Birthday Blues

Today is my birthday. I am now two years away from 50. Maybe that’s partly why the birthday blues hit me so hard. Combine that with the recent health issues and I have been deeply reminded of my mortality. And my ever active (overactive…) inner critic saw the vulnerability and latched on. Yesterday, it exploded in a melt-down. As I often do, I reached out on Facebook. Somehow that is a way I can get support without triggering shame, which a more direct request to a friend – like a phone call – would bring up.

I was stunned by the outpouring of support, of love really. I was amazed at how much people appreciate me. Somehow I had forgotten.

I don’t know who said this originally. I learned it from Donald Rothberg at an engaged Buddhism retreat I attended years ago now: “The most important thing to remember is to remember.” It is so easy for us to forget both how much we appreciate and are appreciated! It probably is even easier for those of us to forget who have learned to focus more on the needs of others than on ourselves.

Yet, the question that bubbled up yesterday and again this morning lingers: Have a lived my life fully?

That brings me to the other insight I remembered today: Comparison is poison. Part of what fueled my blues were recent comparisons I’ve made of my life with that of other people’s lives. They had so much going for themselves: A career they love, a partner, a successful hobby! The first response to my Facebook call-for-help reminded me that I was comparing my inner world to others’ outer. The person who responded first shared of her own struggles. What?! She was experiencing doubt and depression, too! But her life is perfect! Well, from the outside it might look that way. Most of us don’t share our struggles – one reason, incidentally, I try to share mine because I find it helpful to read that others are also struggling. It reminds me of my shared humanity. No one is immune.

Comparison, of course, fuels these struggles. In part because we don’t stop to think whether that life that we envy is really, deep down, attractive to us. Would I want to give up my leisurely walks to nowhere in particular for a chance to testify in front of Congress? Well, uhm, honestly? Not really. I’d rather enjoy the sunshine and be some obscure person than someone who passionately works for a cause. Not that I don’t appreciate and support the work they are doing. It’s just not me. Interestingly, following your bliss and just muddling along because you don’t really have a calling seem to be equally beneficial for our mental health.

That’s the other thing I want to remember (again) from this weekend: What seems to be the most important thing is acceptance. Accepting, for example, that we live in a culture that overemphasizes the importance of passion, of bliss – and makes those of us who don’t have it feel like there’s something wrong with us. When there really isn’t. It’s just another way to live a life. Some of us are passionate about one thing. Others are a little bit passionate about a lot of things.

The Darker Side of Couplemania

“That is why self-justification is more powerful and more dangerous than the explicit lie. It allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done. In fact, come to think of it, it was the right thing.” ~ Carol Tavris

As I am reading Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That?, in which he outlines the underlying causes of abusive men’s behavior, I am realizing that couplemania contributes to women (and some men, though predominantly women are abused in coupled relationships) staying in abusive relationships far longer than we should. There are a few ideas that keep us. First, there is the cultural notion that it is women’s responsibility to make a relationship work, which feeds into the story from the abuser that their relationship issues are her fault when they are really (mostly) his. Then, there is couplemania itself, which suggests that coupling is so important that we should bend over backwards to be in a relationship. Of course the flip-side, singlism, plays a role here, too. Being single is portrayed as so scary and undesirable that it is far worse than being in an abusive relationship. Maybe this is actually the most pernicious way singlism and sexism interact: Sexist and misogynist attitudes are what are underneath an abuser’s entitlement – and singlist attitudes make it harder to leave him.

Let me bring all this to life by sharing a bit about my most recent foray into the dating world. I ended up with someone Bancroft calls Mr. Sensitive – a guy who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. When I tried to call him out on inappropriate behavior, he shirked responsibility by claiming that I was simply evaluating his actions through the lens of my past abuse experience, which he generously offered to help heal (but instead made worse). So, my anger was, in his mind, just a blast from the past – and he convinced me of that as well. That my anger could have been driven by his constant turning of tables, pushing the blame onto me, only fully became clear to me much later. That my anger was a loud way of saying “you can’t treat me this way” I didn’t understand until I started reading Bancroft. Yes, I might have some emotion regulation work to do but that wasn’t what was going on. What was going on?

Entitlement. He thought he was entitled to always getting his needs met, to never having to change, to not being confronted with his unhealthy behavior but being praised profusely for any tiny thing he thought he did right. The world was defined according to him. My view or experience didn’t matter. Of course, he often said the exact opposite, which made it very confusing and why I am still grappling with trying to understand what went on. Bancroft’s book has helped me quite a bit since he emphasizes that abusive behavior is driven by the underlying beliefs a man holds. In my case, a lot of this was driven by his beliefs about women: That our role is to look up to and please the man. He valued selfishness, which manifested as being mostly self-centered, losing any interest in helping me, for example, when it no longer fit his agenda, it was too challenging, or he was simply bored. While at the same time, expecting me to remain engaged and complaining that I wasn’t engaging with him – even after I was, which he had ignored (talk about mind-twisting!).

And yet I stayed. Despite early signs to the contrary, I believed him when he said that he valued science and critical thinking. Part of why I stayed was classic couplemania: I still had to prove somehow that I am capable of having a coupled relationship after my failed marriage because somehow that failure was my fault and only if I can prove that I can have a successful, i.e. long-term, coupled relationship am I a worthy human being. Although I believe that I have been able to dislodge those beliefs a bit more through this experience, it was rather humbling to realize how deep couplemania runs, even in me. And this is where sexism meets couplemania: As a woman, my worth is measured by how successful I am in coupled relationships. Nothing else seems to matter.

Of course, there were also the charming phase at the beginning and the continues bait-and-switch that kept me from seeing what was really going on. One night somehow everything fell into place – and that was the end of that relationship. Looking back, I am still fascinated by what happened that night as it seemed like I all the sudden woke up out of a trance. Ever since that wake up, I have been trying to understand what had happened. I reached out to him again – and was met with friendly yet insistent attempts to redefine my reality. Same old story: His view matters. Mine doesn’t. So, I disengaged reminded that I want to spend my energy on more constructive things. Now I am ready to move on, which will include a more thorough exploration of the interplay of sexism and singlism as well as how couplemania contributes to domestic violence.

Riding Public Transit

Woman on Muni train
perfumed in pee
talking to yourself
wielding your little plastic tube
to ward off invisible demons.
What has happened to you
that made you lose your mind?
Was it rape?
War? The kind in another country
or the kind at home, your former home?
What or who did you run away from?

Or am I just projecting
my pain onto you?
I doubt it.
Somehow you lost your mind
that doesn’t happen
for no reason.

Are you safe now
out there on the streets?
I doubt it.
Your mind probably
disappears even more
out there.
No home is not safe.
No wonder you lost
your mind.

More on Health Care

I can’t remember how I found out about the Fix It campaign recently. I do remember, though, that I sat up when I heard about it because it brings such a refreshing new angle to the whole health care debate in the United States: The angle of a businessman. Fix It is a documentary conceived and produced by Richard Master, “the founder and owner of MCS Industries, a world leader in the picture frame and decorative mirror business.” He brings to this debate his business experience – and is not crying about how a single-payer system might be anti-capitalist, anti-free market, putting guns to doctors’ heads (that last one, I really don’t get… if a single-payer system puts a gun to doctors’ heads how is the current multi-payer system preferable? Wouldn’t it put a whole arsenal to their heads?!).

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Micro-Singlism

Two recent blog posts are coming together in my mind to form the idea of micro-singlism, the seemingly innocent forms of discrimination against singles that are all around us. Those messages that tell us we’re less than when we don’t have a lover can make it challenging to stay out of the shame trap.

The first article was a comic on micro-aggression, which demonstrates how they make us feel smaller and smaller. Then I read a post about Virginia’s state slogan “Virginia is for Lovers,” which pointed out that this is a subtle form of harassment.

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Open Letter to My Senators about Health Care

I wrote this letter at about 4 am during another night of insomnia… Hopefully, it makes sense…

Dear Senator,

You don’t know what it’s like to wake up at 4 am from a racing heart wondering if you have a serious health condition, scared if you do that you won’t be able to afford the care that you’ll need.

You don’t know what it’s like to call doctor after doctor only to hear “sorry, we don’t take your health insurance.”

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