Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Declaration of Independence

I had drafted something last Friday after a brutal interaction with someone. I ended the post with a countdown until I was going to be free of the obligations that were making me miserable.

Well, what a difference a day, or at most a weekend, can make. By Saturday night I had removed myself from one, and by Monday morning I had extricated myself out from another. Those two were the biggest stressors, and everything else aside from that has a deliverable and/or deadline that feels much more doable. So, even though I am not entirely free of obligation, I feel lighter on my feet and happy. Not just "much happier" but happy.

People who were unkind to me and got me to the point where I made this decision shouldn't be proud of themselves, but ultimately, this is about me, not them. I have been suffering for years under toxic stress, and it wasn't until March of last year that I realized I wasn't crazy for thinking so. (I also suffered from it as a child, but distance in time and circumstance meant I didn't have to argue with myself about that.) The health problems associated with toxic stress are well-documented, but one thing that isn't emphasized enough is that we don't make good decisions. We don't walk away from jerks because they're not as bad as monsters, and the smallest bit of praise ("hey, I see that you worked your ass off for weeks/months so something could work really well for a couple of hours" or "look at you, being a competent human being") feels incredibly rewarding when you're around people who make you feel like you're not a human being, period, so you'll keep going back for more (unpaid) work if it means that you'll eventually be rewarded with feel-good praise. And should you have a moment of clarity, one in which you can't deny that you're miserable and dread not just your next meeting but the hours of the day itself because it means there's some work you need to be getting to, but whatever it is you do, it's never going to be enough, you'll suppress any thought of taking care of yourself first because that's what selfish quitters do and you've been spending your whole life picking up after them and god, if there's one thing you can avoid, it's being one of them (FYI, they're the ones that eventually start to look like monsters). So you suck it up until you can't breathe any more, but that's okay, you're used to not being able to catch a deep breath.

Really, that says it all

I started to come out from under the stressors in April of last year, but it was a lot, and deep, and thorough. Which is all to say that in May I still wasn't making good decisions, and I wasn't even making good decisions in September. And maybe I should step back here and admit that I'm a bit of an optimist as well, and I believe in potential. (If that sounds maladaptive, you have a point, but know that looking at the future is sometimes the only way to get through the present.) So it's only as I'm genuinely beginning to feel better that I realized I wanted to feel much better, even happy. That combination highlighted for me how trapped I felt.

But here's what people don't tell you when you feel trapped: sometimes it takes just one step to start finding your way out of your prison. It started, not with the projects alluded to above, but a much smaller body, though nevertheless one I did a lot of work for a few months out of the year. After one project was completed, I heard (for the second year in a row) that there were complaints behind my back about how well the project went, never mind that there was effusive praise to my face. Maybe - it's always dangerous to believe gossip - but it was enough that I had no interest in working for that committee again. When that became official, I felt...fine. I wasn't overwhelmed by guilt, I wasn't worried that I was irreplaceable, I knew life was going to go on just fine without me. And then I was relieved that I wouldn't have to be with people who made me uneasy. That, combined with the nasty interaction above, made me start fantasizing about what it would be like to feel that way about everything.

And now here we are. I keep checking myself for dread and worries about doom, but instead I feel good. I feel like I have a bunch of things I'm looking forward to doing, not ones I need to do or else. I feel un-stressed. Might this also have something to do with the yoga practice I've been developing for myself, especially since it included a lot of twists this morning? And might it also have something to do with the green smoothies I've been drinking? Maybe and maybe, but believe me, even delicious things like twists and smoothies can feel like drudgery when that's all you see.

Another plus of my independence is that I get to blog more (in addition to things like writing and spending time with my family). So, woo hoo - I'll be back to this sooner than I usually am.

Until then,
Deb in the City

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