Category Archives: Mental Health

The Awakening

I am in Flores, Guatemala, writing as the birds awaken and most humans are still asleep. I’ve been doing this every morning and feeling quite like the author of Eat, Pray, Love – 2 years too late. (For those of you who have not heard of that book, it’s about a woman who gets divorced and goes on a spiritual journey by traveling to three countries and processing her divorce.)

I realize in this process that I haven’t given myself a chance to breathe. In the last two years, I’ve been running and doing and hiking and falling in love, but in all of that, I haven’t breathed enough. I haven’t let myself take the time to watch the sunrise without thinking about the next thing I’m doing. I haven’t let myself write all the things in my head, too busy with everything else happening around me.

Since I’ve had no computer to work here, I’ve had no other option in my free time but to do what I most need – writing while others in my group wake up, swim in the lake in the mornings, read and take a siesta in the afternoon at the peak of heat in the day, and have long talks about life and things with C as we experience a new place that doesn’t feel very different from any other place in so many ways.

What I mean is that after traveling so much, I realize that all places are so similar, even in their differences. Sure, I saw some Mayan ruins here and woke up to howler monkeys the other morning – a unique experience for me – and yet, the people here are just people and in their own language, still speak mine (in nonverbals at least), the animals here are just animals, and the beauty here is just…beauty. Don’t get me wrong; I know that I am lucky to experience the diverseness and freedom in my life that I have and do. I chose this. But I guess, as I move around, the more I want to stay put. I realize there are some things you just can’t get by running, some things you can only receive and achieve by staying put and making roots. I suppose it takes a lot of time away to fully appreciate the sights and sounds and people you can see every day.

Namaste ❤
N

What is home?

What is home? 

Home is a word and an idea I’ve been trying to nail down for a while. When I left D, I think my idea of home was all wrapped up in him being with me in it. I think *he* felt like home to me – or had for a while.

When I didn’t have him, I had no place (or person) to call mine for a number of years besides my car and then my van – which never felt like home. 

I did have a one month period with an airbnb guest house and I remember the first night taking a shower and being so happy that I had a random naked dance party with myself jumping on the bed. That place felt like home – maybe because it was mine (even temporarily), maybe because it was tucked away in this hidden space no one could find and I felt safe.

We seek that as kids too – a place that we can be alone with ourselves without the burden of others’ expectations of us. I remember walking in on L and T in their home one time. They were both lying on the floor on their backs with their heads underneath a hexagonal table. T was emotional and I asked what was going on. He said “Oh, I’m just remembering how I used to imagine so many worlds under this table. And feeling how safe it felt under here back then – and now I’m letting people share it with me.” We spent hours brainstorming about how we could paint scenes underneath this table now and make it again a space for our thoughts and fantasies. 

I was jealous he had such a place – I never did as a kid. And maybe that is partly why I so crave that now. 

Someone told me on the beginning of my journey that home wasn’t where my home or stuff was – it was a place inside of me where I fully accepted myself and then let people in. It was profound for me and I still think of it a lot. 

Similarly, when I moved into my van without a home base, I wrote A and said “I have no home.” I was terrified. His response was, “You do.” And shared his address with me. I cried when I read that – at the time, we hardly knew each other and had only met in person once thus far.

After a couple years, I believe both are correct – to an extent. I think we do have to have home within ourselves *and* a physical place we know others accept us too (that doesn’t necessarily need to be where you are physically most of the time).
I live in a community house now with A and C and A’s kids half the time. It is a place of love and acceptance, cuddles and support, food and warm hearts. Everyone is welcome. We host cuddle parties and dance house gatherings. We talk a lot. We cry together. We have so many guests and hammocks and a space outside to talk throughout the night. Despite the fact that I’ve been traveling this month with all of the people of the community house, I’ve missed our space together and the dog and…home.

Colorado has also always felt like home too even though it’s only been my residence for a couple of years now. It feels free, secluded, full of adventure and accepting people who give no fucks about society expectations.

I realized that as far as making a home inside of me – that for a time, I needed to close the door fully and completely and stop chasing after others’ validation of me. But maybe…maybe now it is time to open that door again – not to seek validation, but to let people in to see all the work I’ve done inside (the drywalling, the doors, the foundation), to be welcomed into a place where we can work on the decorating together.

I want to make a home for the homeless. And sometimes that homeless person is me.

Trust Issues

I’ve been having trust issues. Actually, I’ve had them all my life. But they are always in flux and lately, it’s been bad. I have many reasons for my distrust, but to me, it seems excessive, especially when it comes to people I love. I mean, yes, I was blindsided by a husband who’d been cheating on me for years (and I only found that extent out in the last couple of months) and he betrayed my trust in big ways by manipulating and abusing me. But…I’ve gone to therapists for this issue many times with no success – and that was before him. And my ability to trust people when they’ve proven they are trustworthy is still extremely low.

Today, a friend posted an animated link to game theory and trust. I will share it here because it’s just so amazing: http://ncase.me/trust/

It shows a couple of big things I hadn’t considered at all, one of which is: It’s totally *rational* to be distrusting in the situations I’ve been in! Not crazy, not horrible, just…totally entirely logical. And – that there are solutions. And…biggest of all…I’m already doing them!

With animation, they show that different strategies “win” more or less over other strategies in the short run and the long run. And that when the game changes, the level of trust also changes. We mostly all play in a zero sum game in this world – I “win” a boyfriend, which means you lose the ability to “have” that same boyfriend. I “win” the lottery, which means you now lose the opportunity to win that money. Etc.

Additionally, they show that with not enough repeat interactions, the strategy of always cheating is actually more in your favor. But over time with enough interactions with a specific person, copying what they are doing wins you more (ex: they cheat once, you should cheat the rest of the time too). HOWEVER, the huge hindrance to this strategy is miscommunication. How about if someone looks like they cheated, but in reality there were other things at play that you didn’t see and didn’t ask about? Then you continue to cheat them when in fact they never cheated you – it was just miscommunication or something else similar.

So the resulting lesson is that when there is a little bit of miscommunication, it pays to be *more forgiving.*

OHBOY. That brought up ALL THE THINGS in me.

I’ve realized recently that a lot of things people have “done” to me that I feel or felt are justified for distrusting may have actually not been deception at all, but felt like deception to me. I was just comparing them to their word – their very true word at the time. And since their word, things had changed which had not even had the opportunity to be communicated at all to me.

In other words, I’ve been assuming all people since D work under D’s premise – of knowing truths that are relevant to me and explicitly omitting or lying about them. Bigger yet, I’ve worked under my own premise of assuming people cannot possibly be telling the truth to themselves or me. And that it would be impossible to gain enough trust with anyone to believe them in the things they say regarding me. Under the premises of that game, no one will win – including me (and especially in the long run per the game).

The solutions per this animation say: ” Build relationships. Find win-wins. Communicate clearly.” Additionally: “In the short run, the game defines the players. But in the long run, it’s us players who define the game.” This latter sentence really hit close to home. I’ve treated the long run as the short run for too long. Since D, I’ve tried to build trust in the short run, assuming the long run will have the same properties. And I’ve created a game that no one can possibly win. Trust won’t be formed because I won’t allow it, because I don’t believe it exists. And in the process, I’m creating a lose-lose situation, especially with my closest people.

Additionally, I’m inspired by the first solutions of building relationships, communicating clearly, and finding win-wins, which I think I have done and continue to do in numerous ways in my life in general. Changing the game is something *I* can do – and so can you.

Food for thought.

There is No Script

The thing I’m realizing most about life these days is: There is no script. None.

We’d all like to think there is. It makes us feel good to think we know what it is. It makes us feel safe to know where we are on “the path” with its clear milestones. We can mark our trajectory and see we are making “progress.”

But then…when something goes awry and we are no longer on a clear place on the “path,” what do we do? We think we did something wrong, that’s we’ve gone backwards or regressed somehow. In the beginning, it’s effing scary and the first inclination is to figure out a last ditch effort to getting back to the path. Then, we realize the path fucked us. Fuck the path! Then, the struggle becomes more real when we realize what it will take to take an entirely different uncharted road. Eventually, we have faith that our way of being is no one else’s and our future is not predictable and that’s okay – even preferable (and freeing).

The most obvious way I did this was after divorcing, but my career has also gone that way. I lost my job – the stable 40-hour-a-week soul-sucking, but wallet-padding job. The stable job my parents always wanted for me. The first inclination was to run to find another full-time job. But then I leaped. I said “Wait a second. Breathe. You’re okay right now. And you have the best opportunity ever to try to actually step off this cliff and figure out a different way. The full-time job thing will always be there if you want it at some point. But please try a different path. It’ll be okay.”

It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. And there were many moments of looking for contract work that I wanted so badly to find a full-time job (I even did apply for a couple)….and then I made a promise to myself that I would see this through. I would step into the door fully and close it behind me and sit in the present and in the fear and ambiguity, not halfway in ready to run out the doorway for the next full-time stability I could find.

I did the very same in relationships. I diversified – feeling unsafe with trusting in one person, putting all my emotional eggs in one basket. I ran from the “path” because the path fucked me royally. And then…I began moving back towards wanting a deeper connection, something more solid and “predictable.” Even now, my current situation is very monogamish-looking from the outside. And many moments, I want to fall back into the illusion of safety, the illusion of the “path”: aka “real” monogamy. I want to put a label on it, define it, tie it with a bow. I want to stop *working* at this thing called a relationship (as though you do in whatever structure relationship you have) and my brain full of fears and insecurities of being replaced, abandoned, alone. I want to expand into the illusionary *knowing* of what this and the future looks like. And then there is this other part of me – the part that desperately wants (for him and I) freedom and love and to expand into *me* and the *present* with everything I’ve got. They are at odds and constantly wage war inside of me.

The war may wage forever. I believe there is something deeply engrained in all of us that wants a set path and also wants to forge our own. We want to know that when we forge our own, there is still a possibility for going back to the safety of what people have given us to believe – even if we no longer believe it. That is what is so interesting observing in me – the very specific lack of belief that there is such a thing as security at all and yet wanting security so very badly. In the today version of Nikki, if my current romantic partner asked me to marry him, I’d have multiple very polar reactions: Well, one would be confusion because both of us have stated never wanting to be married again and technically he’s not even divorced officially yet. Another would be “What the fuck is marriage? Why do we need a legal paper to bind us together?” I would feel stuck…and on the other hand comforted. While also believing the paper means nothing.

In fact, A and I have talked about marriage. Not actually about doing it. But that there was this feeling in both of us that we should be proposing to each other – to show how committed we are. Because we realized we have no language in our society besides a vow and rings and a ceremony to show that we care a fuck-ton about a human being and want to be around them for…as long as is healthy. Not till death do us part. Not as a ball and chain. Not as a promise for forever.

And oddly enough, even writing that puts a lump in my throat. Because there is still a part of me that wants the statement of “forever” even if nothing in me believes there is such a thing. A part of me that wants the manifestation of the script. A part of me that wants to talk about growing old and gray with someone without the other part of me screaming “I call BS!”

How does one reconcile the desire to feel safe in the future with knowing the truth that change is the only constant (and kind of liking that story too)?

Why I Hated Krav Maga and Why I’ll Keep Doing It

I went to my first Krav Maga class today. I’d heard of it over and over again and hadn’t felt any interest. Recently, though, a new friend of mine expressed desire to go and I looked into it. I got a free class and went by myself (she couldn’t make it).

I think if I’d known what was coming, I would not have been able to make myself go. So I’m glad I didn’t know.

You see, ever since leaving D, any type of fighting (whether participating or not, whether play or not) has been super triggering for me. Even just watching people wrestling while they laugh makes me feel like my body is being ripped apart, my heart mushed into a puddle. I want to protect them. I want to scream. I want to curl up in a ball in a corner and cry and not come out until I know it’s “safe.”

D never actually hit me. He did a lot of things not the least which was threaten me multiple times with his raised hand or pin me against things when I did things he didn’t like. So I never really understood why fighting specifically was so negative for me. I think, now, that it was just the idea of violence itself (or potential violence). It got worse after I found out five months after leaving him that he he had taken up shooting at the shooting range and was going to get a gun and conceal carry. I didn’t think he’d specifically come after me, but thought he would threaten people I loved. Mostly, I just saw him as entirely unpredictable and his anger would come out at totally random times and I never knew if it would lead to sulking or a sinister darkness that looked very much homicidal from my perspective.

Throughout this post, I’m going to be flipping between past and present frequently. I will denote the change with the dashes below so it is not as confusing. This is what PTSD looks like. This is what abuse feels like after it’s happened. It doesn’t go away. It lingers, it mutates, it affects everything…

Coming back to the present. When I walked into Krav Maga, the first warm-up exercise we did was trying to hit each other’s shoulder and also trying to block being hit. I’d been part of this kind of exercise before and knew that it triggered me in big ways. Even in it’s semi-playfulness and people bantering, I wanted to run out the door and never come back. I even asked one of the students (who I also found out was a teacher), S, if this was mainly all we did. She laughed and said “No, we’re just warming up.” I sighed with relief.

Oh, but it got worse. We then began actually punching each other (with pads). S mentioned this is not the “feminine flower” class after I apologized for nearly hitting her face. It was surprisingly comforting to not have to live by societal norms of a female. As we continued with the attacking/punching exercise with pads, S told me “Imagine someone just grabbed your butt. It’s not their butt. It’s yours. Tell them it’s fucking yours.”

Immediately, I sank into the anger I felt unleashed after I left D. I remembered searching up and down for a gym with a punching bag. All I wanted to do was punch the living shit out of a D replica.

I was reminded of the times I told him I didn’t want him smacking my ass in public and his response was always “But it’s my ass. I can do with it what I want.”

“That’s fucking right, that is my butt. It is NOT YOURS, you fucker!” I wanted to scream. The pad was suddenly D’s throat as I punched my elbow into it. S seemed to notice the change with a slight smile and was more off balance each time I pounded on the pad in front of her chest.

And then we got to the fake guns. Seriously. S pushed a fake gun into my spine and we were taught how to redirect it’s fire, break some fingers, and remove it from the person (and ya know, hit them with it a few times) until we had control of the gun and the situation.

As I pressed the fake gun into S’s back, I asked her what got her started in this. She got quiet and said she had an abusive ex husband among other things in her life that made her want to do something to defend herself. She said all this while in the middle of an elbow to my throat and removing a gun from my hand. She became a teacher of krav maga. I admitted I also had an abusive ex husband – though not physically abusive as much as physically threatening and emotionally abusive. She nodded. “You can bring someone to court with evidence of physical abuse, but it’s hard to prove PTSD. Emotional scars are just as damaging with less understanding or support.”

I wanted to hug her. But unlike the professional cuddler in front of her, she pointed out during our “attacks” that I shouldn’t “hug” her; I need to want to kill her (or the imaginary attacker).

By the end, my legs and arms were jell-o and my heart was entirely unsettled…and yet…I saw a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Every time something is especially hard for me, I know it’s something to look into and examine. And this gets right at the part of me that believes I am not capable – specifically not capable of defending myself against someone stronger or bigger or angrier than me (aka pretty much everyone).

I’m going to keep trying and facing my demons head on just like I did with climbing. Plus…I made a friend who “gets it.” Even if nothing else, totally worth it.

 

What are you doing to face your demons? What is your limitation from facing them? What motivates you to keep at it?

 

Online Intimacy Discussion

To all of you who read this blog religiously, I want to invite you to an online discussion about intimacy, communication, and consent.

I’ve noticed that seeking intimacy is one of the largest sources of shame in humans and I’d like to help change that – even in a small way. I think the main way we can change is by discussing it together openly, honestly, and without judgment.

Please join me for this talk at 7PM MT on June 6, 2017 here ($5-15 suggested donation):

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/communication-consent-and-intimacy-talk-tickets-34995263776

Hope to see you there!

❤ N

Grounding

I mention the word “grounding” in my last post in regards to how I felt D grounded me, but I’ve found that word means to others something different than it does or did mean to me.

To me in the past at least, grounding referenced stability or something that produced extremely consistent results. I was told by so many people in my life that I was the imagination/the dreamer in D and my relationship and he was the “grounding.” People meant positive things by that. They seemed to think that if I did not have him there, I would just get so lost in imagining that I would float right off into space – into my fantasies – and never come back. I even remember having a conversation with my former teacher / continued friend about this – that he and I were dreamers and our spouses were the people who kept us level-headed and not running off and doing “crazy” things.

I realize now that D did ground me – in this illusion that there is such a thing as security. I was like a bird, ready to fly away to awesome places, and he was the string weighed down with the rock around my torso. As soon as he wasn’t there, I did float away, never to come back down to earth. And I’ve found a lot of amazing people up here in space or whatever you want to call it. I also found that having another dreamer/floater by my side is not so scary and unknown like people made it out to be – it’s actually hella fucking amazing and I would no longer have it any other way.

As a side note: Crazy things like living out of a van, being polyamorous, building a community house, and getting paid for cuddling become not so crazy over time; in fact, they feel a little normal. This doesn’t mean my therapist thinks I’m at all sane, mind you. (The other day, I told her that I got paid for cuddling and 15 minutes later, she apologized and said she was still processing this new information about me and had not paid attention to anything I’d said since.)


Now, there are other definitions of grounding too, of course. My therapist brought up another one the other day. She said when I am triggered with strong emotions and begin shutting down, that I need a way to ground me in the present. She put some smooth rocks in my hands and told me to talk about the differences I notice in them. I said a few and then continued playing with them in my hand for the remainder of the session. She said they were immediate reminders to come back to my body, to the present instead of getting lost in past memories.

I was reminded of a former partner’s way of bringing me back from dwelling in trauma during a sexual activity. He said “Where are you right now? Not where are you in your mind…Where is ‘here?'” As my therapist pointed out, he was forcing me to keep one “foot” in the present while the other was mired in the past. She said if I keep at least one part of my brain in the here and now, other tools are accessible to me to move out of the past or learn from it but if both “feet” are in the past, the tools to get back into the present and here and now are impossible to retrieve.

Learning about this felt like hope. She pointed out that all of my more recent tools I’ve been using to “ground” me are nothing I can do in the very moment things are happening and are usually ways of escaping the present even if they do bring me more into my body (aka hot baths, pain, hiking, yoga, meditating). How can I ever hope to confront the strong emotions I encounter if I’m too busy running away from them?


I am a little too sensitive about all of these suggestions being tools given to people with PTSD. I guess there is something about my situation that feels less serious than can be categorized with a PTSD label. It makes me uncomfortable. It reminds me of this therapist I had in high school who was convinced I had some childhood sexual abuse that I couldn’t remember. She thought I should do EMDR, but couldn’t recommend it without “real trauma” to work with. (Horrible therapist.)

And so, I guess I’ve struggled with feeling that all of this “grounding” stuff is all really entirely hogwash. Or at least isn’t applicable to me.

This was further reinforced by having tea with a friend who is “Buddhist-leaning,” as she says. When I talked about this idea of “grounding,” she said: “The ground you speak of in metaphors is not real! We’re all floating in constant limbo in the present and until we see that, we won’t be happy.” I said “But how about being grounded in the present? Do you think that could be a thing?” She paused and said “Well…I don’t know. Maybe. But the present is really all we have anyway. You either recognize it or you don’t.”

I wonder about wandering the world with rocks in my pockets (the tiny ones we as females get in our clothes), attempting to remind myself that the present is all we have *and* it’s also all an illusion – much like the shoeboxes or maybe even the rocks themselves. Some moments, it seems like a bunch of ridiculous therapist hogwash and other days, I go searching for the rocks I’ll keep at my fingertips as reminders. Maybe I’ll even add in a rubber band on my wrist for good measure.

Grounded or not, I’d prefer to spend my time with the dreamers in the here and now – no strings (or rocks) attached.