The Rest of the Way, Part Five: Age Is More Than a Number

I just turned forty-seven this month so for the next year my age will be a prime number. It wasn’t so bad because I get free stuff now on my birthday because of app on my phone (Starbucks and Taco Cabana). Personally, I’m looking forward to turning fifty when I can officially start getting my senior discount and my AARP card.

Yes, I’m looking forward to getting older. I know this flies in the face of the conventional-asshole wisdom of this world but here’s why:

One: senior discount. Yes, I look forward to becoming an old cheapskate though I promise with all my heart and soul never to turn into a raging Karen.

Two: Why not celebrate making it a few more years on this planet? Between pandemics, environmental catastrophe, and conservative politics, it’s a real battle these days to survive in this world. At least I’m past childbearing age so my uterus is off-limits to Republican legislators.

On the last seven birthdays I’ve had, I’ve grown contemplative and I look back and on each birthday I realized the following:

At forty, I realized I wasn’t such an idiot and that I was pretty good at taking care of myself.

At forty-one, I realized everyone else was just as full of shit as I was sometimes but I wasn’t a bad person either.

At forty-two, I was the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything for one year and said so long to my last call-center job.

At forty-three, I realized I liked gig work but that I was also sliding into a pretty deep abyss, too.

At forty-four, I didn’t release a smash-hit record like Tina Turner did at the same age but I knew I wanted to release a book someday that may sell a few copies.

At forty-five, I realized I had a pretty big storage unit in my mind full of crap to go through once and for all.

At forty-six, I cast the most important votes in my life in an election that came to matter more than any election ever had.

And at forty-seven I realized I have the advice I’ve been looking for and now I just need to really start taking it. And I’ve also begun to realize I’ve earned my hermit badge, too and that’s okay.

For me, age is a double-edge sword because on one hand I’ve always felt older than I was on the calendar because I had a lot of responsibility dumped on me at an early age. And on the other hand, I felt like I was treated like a kid who barely knew how to tie her own shoes by being told not to do this or that for some dumb-ass reason. So it was like grow up but you’ll never be seen as a grown-up.

But the thing I’ve learned most as I crossed the threshold into middle-age is that all those fucks I gave I shouldn’t have given out in the first place. Because they were disproportionally given to people who didn’t deserve them, or acted like ungrateful shits and were never satisfied with what you did give them. And because of that, I’ve realized I wasn’t put on this earth to work, suffer in silence, then die for some asshole.

Most of all, I’m not afraid of death. It’s coming whether I like it or not though I don’t know when or how and I’m not going to waste time thinking about that. I’m also not going to waste time thinking about what I didn’t do before because I’m not a time-traveler and I don’t have the ability to go back and change things. My goal now is to live in the present after having sorted out a ton of past crap and put all that past crap to bed in my writing.

My advice here then is this: don’t let your age stop you from doing something. Especially if you’re over forty because if you’re over forty or even past fifty, you’ve run out of fucks to give and you don’t get a refill on those. And enjoy your senior discounts.

The Rest of the Way, Part Four: Putting On Grown-Up Clothes

Recently I’ve begun to tell myself something that helps to quell some lingering anxiety and it’s this:

If someone has a problem with me, they can put on their grown-up clothes and come talk to me about it.

One of the things my anxiety does to me is get me thinking people are wanting to land on me but holding back waiting for the right moment. In reality, I’m over-thinking crap I shouldn’t be and that unless someone is madly in love with me or obsessed with me, they’re not going to think about me very much.

Now the roots of this date back to my time in call-center Hell. There I was mostly ignored until I did something wrong or when some customer decided to grind an axe on my back and give me a low rating. Then it was off the races and I felt like I was always looking over my shoulder. But that rat-race in my mind ended six years ago after being told I should have known better when I made a simple mistake that anyone could have made when I realized this about people in general and myself:

Everyone else is just as full of shit as I am sometimes, but I’m not a bad person either.

What this means is that no one has all the answers all the time even if they act they do or say they do. I used to think if I made a mistake that it made me the worst person in the world and it wiped all the good things I’d ever done. I thought if I could beat the crap out of myself first then no one else would do that to me. In reality, if someone mouthed off at me five minutes after they were done, they’d forgotten what they’d said to me in the first place.

I know I’ve been talking about a lot of negative shit here these past few days but this has been a large part of the work I’ve been doing on myself over the last few years. As an anxious over-thinker, I internalized way too much bullshit like this and have been working to extricate it from my psyche ever since. And one big thought is that I don’t need to sit around and clench my hands in nervous anticipation thinking someone is gearing up to make my life miserable. If someone is hesitating to come to me with some problem, that’s on them.

Now I’m not good at dealing with people or coming at them with something. And I’m absolutely terrible at asking for help. But I hope to overcome this to some small degree someday. But at the same time, if someone does have a problem with something I’m doing, they can come and talk to me about it. I have vowed to own my shit and blame no one else for my mistakes. All I want is to be given an opportunity to know what I did wrong and to fix it as much as possible.

Yesterday I talked about misdirected anger and one way this manifests is by passive-aggressive behavior. This is when someone hints at something then gets mad at you when you don’t put the rest of the pieces together even though you don’t have all the information you need. People who do this are freaking idiots at best and assholes at worst, including myself. With me, it was a fear of putting what I needed to on the table and getting blasted for it. This goes back to not being good at asking for help or stating what I want or need very well.

So I’m working on putting on my grown-up clothes (nothing stained or torn as my mother would advise me to wear) and doing my best to state my needs or ask the questions I need to. In turn, I’m also telling myself when I get anxious about someone lying in wait to land on me (when they’re definitely not doing that) is to tell myself that if someone does have a problem with me, they can put on their clean grown-up clothes and come talk to me about that. I’ll listen and take ownership of any mistakes I make.

But under no circumstances is it justified to make people think they have to be mind-readers when telepathy is still confined to the realm of science-fiction. And if someone does come right out and tell you what they want, need, or give you the information you need, don’t blast them for it. This ties back to yesterday’s piece of advice not to make someone your personal ass-cream. Clean clothes and all the words needed will do just fine. Or as my dad would say, “Grow the fuck up.”

The Rest of the Way, Part Three: You’re Not Just Here To Soothe Someone Else

For more years than I care to admit, I tried to figure out why people were insensitive and downright mean and cruel when I hadn’t done anything to warrant that. I thought that my mere presence just brought out the worst in people because I was fat, shy, and ugly. I thought that I was too much of a weirdo for people to want to treat me right. I also thought I disagreed with too many people, too on so many things. But over time I really began to think that it wasn’t about me.

I’ve been gnawing on this for a few weeks now and I’m going to put it out here: if someone tells me they were hurting and lashed out and were insensitive and cruel and they knew that was wrong, I don’t know if I can accept that. Because when I’ve been in my worst times of pain, I never thought of lashing out at people in a hurtful way. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and hide somewhere dark and silent. But I think this was because I didn’t expect anyone to help me solve my problems, or even hear what I was thinking and feeling. I think this ‘lashing out’ is a bid for attention and seeking attention is something I’ve never really done and have enormous issues with now.

I know there is more complex psychology to people who lash out with insensitivity and cruelty but to me, we’re all endowed with free will. This free will gives us the ability to think and make decisions based on careful thought and not impulsive behavior. And I think most people don’t over-think things like I do, and like most anxious people do. Most of all, I think anxious people compartmentalize thoughts and feelings and keeps those compartments tightly closed. But to me, people who are insensitive and cruel put stuff like kindness and compassion in boxes and closed them up tightly so they don’t have to deal with them. Because to me, kindness and compassion are hard to deal with at times because those things make me want to care more than I think the world will allow me to.

I will also give room to the thought of people misdirecting their anger at others. I know I’ve felt angry at things that I wasn’t really angry about, but because I felt like I couldn’t confront what I needed to, I had to let that out somewhere. But for people who are insensitive and cruel, I think they come to use misdirected anger in order not to deal with what they should be dealing with. This is where my ‘hemorrhoid cream’ bit comes into play.

I think we’ve all had people in our lives who came up to us and told us to drop everything we were doing to deal with their crap right now. That always made me feel like I was doing something wrong in minding my own business and taking care of what I needed to and was responsible for. And it was hard to say no to people who demanded this because they were not good at taking ‘no’ for an answer. Over time, I began to feel like I was being used to try and soothe an angry itch or worse, they had an axe to grind and found my weak-willed back easier to use than dealing with their own shit.

Luckily we have a tool today that many people use and that tool is called ‘establishing boundaries’. This is when people say ‘enough’ and ‘no’ and stand on it despite the artillery barrage they’ll have to endure before that stops. It’s one thing to reach out for help in a kind and honest way, that’s alright. But to demand someone fix you immediately and then get angry when that doesn’t happen… that’s not alright.

I’ve established my boundaries by isolating myself to some extent. I keep my distance because I don’t want to deal with someone being demanding and me having to get tough. No one should have to be tough like that and by God, I do think we all know better now. I used to think I had to try and soothe people who were never going to be satisfied with anything I said or did. I used to think that I had to strive for perfection that isn’t possible. Now I’m just here doing my thing and living my life and wanting one thing above all: wanting to be there for someone in a way that I have never had.

But in the meantime, I will give this piece of advice instead: you are not someone’s hemorrhoid cream. You were not put on this Earth to soothe someone’s mis-directed anger or problems they’re not willing to work on themselves. And most of all, you don’t have to be perfect just because someone can’t accept you’re human and deeply flawed. No one deserves to be treated like ass-cream.

The Rest of the Way, Part Two: Believing In Something Good, Or Just Better

“It gets better.”

I’ve heard this a lot over the years but have had a lot of trouble believing in it. Why?

Well for starters, you can read the previous blog entry in this series for one answer to that single question of why. But there is a second answer that I’ll go into here.

For as long as I can remember, I feel like I heard ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’. I feel like I’ve been discouraged more than encouraged. And I’ve also felt like I’m a world-class asshole-magnet, too. What this did to me was two things:

1) Make me feel like I couldn’t do anything ‘normal’ or I’d fall on my ass.

2) Make me feel like if I found something to do that I liked, that I was wrong in feeling that way.

The first came from ‘well-intentioned’ people. These were people in my life who told me to take it easy, to not get worked up, and just sit down and be quiet. They said they just didn’t want to me to get hurt but here’s the thing: they really weren’t there when I did get hurt, and although I kept so much of that to myself, if they really cared they would have tried to push past my silence.

As I look back on my childhood especially, I’ve wanted to say to the past: “Where in the hell were you when I came home to an empty house after a shitty day at school, a day where I probably literally fell on my ass (I did that a lot in P.E. class because I’m not athletically-coordinated at all)?” I felt like no one wanted to hear how I’d kept my shit together after being humiliated in front of everyone, and how I’d kept my shit together and told no one about the enormous amount of bullying I endured because I didn’t want to be labeled a troublemaker or tattle-tale.

But what I’ve learned over the last few years is when I kept silent about my pain, I also kept silent about my joy and happiness, too. Because when I expressed this it didn’t always go well either. Yes, I had people shit on me for being happy.

And before I go any further here I just want to say this: not everyone in my life was shitty to me. I’m just calling out the shit-heads here, the people who were thoughtless and insensitive to show the damage that was done.

Because of this silence, I began to feel like I didn’t have a right to be happy. This got really bad in my twenties when I became a caregiver to my mother. I felt like I had no right to a life of my own and I later learned that my parents got shit for letting me live at home, work, and pursue my writing. And I knew that shit was being said behind my back so that’s why I fought to keep so much of my personal shit to myself. I felt enormous guilt for doing things for myself that I shouldn’t have. And because of that, it’s taken me so damn many years to see through this and work to fix the damage inside of me.

This is why I am suspicious as hell when things feel like they may be going in the right direction for me. It’s why I begin to think that I’m going to get the shit kicked out of me if start to believe in the good of this world coming to me. But one thing I have let go of is this: the belief that someone will come along and try to kick the good life out from under me. Granted, I’ve had to become a hermit to destroy most of this belief but it’s been worth it.

Things don’t just better by themselves. I am beginning to truly understand that they get better when you believe they will despite previous shit in your life telling you otherwise. I am also beginning to believe that things can get better when you knuckle down and work to make them better, and to take advantage of opportunities that come your way, too.

My goal in life has never been to be defiant, or angry, or confrontational. My life goals have been to do good in this world and help people whenever I can. And feeling good and believing in good is not an act of defiance or confrontation, and I sure as hell don’t need to be angry about it.

So my advice here is this: believe in the good of this world and when it comes to you, make the most of the good that comes your way, and if someone has a problem with that tell them to stick that where the sun doesn’t shine.

The Rest of the Way, Part One: Shifting Out of Crisis-Mode

I like to blame my anxiety on hormones and shit, and hormones and shit do play a factor due to my age (forty-seven). But I’ve begun to realize I was raised to be in crisis-management mode from a very early age and because of that, it’s a default setting in my mind. So the questions I’ve asked myself about this are:

1) Where did this crisis-management mode setting come from?

2) How the hell do I change my way of thinking and feeling to where this isn’t a default setting for me?

The answer to the first question lies in my early childhood being the child of a parent with untreated mental health issues, namely my father. My father boasted for as long as I could remember that he had been diagnosed as manic-depressive, now referred to as bi-polar but had refused all treatment for it. As a child I had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t have the guts to ask what that was. But looking back on my life with him and what I’ve learned about bi-polar behavior since then, I realize my father fit that diagnosis quite well.

Because as a child, I remember feeling like I had to be responsible from a very early age. I had to learn how to take care of myself, and at the same time, anticipate my dad’s moods and the emotional turmoil of living with them. I learned pretty early on how to tune out my parents’ raging arguments and icy détentes that followed. But what took me a very long time to learn was that the foul-tempered and downright ugly side of my father wasn’t how he really was. I’ve had to tell myself time and time again that part of him was fucked-up brain chemistry. But that’s a wound that takes a lot of work to clean and stitch up, and a lot of time for the pain to ease. Because on one hand my father could be the most supportive, loving, and encouraging person who spouted some of the best damn advice I’ve ever gotten. And on the other hand he could rip me to shreds using what he knew about me, and what I had confided in him.

Dealing with this kind of behavior turned me into a crisis-manager without any training or knowledge. It also made me feel like my own life was just a crisis waiting to happen to derail whatever ambitions or dreams I had for myself. Time and again things came up to knock me off whatever path I’d started on. This happened so much that in the last few years when I haven’t had to take care of anyone other than myself, I feel like any knock against me is enough to knock me off the path I want to be on.

That’s not the case and I know I don’t have to let that happen anymore. I’ve got a lot of stuff to sort through because of all the unboxing I’ve done. And I know I can’t let anything get in the way of that. My mind wants to get away from the sorting out and writing so it’s got a handy thing to fall back on, this crisis-management mode way of thinking.

I honestly believe you can change the way you think and feel, and respond to things in life. I’ve proven that to myself as I’ve overcome fears of asking for help when I have needed it, fears of doing something despite thinking that someone would stomp the shit out of me for doing it (more on that in the following pieces here in this series). I’ve learned to diffuse my own anger, pain, and rage by asking myself or the thoughtless and cruel echoes in my head why they think and feel the way they do.

I know over time I won’t think like this as much as I do now. Over time my life will change though I don’t know how and neither does anyone else. Nothing is set in stone because even stone erodes over time due to wind and other environmental factors. But stone doesn’t just erode away into dust. It becomes a part of the landscape in a different way over time. And it’s nothing to be afraid of, and I don’t feel fear as I write these words and think like this.

So my advice here is this: don’t feel like you have to live in perpetual crisis-management mode, and don’t let anyone keep you in that mode all the time either. Flip the damn switch when you have to, and set boundaries and make them clear to all parties concerned. Because perpetual crisis-management mode will fuck you up big-time and it takes a lot of work to repair the worst of the damage. But those repairs can be made and you can do better with your life.

The Rest of the Way – Introduction

I’ve been telling myself this almost every day for the last year: “I’ve made it this far, and so I know I can make it from here. I don’t always know how but I know I will.” It’s kind of a play on a quote from a movie, ‘Clash of the Titans’ with Sam Worthington and yes, I know this movie is a cheese-popcorn fest but there was some good stuff in it. One line in particular: “You’ve brought us this far, let’s go the rest of the way.” – Me, Facebook, May 18, 2017

I wrote this at a time when I felt like my life was starting to skid off the road and down the side of a mountain. I’d just begun working on what would become my ‘Breaking Radio Silence’ project and was growing frustrated by the day that it wasn’t coming together as easily as I thought it would. Also, I was about a year out from quitting my last full-time day job and I was finishing up a contract job that I had learned how to hate and starting to drive for Uber. I just felt like I was driving without any direction in my life and I got scared. Luckily, that line from the movie ‘Clash of the Titans’ came to me and gave me something to hold on to.

But I hadn’t heard that line in my head in a long time. Instead, all I was hearing in my head was alternate plans I was coming up with if this or that fell through. I put myself on an anxiety-loop in my mind and it took me a few days to stop that loop by simply asking what the origins of it were. But I also had a few more thoughts come to my mind and that’s where this blog series came from.

My father had a saying he was fond of: “It’s hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”

My default setting mentally and emotionally seems to want to stay in crisis-anxiety mode and I’m getting tired of that shit. I’m getting tired of every little thing sending me into a tizzy and I’m tired of scrambling to deal with that instead of just doing what I want to do. But how do you shift out of something that’s been with you for so long like this type of thinking has been with me?

It’s telling myself what I need to hear and not what my fight-or-flight response spews out.

Now I know some of these pieces of advice might not be too popular with some readers but I’m not referencing anyone specifically. And I’m not saying I’m perfect either. I’ve spewed shit when I shouldn’t have and have let my temper speak for me. But I’m human and I will fuck up just like everyone else. I think a lot of my anxiety-based thinking is this totally misplaced feeling that I have to strive for perfection in every waking moment of my life.

Every day that I wake up and see daylight as a victory. Or as my father also was fond of saying: “If you wake up on this side of the dirt, you’re doing just fine.” Why is there a mindset among assholes that every day is simply a drudge and that any expression of joy or ambition isn’t good enough? I say fuck that shit. Every day is a gift to borrow a cliché here. It’s a gift you get every day so be grateful for it and try not to fuck it up, or let someone else fuck it up.

I’m a freaking hermit hiding out alongside a freeway and you know what? I’m grateful for that. I honestly don’t think I’m fit to be around people on a regular basis so I’m going to stop whining to myself about that. I need this time to get my shit together once and for all because I’ve started writing my books and need to get my butt in gear on those, plus got other things I want to do and the time to do them in.

But this week I’ll be posting my own advice, and potential merchandise slogans, too. Because talking about my mental and emotional shit-storms isn’t for myself. My words and stories are for other people going through those storms or who have been through those storms and are feeling hollowed out and empty from that And that is something I have really needed to remind myself of, and also remember not to let go of again.