Important 2016 Thoughts: Part 2

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I suppose this is both 2015 and 2016 thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot about both, as I am want to do. I have been thinking about what I did well and what I want to do better and what surprised me.

success

As far as my goals last year, I had a number and I’m not going to go through them all again. Suffice to say I did pretty well. My FitBit broke like halfway through the year unfortunately, and I never bothered to replace it, but it was actually quite motivating for the first half of the year. I read more than I expected to, I watched 435 movies, which I am super proud of. I got my application in for grad school.

I in general was pretty mentally stable this year, which was certainly a pleasant surprise. I had no more than a handful of depressed days in the whole year, which was pretty wonderful. But even more than that I think the best part was realizing I was much more capable of dealing with those than I ever have been. I knew what was happening and what I needed. I was very aware that it was about me, although if someone said something to add to it I was generally comfortable responding to that. I felt centered and not in dire need of attention and response like I used to. I think that was more comforting to me than the pretty few days. After all, even if I was hit by something more severe at some point (always a possibility), it’s a comfort to feel like my responses are more manageable on some level.

Brain

This is my brain! Just like that!

I asked David what he thought I did well this year and he said that our communication had gotten a lot better (definitely true) and that once upon a time, he and the Superhero would most definitely never have considered having me move in with them, and now they’re totally good with it. So I must be doing something right. Hooray!

It’s nice to feel like I’m progressing, although I question if that’s the word I want. Centering? Sometimes I do feel like I’m making definite progress in a forward sense but often, when it comes to things like this, it feels more like a settling and removal process of some kind. Either way, it’s nice.

For 2016, I have thoughts but I feel a little stuck at the moment. It is hard for me not having any idea what things will look like for me this time next year. Will I be in grad school? Or will I be crossing my fingers for my application again? I have a hard time making plans when that decision could alter a lot, even though it doesn’t really change that much of the fundamentals of my life. I just really like plans.

Planning person

Little known fact: I am actually a creepy little computer person…

In a general sense, I do have some ideas. I have created a finance spreadsheet for the year. I’ve really never tracked my finances before and although I’m not yet ready to budget as such, I think it’ll be good for me to see what’s happening to the money. So that’s a thing I’m going to try to keep on top of.

I am going to try to go for a 30 minute walk most days. My idea of activity is always weird but I’ve been googling things and it seems that if I was to do that most days, I would meet the advised activity for an adult. Whatever that means. I don’t trust ANYTHING TO DO WITH FITNESS. But. Still. I did intend for it to be unrelated to things like walking across campus (even though that is solidly 20 to 25 minutes) but today that’s what I ended up doing. We will see how it goes. In theory, there is no day that I cannot fit a 30 minute walk in, the question is whether or not I will.

Pug

But my goal is to turn into a curious pug when I grow up.

I want to try to foster more curiosity in my life. This is sort-of a weird one, and I have thought about it a lot over the last few years. One of the things that I noticed last year was that I started googling things. Like a lot of things, random things. I wanted to follow the news and I didn’t know how and I said, “How do I follow the news?” It turned out that not only had many people asked that before me, but many people had written articles trying to answer this very question. I picked out a couple of things and now, while I will never be as on top of things as I wish I was, I am absolutely more aware of the headlines and tenor of what is happening than I was before.

Christians are not, as a general rule, encouraged to ask questions. They are encouraged to have the answers. Particularly when you were raised the way I was. When I am in a situation in school where I am encouraged to think of questions, I consistently draw a complete blank. I was not taught to ask questions and I’m not good at thinking in that way. So essentially what I have started doing is using the internet in this way. Anytime ANYTHING comes to my mind that I’m curious about, I google it. Not only does this reinforce asking questions in my brain (at least I hope it does — I feel like I have noticed a difference) but I weirdly feel better when I ask something and Google autofinishes my question. It is affirming to know that many other people have asked the same things.

Google searches

Of course, some Google searches are NOT affirming…

So this year I want to be more curious. I want to be more open in this blog. I want to work hard and play hard and have a very good year, whether or not I get into grad school. But I still would really, really, really like to get into grad school.

What I’ve Learned – Brain Things

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I have always had a really hard time with “study techniques.” I’ve speculated a lot on why this might be. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really grow up learning these things. Maybe it’s because of the ADD I supposedly have. Maybe it’s because I’m just not very patient. Who knows. Who knows. Whatever the reason, whenever books or teachers have told me study techniques, I have sort-of stared at them blankly. Occasionally I try them but they do not tend to be very effective.

One thing I’ve noticed is that a problem for me with studying is that it is a solitary activity. I really learn best when I’m actually talking about the material, working through it verbally with someone rather than just passively looking at it. My retention is really terrible that way. So I was surprised this week while reading through my writing book on How To Construct An Argument (which I have to say is by far the most interesting book I’ve ever read on this subject, so good job teacher) when they suggested something that actually seemed to work.

They were talking about researching your papers. I have a big research paper for one of my classes coming up and I’m starting to work on gathering sources. They were saying that as you read each piece, you should take notes on your way through it. Now, of course people have been telling me to take notes on things forever, with no success because it never really occurs to me and I never know what to say. But they said something along the lines of that you should be “having a conversation with the piece” and for some reason that clicked with me. I’ve tried it so far with the research I’ve been doing for my paper and I think it’s had pretty good results, although there’s miles to go on that. I have had a harder time applying it to reading chapters in books, I think maybe because it’s not on the computer and it seems like pulling myself out of things to look away from the book, turn to the computer and write my thought and then go back to the book. I realize that’s not exactly a back-breaking amount of work but it’s all about flow. I know some people take notes in the margins, but I still hate writing in books and I hate my handwriting and if anything I feel like that is more of a break in my process. So I need to think it over.

Anyway, the whole thing has made me feel a little more cheerful about things. I have a stunning amount of reading at my new school and I have been concerned about my need to find a new way to be able to actually remember and get something out of it. I may not have perfected a plan yet, but I think I’m getting there. Just in time for midterms?

What I’ve Learned: Emotions

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I am still trying to work out what it means to be “crazy” and what are just normal reactions to life. I think I grew up with this very specific idea of what life should look like, we should only have emotional reactions to extreme things. We should be sad when someone dies or we should laugh when it is called for but “pointless” emotion was not encouraged, it was looked a sign of imbalance. Control was admired, the idea of holding yourself away from it was really what I looked for. I’m realizing that I don’t actually know what “normal” emotional ebbs and flows are, I don’t even know if that’s a useful categorization.

I still lash out some when I have a bad day. Lashing out is probably misleading, it’s more of a latching on. I want to cling, I want to be told everything is okay, I need to talk and be told that I am not nuts, even if I absolutely do not believe the few people in my life who are privy to this. Still, hearing it helps. I am getting better at minimizing the impact, I am getting better at self-soothing. But not nearly as much as I’d like. But I’m wondering if I’m focusing in the wrong place. I’ve spent so much time focused on how I shouldn’t feel bad, on how nothing is wrong, on how I’m being “crazy.” Crazy is my default word for bad feelings. It’s probably a word I should banish from my vocabulary for my health but that’s not project for today.

What if it was okay? What if it was okay that I just had days where I felt really sad and upset and awful? And that sucked, because it always really sucks, but what if accepting it changed the way I engaged with it? What if it stopped being a value judgment? Because this is where I feel like I always hit the wall, is that this thing happens, these feelings come, and I feel like they are proof of something, they are evidence of me as a bad person or me as a stuck person or… you know. Fill in the blank. I can do worse. But what if it’s not a matter of value at all? I’ve been told my entire life that it is, that my emotional responses make me a certain kind of person, a certain kind of woman. Not just by my family but by society, media, culture. And there are things about the ways that I respond to those feelings that I want to change because I think they’re not healthy for me or the people around me, certainly not long term. But what if the feelings themselves were okay?

No one wants to feel shitty. I would prefer a different chemical make-up where I was not on medication, one that was slightly less high strung, one that, even on medication, did not occasionally have days of just fog and depressed exhaustion. But those days are just days. One, maybe two. It used to be weeks or even months. Sometimes I get very sad or upset and there will be a day where I just cry pretty much all day, and the next day I will probably be pretty numb and exhausted. That makes sense. They may not be ideal, but they make sense.

I have been working really hard to try to notice some of the rhythms of my body. When am I hungry, when does my attention run out, when am I tired? I’ve noticed these things definitely do have rhythms and cycles, that I feel better when I listen to them. None of them are right or wrong, they’re just there. Perhaps my emotions are the same way. Particularly when I am under pressure from school, from transitions, from any number of things, that might sometimes trigger a day where I am just sad, where I am just overwhelmed. When the inciting incidents in Ferguson happened I read blogs and news links for hours and ended up in a sobbing heap on the bed, completely overwhelmed by everything that was happening and how totally helpless I felt in the face of everything. It took a few days to regain equilibrium.

What if the ideal isn’t perfect calm? What if there isn’t particularly an ideal at all, except to be healthy and engaging with whatever comes up in the kindest way possible for myself and for those around me? The truth is that I have no idea what a normal emotional baseline is for other people. I still judge most of those things off of my parents, who are two terrible sets of baselines. Maybe it’s time to figure out my own and be willing to move forward from there.

I don’t know if I’ve learned this yet, which may be against the spirit of the series, but I’m working on it and I’m putting it out there for the world to see so I don’t just log it and forget it. Baby steps.

Messy Intro to New Series! Or What I’ve Learned This Week – Body 101

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I have been trying to figure out how to integrate blogging more into this new, crazy school experience. I feel like I am learning so much and working on things from so many different angles and I also feel like I should use all of that somehow! Because… well, I don’t know exactly why. Because I really love this blog, because I feel like it helps me look at things from new angles. Because I like feeling like there are people out there who want to read about my thrilling life. Probably there are lots of reasons, some better than others but the long and the short of it is that I am giving myself extra homework.

So! This is the introduction of a new series and we’ll see how it goes. There may or may not be another new series intro on Wednesday but let’s just take it one step at a time. My weekend series will be about what I’ve learned. And in trying to think how to frame this, because “what I’ve learned this week” is just a huge topic and hard to narrow down, I decided that at least for this quarter, I’d like to try to break it up by Body, Mind and Emotions. Sometimes I may have an entry for all three, sometimes maybe only one or two. We’ll see how it goes, I reserve the right to experiment and try something else if it doesn’t work. But these are my current thoughts.

With that in mind, I’m starting off with body, because it’s been on my  mind a lot lately. I’ve been taking this Awareness in the Body class, which focuses on somatics and the idea of being more present in your body. It encourages us to focus on how we feel and where we feel it, which is really a struggle and a different way of viewing the world to me. I spent a lot of my life really disconnected from my body. For a long time I used to joke that I wished I could just be a brain in a jar, which was only kind-of a joke. I didn’t feel like I owned my skin, I didn’t feel like I had a right to it. There were a lot of abuse issues tied up in that, of course. I felt like I had been used a great deal and like the best defense was sometimes just to give it away before things were taken, or to try to disconnect enough that it didn’t matter if something was.

However, I am starting to come to a really different place with how I feel about my body and this class has really focused my attention on it in a lot of ways. I’ve started working very hard on not judging feelings but just observing them. Where do I feel them? What does it actually feel like to be angry, happy, sad, etc? Where do I feel those things? What do I like, what do I not like? I feel more present with myself and more able to be accepting of it. I am more conscious of my breathing, more aware of how I sit and how I stand. Not even in judgment so much as wondering, am I comfortable? Am I listening to what my body actually wants to do? Why or why not? If I want to sit or move differently, what is stopping me from doing that?

One thing I found myself wondering about and thinking on was an exercise we did last week. Our teacher had us stand still in the room, then begin to move as we wanted to, then eventually find a resting place that felt good to us. I struggle to stand perfectly still, that’s always been an issue for me. If I’m standing I’m usually swaying from side to side. When I was standing still, I felt insecure, unsafe, uncertain. When I could move back and forth I felt more stable and more comfortable. Eventually, when I came to a resting place, it was sitting on the floor, legs crossed, with my back firmly up against the wall. This was comfortable but it also felt safe to me. Others in the class mentioned their final spot feeling secure or safe. It made me think a lot about our teacher discussing how we were all animals, how we needed to listen to those instincts. How safe is it for an animal to stand perfectly still in open space? Is it safer for them to be moving? Is it safer for them to be able to have their back to something, to see around them? It’s not a perfect analogy, of course. I suspect an animal might not want to be trapped, which is the problem with having your back to something. But it did feel a bit like it tapped something of those feelings.

To be honest, some of it is a little silly seeming to me (some of what I just typed may have seemed a little silly to some of you, I realize). A lot of the work seems to rely on spiritual assumptions that I don’t hold. I’m finding that I am extremely resistant to feeling like I’m being pushed in any kind of spiritual direction, and also I feel like sometimes it really takes away from the legitimacy of what I feel like they’re doing. In spite of that, I feel like I’m making huge progress in an area that was previously almost a complete blind spot for me, so I’m really excited to see what’s next.