Reading me

The therapy chronicles continue! This time part therapist, part coworker. These are not new thoughts for me, but rather a (mini, please so mini) shout out for accountability. Warning- The words that follow include in-depth, exhaustive internet Googling research.

I was told recently that I am “hard to read.” This got in my head, in a curious way. AND THEN OTHER PEOPLE AGREED. Ok, I’ve received that feedback before. But I honestly thought I had been so forward with that person. I know my sense of humor, that sarcasm thing, can make me come across a certain way. I’ll acknowledge that when my blank face is on, I don’t express emotion. I did some googling, because I really don’t know what to do different. The internet said “hard to read” means I hide my feelings.

The internet also said:

“People act like they want to peel away your layers, they want to piece you together because if they do, it takes away the fear of the unknown. On the rare occasion that someone does genuinely want to know you, you’ll show them every quirk and crack in your carefully constructed persona because when the time is right, it’s thrilling to be that vulnerable.”

This is sounding like a John Legend song.

I’m thinking “hard to read” isn’t the whole picture here. Lets focus our inquiry on sarcasm.  Extensive internet research tells me that sarcastic girls like me are rarely serious, say mean things when displaying affection, and sometimes regret things that come out too quick. Also, texting is hard. Sarcastic women have good judgement to read situations and are basically emotional superheroes.

And then the internet said:

“Sarcasm is likely a defense mechanism to keep that huge heart of ours protected, or it’s a coping mechanism because sometimes, even the most confident people freak out over meeting new people or working a room. Don’t let this one, very strong, overbearing personality trait overshadow the entire person, or her ability to love. It just means you’ve found a woman who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Just know that when we do give you sweet compliments, they are genuine. In the end, life’s too short not to rub salt in the wounds. Let your life dance lightly on the edge. We all enjoy being kept on our toes a bit. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not a ballerina, and I won’t dance on pointe forever.”

But I WAS a ballerina (in training) and I WILL make you dance forever! Cue evil laugh. Can I blame this on being a Scorpio?

Ok, serious now. My perspective leads me to believe I’m avoiding rejection, avoiding vulnerability, avoiding shattering the emotional stability I’ve found. Distractions veiled with humor. I make anything into a joke. I can laugh about things instead of being upset or embarrassed.

This is different than oh say, a year and a half ago when I (in my opinion), expressed my emotions without hesitation. I reacted to my emotions quickly. And now I feel more content, cheerful, and I don’t need to react. I can “soften, and ease through it,” as therapist has quoted countless times. I have to be serious at work all day, in my personal life it’s nice to keep people on their toes, be lighthearted, enjoy. And when I’m positive and funny, I’m not sad and depressed. It’s a one sided human experience.

I’m getting stuck on this. I really thought I’d been acting transparent!

Well, what the hell, Becca?  What do we do? Coworker said I need to step up my game. Therapist said I need to pause before using humor, and look at what I’m avoiding in the face of laughter. Fine, I’ll try it. That’s where the accountability comes in, my friends. There is no way I’m practicing unveiled honesty without some help.

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Full Circle

“I’m proud of you.”

An awesome emotion to express, an awesome statement to receive. Connie is one of the first friends in my life to tell me she’s proud of me. When I read a text like that from her, I feel loved. I’ve been listening a little harder when I hear about pride.

Ethiopia felt like a selfish trip until I arrived.  Wonderful in so many ways, but also challenging. In making the choice to volunteer, I did what I needed to do to make it a reality (3 years in the making). Coworker pointed out these positive patterns in my life, and at first I brushed him off.  I listened again.

Today Coworker gave me a gift of Dr. Pepper. The best. A sweet and unwarranted surprise. He said he was proud of me for the work I’ve done in my life recently. And then I forced him into a personal reflection, which left him reeling on the ground clutching a pillow for a few minutes.

I’ve come to call 2016, “the year I was depressed.” Sometimes I think of it as a year I wasted with feeling down, sad, dwelling on things out of my control. Losing Ron was awful. Losing him the day before a break up made it harder. I wanted to talk to Ron about my relationship whoas, and I wanted to process Ron’s death with a person I could no longer rely on.

I remember a moment in therapy when I was crying and frustrated he couldn’t see he was making a mistake. One day he would realize I was right, that we could make things work and our relationship was worth it. I was worth it. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’ve worked hard to grow as a person, develop confidence, and accept myself in my life.

Yesterday was finally the moment when I could have yelled, “I told you so!!” Pointing my fingers and proclaiming I was right. But when he told me the words- it was not your fault…I took it out on you…you are an amazing person…there is nothing wrong with you… I felt almost nothing. Because I already knew those things to be true (thanks therapist). And I found it in myself, I didn’t need to hear it from him. I didn’t need to hear it from a friend, those weren’t the lost words Ron would have spoke. It took awhile but it feels different, it feels good.  I am proud of myself.

I’ve worried this euphoric happiness since Ethiopia is a sneaky cover for something hidden beneath. Coworker said maybe it’s not… it’s just me.

A couple of thoughts.

Don’t you hate it when you’re going through life, doing fine, and then you’re confronted with those emotions you’ve packed away for a rainy day? It must have been raining in my therapist’s office Tuesday night.

I felt like I didn’t have much of meaning to talk about when I first sat down. She scolded me for not giving “available” guys a chance, and getting stuck and attached to “unavailable guys.” That bugged me. I told her she was wrong. Maybe she is right. 20 minutes later the tears came and I’m reminded of the familiar question, “What’s wrong with me?”

I have many thoughts and feelings about my upcoming trip to Jimma, Ethiopia. I told therapist it will be nice to have something else to care about, other than myself. In Jimma I will give myself to caring about my fellow volunteers, the new community and culture I’ll be in, and care about the camp we’ll have with kids.  I care about making this a meaningful experience.

It’s not that I don’t care about things in my day to day life, it’s just most of my caring has to do with myself. Being single means my life revolves around…me. I care about my friends, but we’re not dependent on each other. I care about my family, but my parents are in Chicago, my brother in California, and they’re living their own lives. I care about my job, but I hang up my therapist scarf at 5pm and need a break.  I’m good at caring about myself; now what?

I’m very tired of being consumed with my lack of a relationship status.  There many other things in life I want to care about. Therapist said we can work on that when I get back. I like my life, I’m very content. But I’m starting to feel stuck. I was pretty down about that. My coworkers (my work spouses) get a lot of my emotions. I so appreciate them, and this week they taught me it’s not about getting down, but rather getting ready to shake things up. (Because it that unmarried, child-less life- you can!!)

They don’t pay me to cry

We learn as social workers to express empathy and compassion, to “go there” with our clients, to support them where they are. But we have to be present, keep going, see the next client. And appointments are always about the client, anything I say about myself can’t overshadow or be detrimental for the client’s treatment.

But you know what? Vicarious trauma is an asshole. It’s impossible to hear people’s stories and not be affected. To not take it home, have nightmares, feel down. It’s also impossible for me to always have a one sided conversation. Brene’s talk about connection and authenticity means that every now and then I will say something personal. And gasp- it creates a closer connection with that client.

This is not what I want to talk about. I also don’t want to talk about suicide. But it seems like suicide and self harm are an encompassing topic for many that come to intake. That makes sense. But it’s very hard to hear and type about suicide without feeling like a machine. A risk assessment beast!

This past week a teenager spoke in short sentences about her thoughts of dying and cutting. Mom started crying. The teen started crying. She kept looking at mom, seeing the pain and sadness, the pain caused by the teen. I didn’t see shame, but curiosity. An observation that while she’s being truthful, her truth is causing Mom’s pain. Mom was great, she told teenager she wants her to be honest and she isn’t upset with her. Then I started crying, and all I could say was- “I’m going to cry now too.”  A few tears. I felt sad. I was struck by the emotion and relationship I witnessed in front of me.

Why this moment, instead of other clients? Here’s my theory.

My dad told me once that one of the worst things a parent can experience is answering the phone and hearing your child crying. I’ve been guilty of that. I’ve called my parents after breakups. I’ve called late at night when I feel sad, lonely, isolated. They might not say all the right things, or be able to read my mind when I don’t express myself in words, but I know they will answer and listen. (that is until my mom says she needs to watch the end of her tv show). The feeling of unconditional love is so different than other emotions. It has the power to change a relationship.

I think I had tears when witnessing this interaction, because I could see Mom’s love for her daughter.  It triggered me to think of how parents are always on my side, cheering for me. I imagine they would also experience grief and sadness if I admitted to the thoughts this teen has. They wouldn’t brush me off, they wouldn’t minimize my emotions.

But, they don’t pay me to cry at clients. So, now that I’ve trauma-vomited this story, it’s time to heal and move forward.

Time spent

For someone that doesn’t wear a watch, I seem to spend a lot of time waiting.

Waiting for the intense emotion to pass, waiting for the weekend to come, waiting for my future to catch up with reality. Waiting for the moments that come too soon, or never come at all.

My parents married at age 20. Freshman year mom started asking, “Did you pick a major?” Along with, “Meet any nice guys?” Luckily those questions died off when the answer was always the same- “No.” Growing up learning from my parent’s relationship, it was a natural thought I would follow the same path. It hit me around age 21 that I was not, in fact, going to be married soon after graduation. Now, at 29, I still have that sense of- when is my life going to catch up?

Growing up female means growing up socialized  that I need to settle down, find a husband, have kids, live in a house. My parents taught the importance of education, opportunities, travel, independence. Where does that nagging voice come from that somehow, I did all of this wrong?

I’ve waited for long distance. Waited for betrayal. Waited to let the past go. Waited while I learned lessons, became a “stronger person.” I waited during other’s depression. Waited during my own depression. Waited for grief, for more learning, and waited while I gained acceptance. I’ve waited through higher education, waited by the phone. And I’m still waiting.

Cue the happy thought about not waiting and start living. Good thing I see therapist today.

 

Vulnerability wake up call

I’ve been inquisitive about my body language recently. I give off great vibes to male strangers when I’m out- vibes to stay away. As I’ve told a few, this doesn’t come off too well on the salsa dance floor. I think I have appropriate body language at work, although my typing- typing- typing mode has led me to requiring mental reminders to make proper eye contact.  I’m taking notice.

I know my humor and sarcasm is a tool. It’s great for changing the subject, creating relief in uncomfortable moments, and avoiding honesty when I don’t want to give the truth. I think that truth avoidance is probably better defined as anti-vulnerability.

Before my Brene Brown obsession became an obsession, it was a quest to become more confident and engaged in my own life.  I used to envy the openness I could see in other people, and didn’t understand why I couldn’t scrape the surface of myself.

With practice, and hours of therapy, I like to think I’ve become more engaged, authentic and vulnerable. Until earlier today, that is.  I was telling a coworker about a person in my life and the kindness they’ve showed me. The anxiety it gives me to not be my whole self with them, to feel the uncertainty of the unknown. And she told me to tell this person what I was telling her, that if I’m willing to be vulnerable it can create intimacy and openness. I stared at her like she was crazy.

The more I pondered her encouragement, the more it felt right. The more it literally felt like vulnerability. Feeling it in my throat and stomach.  It’s easy to be myself, to be “vulnerable” with my friends and coworkers. I trust I will be able to take care of myself with their support. Is that vulnerability, or just friendship? My coworker told me to be vulnerable with this person in a way I haven’t yet showed up with them. Honestly, in a way I haven’t been in awhile. It feels terrifying. But luckily, despite my sarcastic tendencies and humorous avoidance, I have time to prepare myself to prevent creeping doubts. Which means time to prepare myself for whatever sort of outcome I receive.

Body language includes vulnerability, does it not? This probably has something to do with why I can’t flirt….  Ha!

 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

 

Let’s catastrophize that.

My favorite cognitive distortion is, you guessed it- catastrophizing! While at times it’s a fun way to create exciting and more less than likely stories among friends, it’s also a good way to make myself feel crazy. My favorite way to catastrophize is to take a seemingly normal, everyday life event, and make it explode with flavor and energy.  Usually ending in people playing along (the best), thinking I’m a liar, or just calling me dramatic.

Like that time when a coworker saved a life…and the yin and yang of the world means she had to take a life. Cueing us to imagine another coworker’s demise without a seatbelt, and the Intake team spending minimal time mourning and extra time stressing over lack of completed intakes.

Or that time when my writer friend quoted me in a 3 sentence paragraph in a wedding magazine. And I tooted my own horn, future movie roll played by Amanda Siegfried and signed autographs of Chicago Style Weddings for everyone.

Or that time I got my MSW, only to tell everyone my new life mission was to be on Dancing with the Stars via my salsa career. (Apparently when you make jokes like that, people assume you’re just a salsa dancing fool. “You’re actually not bad!” has been said to me).

Or, finally. That time I started dating again. And while a litany of SVU scenarios run through my mind, the most realistic is me jumping to the dramatic conclusions of meeting Mr. Right Now, moving in together, me selling my furniture. The inevitable break up, me crying, and now living without a plaid couch. I will miss that couch.

Therapist taught me to take the (wedding) photo off the shelf, take the picture out, and put the frame into a drawer. A far away drawer. A dusty drawer in someone else’s house. Maybe leave it on the store shelf.

That makes sense. And as a friend told me, put out a new frame. Fill my life with the pictures of what is happening now. Of the cool things, cool emotions, cool people that bring me joy. Catastrophizing makes problems larger than life. And while it’s usually a fun way to tell stories, I might need to practice reeling it in when it starts to keep me up at night. As a college roommate used to say, “Crazy in, normal out.”

But where’s the fun in that?!