds, and my PTSD symptoms flare up with all the potential to wreck my experience – in spite of having walked away from the most recent direct source of that particular sort of chaos and damage. I know that my first order of business is taking care of me; I can’t be there to provide support to those I love without putting my own oxygen mask on first.

The lingering after-effects of emotional or physical abuse are quite lasting for me, reaching out from the distant past to strike me in my  present, taking me by surprise when I think I am safe. “You have no power over me!” is what I want to shout to the demons in the darkness – if I do, they will titter in the background, amused by my presumption; they are as powerful as ever, and every single day of joy I experience is taken from them by force: force of will, force of good practices, force of good choices, and the utter necessity to choose to turn away from them (whoever embodies them in my ‘now’) willfully again and again. The power they don’t have, though, is huge; they do not have the power to choose my response to their existence, and they do not have the power to determine my actions. I am free to continue to choose to walk away from OPD, and to decline to be mistreated; that’s always mine.

I don’t say much about the other person involved in all this, and with good reason; that person is not here to speak up in their own behalf, to offer mitigating information, to clear up misconceptions, or offer perspective – and we are each having our own experience. Most of us wander around fairly cluelessly hurting others, not by intent, but generally out of inattention, lack of skill in relationships, bad habits learned in childhood, or because we understood things differently after filtering reality through our own chaos and damage. I’m not sitting in judgement on someone else’s shitty behavior; I am entirely focused on taking care of me, learning from life’s curriculum, and distancing myself from people who mistreat me. I am distracted from those tasks by my concern for my traveling partner, and his experience…and I got sucked into the OPD by mistake last night, in the process of supporting my partner with kindness, compassion, and a ready ear, that’s all.

Enough.

Enough.

It’s morning, now, and I got the rest I needed last night, and woke feeling comfortable, rational, and content. It’s hard to want more than that, and it is more than I expected when I laid down to sleep last night. It’s enough.

Please take care of you, today, people – you are worthy of your very best care, your best treatment, your best manners, your greatest kindness. Please treat others well today, too; we are each having our own experience and you do not know what demons someone else may be dancing with in the darkness. (If your only way to treat yourself well is to treat others poorly, you’re not getting how this works – just saying.) Treat the people you love as if you love them; they deserve 100% of the best you have to offer the world, always.  It’s never too late to stop mistreating people, applying Wheaton’s Law is a good start.