Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On dealing with emotions

I want to take a moment to talk about emotions in the abstract. It's a thing for me.

People like to compartmentalize emotions.
like this
And it's kind of detrimental to the experience of being human, because sooner or later that whole shame thing pops up and you think, "I shouldn't be feeling this way, I should be feeling the emotions from the good box." The use of the should-word compounds what you're feeling already, and then you start to feel worse, then you feel more shame, and on and on and on, until you write a chart-topping album*.

Of course, shame is just another emotion, and most people would put it into the Bad Emotion Box, but there are some people who would put it into the Good Emotion Box**, but the fact of the matter is it's just another emotion and not an actual coping strategy.

So here's my strategy and it works for all emotions "good" and "bad". 


Step 1: Acknowledge the feeling is real and valid. If you can't do it yourself, talk to someone who will tell you that it's okay to feel that way. Do not accept shame, blame, or shift the subject to something else. You has a feels. You must feel your feels in order to move on to the next level in the feelings game. If you do not acknowledge your feelings you will remain stunted forever, and experience the same thing I do trying to get past the first level of Mario.
Helpful verbiage: "I am human, this is a human emotion. It is perfectly normal and natural for me to feel this way."

It can stop there if you're satisfied with feeling this emotion. If you're not satisfied with this, proceed to

Step 2: Ask yourself why you feel that way. Underneath every emotion (even the good ones) there is pain. It's a fact of life. If you've gotten to this step, chances are you're not comfortable with your emotion and are an evolved human being who wants to know where it came from. Every emotional squick is rooted in pain and the only way to deal with it is to find out what that painful experience is, because the fear related to the discomfort you're experiencing is of returning to that painful thing. If you can't process this part by yourself, please talk to a therapist and not the person who has triggered these emotions. This is especially the case for negative emotions in relationships (like jealousy), you run the risk of making things a helluva lot worse.
Helpful verbiage: "What am I feeling? What does it feel like?" (Metaphors are good here.) "What pain is underneath this feeling?" "How can I prevent this feeling from damaging me?" "What do I want that will help to mitigate the damage done by this feeling?"

Step 3: If you are dealing with an emotion brought up because of conflict in an interpersonal relationship, this might be a good time to talk to your partner about your feels. Avoid using shaming language ("should" and "need"), because as much as you don't want to shame yourself, you don't want to shame your partner. This will cause more conflict, and this is the kind of damage you can't undo in a relationship. If you don't have it all worked out yet, say so. You're not perfect, your partner isn't perfect, and I firmly believe that expecting perfection is a symptom of a mental illness***.
Helpful verbiage: "I feel...", "I want...", "My expectation was... and instead ... happened, and it makes me feel...", "These are my feelings, they aren't your fault, I just want the opportunity to discuss with you what I've learned while exploring them."; "I am afraid of..."

Step 4: If you are feeling bold, ask your partner if the thing you're afraid is happening is actually happening. You'll be astonished how much trust can be built with a conversation that goes thusly:

Empress: "Are you going to sleep with that person while you're visiting them on the other side of the country?"
Ten: "No."
Empress: "Oh, okay, I feel better now."

By directly addressing the thing I was afraid of (and the hurt that caused me to be afraid that I would be cheated on), I gave jealousy the slip, built trust with my partner, and avoided a huge fight that would have been precipitated by pretending that I wasn't having these feelings. Since then, so much trust has been built (along with other things), that I no longer worry what Ten will do on his travels around the world*'.

Step 5: If you don't feel better yet, seek comfort. Cuddles, ice cream, cheese, (and I can think of at least two other things that start with C that make a person feel better), are all good outlets for being overwhelmed by allowing yourself to feel your feelings. It's okay to escape for a little while, in fact, it's perfectly normal. Sometimes you're just overwhelmed and you have to have some cookies (still a couple other c-words...), and start back at the beginning of How to Deal with Your Shit. 

So, the thing is, this process never ends. You're always feeling things, and a healthy, wholehearted person will always give themselves the opportunity to feel, even if what they feel is numb or overwhelmed or whatever you call that feeling you get when you're tired of being sad and want to just be happy but can't because of ALLTHETHINGS. 

I'm not going to tell you this is a cure-all, because it's a cure-nothing. All this strategy is is a method of accepting and talking about feelings. Emotions don't just go away, and some people need more help to process their emotions; others still are not actually in control of their emotions and require medication in order to function. There's no shame in any of that. If this method doesn't help you to deal, that's okay, try something else. Just keep trying and keep feeling. It's all okay.
*That was a NIN joke.
**And those people deserve what they get.
***Not being glib or ablist. I'm fucking serious.
*'Well, now I root for him to get some, but that's because we're in a way different part of our relationship that we were when this happened.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"It's okay" or at least it will be

When I was younger I used to get so angry when someone would tell me that things either were or would be okay. "Everything will be alright." "It's okay." I would rage, and if someone asked me if I was okay when I was upset about something I defiantly say no.
Now I know better. I've been through so much and I have never not been okay. Eventually. I may be extremely emotional, but I am also human (allegedly) and that means being highly adaptable. That means being able to travel through hell, as the most powerful goddesses and mothers have done before me, and emerge on the other side scathed but no worse for wear.
I want to cry all of the time. My world has been turned upside down, and even though a lot of the pain and loss I had already experienced prepared me for losing my dad; even though nothing is the same or ever will be again, I believe the people I love who have told me that the pain doesn't go away, but you get used to it being there. I learned this when Josh died. The pain from the tattoo I got to memorialize him went away, the tattoo itself healed, but the pain of losing him is still there and I can tap into it any time I want to. I have a feeling this will remain true as I put my life back together without my dad in it.
Life isn't like the movies, though, and pain staying in place isn't a bad thing. Your life grows around it. That's how we keep moving after losing someone important: the pain stays the same size, but we keep growing. So it is going to be okay, because I've already been able to grow since my dad died.
I'm not okay right now, but I accept that and acknowledge that it's completely normal for me not to be. I miss him. That's normal too. I feel betrayed by a system that's supposed to make people better. Also normal. I feel fooled by the optimism I had that we were going to be able to "beat" cancer. I'm not fighting with these feelings, I don't even battle with the regret that I have about not being a better daughter. I learned a long time ago that fighting just makes it worse, because it is emotional violence perpetrated upon me by my own pride.
My dad wanted us to be regal, not prideful. He wanted us to stand tall, serve with humility, and be able to forgive ourselves for fucking up. There's a line in a Macklemore song "if I can be an example for getting sober, then I can be an example for starting over". It struck a chord with me and helped me understand my dad better. He got better. He started over and made a better life. And even though he's not alive anymore, he won the last battle and died with dignity, surrounded by people who loved him. And it was okay.
So, it will be okay for those of us who are left remembering him. 


who's photobombing whom?
This will come as a surprise to probably no one: I am a very emotionally needy person. That's part of why I'm really happy to have a dog (see image at right), because he is the only person I know who is not only willing to but enthusiastic about spending every moment of every day with me. (And frankly, he's the only person in the world I never get bored of.)
In the last few weeks, he has remained my most frequent companion, and just about the only person with whom I share all of my feelings. I want desperately to be able to be that open with the human people in my life, but I just can't. I think "oh, I want some company, I want some hugs" and I would take them if they were offered, but the fact of the matter is when I'm around other people right now I'm either desperate to get away from them or spending so much energy trying to hide how I really feel that I lose the ability to really pay attention to them.
This has been more true with random casual encounters with friends than with the few intimate experiences I've had since I've been grieving (I'm certainly not planning my escape route while I'm curled up with somebody). When I see my friends they want to hug and console me, but I don't make eye contact, and am unusually hedgy when answering questions*. My body language is pulled in, and even when it's not there's still sorrow in my eyes and my face is flat.
But my dog, coincidentally named the same as my father but with different spelling, remains steadfast. Sleeps next to me. Watches internet with me. Follows me around the house, and demands to go with when I leave it. Sometimes he gets his way too. He is, by the way, in perfect health (except for that eyeball thing and the skintags hanging off his butt... oh, and going to my dad's house gave him fleas but we took care of that), at the ripe old age of 13.
It's not the same as chats, or texts, or visits with hugs and giggles (sometimes more), but I don't feel the need to hide my feelings from my dog. I don't feel like he's going to give me flack for needing him to be right next to me, because he needs to be right next to me. He doesn't understand human social convention (thankfully), and doesn't know to consider my vulnerability a bad thing. It's not possible for him to reject me. We're packmates. That's FOR LIFE. So, I'm safe here next to him, even when I'm scared of everyone else. And yes, I have human packmates who wouldn't reject me, either, but the place I'm in right now has a lot of insecurity built into it and the more I feel things, the stronger my insecurities are. It's a thing.
*For the record: how I'm doing is shitty. How I'm holding up is barely. And if I could think of anything that I needed from you I would ask, but I can't so if you want to help be creative and think of something so that I don't have to.

Monday, May 20, 2013

I hate this...

Today was difficult. It was the second trip down to pack and move Dad's stuff, but at least this time I wasn't alone. My sibs and their mom were there and had done a lot of work by the time I got there with Ten and my mom. Cars were packed, items were sorted into piles of what would be donated, thrown away, and stored at my sibs' place while we made our way through it in our own time.
We gave my mom Dad's vinyl. When they were together vinyl was still a thing, after all, so she had more memories wrapped up in them than any of the rest of us, although I'm sure my brother had listened to some of it with Dad. The other reason I wanted her to have it was that her vinyl was destroyed a few years ago in a leaky storage space.
All told we were there about 90 minutes, and afterward had Thai food. It was a difficult day, but I kept it together until Ten and I were almost all the way home. One of the items I decided to keep was a turkey pan, and thinking about this reminded me that I wouldn't be seeing my dad at Thanksgiving this year. It made me grateful that my mom started inviting him to Thanksgiving dinner with our side of the family while I was still in college. It made me uncomfortable at first, but I think that time together helped Dad patch things back together with me.
Last Thanksgiving was weird. We didn't have a family dinner really. I made a couple of over-saged turkey thighs (which were still raved about even though I didn't like them), gluten- and dairy-free gravy, mashed potatoes, and gluten-free cornbread stuffing. None of it was as good as previous years, but I saved some for my dad anyway (who was only down 50-ish pounds by that point), and he loved it. My mom reminds me that my dad was an easy man to cook for.
Thanksgiving is that holiday in my family. That holiday that's really important to the matriarchs, and as my family is becoming not only larger, but fractured, I can see why. Still, the fractures in my family are too clear. Ten is unwilling to have his family spend time with mine; my siblings and their mother aren't interested in family holidays with my mom; meanwhile none of these disparate elements take seriously the familial bonds between me and Dame and her family (funnily, my son-in-law's family takes my relationship with Dame more seriously than my own family does, even though they've known my weird propensity for acquiring family members much longer).
So, despite having a turkey pan now, I don't think I'll ever be allowed to have all of my family over for Thanksgiving at the same time; even once. And it makes me sad, because now my daddy won't even be there and he's the one who would appreciate it the most.

Friday, May 17, 2013

An update on how I'm doing...

The last few weeks have been understandably difficult.
I guess difficult is an understatement. My life has been completely turned upside down. I'm no longer trying to eat normally, because there's really no chance of that happening. I have been very gentle with myself around eating though, acknowledging that my emotions are ...complicated. What I have done with the whole eating thing is that I've decided I will only eat things I want to eat, when I want to eat them. That's sort of what I was doing before, except I was trying to have regular meals of things I wanted to eat.
I've gone back into the habit of only eating a few different kinds of food. Cheese and gluten-free bread in various incarnations. I've taken to counting the different kinds of food I've eaten in a day. Since I began grieving, the highest number has been 7. I've been eating out a lot too. I know more than a few people who would criticize me for that, but at least some of them are happier that I'm eating at all.
Sadness comes and goes. Different emotions crop up along with memories. Riding my scooter for the first time. Learning how to ride a bike. The day my mom and I came home to find a present from my dad on the doorstep (this was right after they had broken up); it was Play Doh. And then I become overwhelmed with emotion because I try to imagine just how much he loved me, and how much it hurt him for us to not be together all those years.
When it finally hit me, that this time saying goodbye was for real and I would never see him in this world again; I felt like I would never stop crying. There was an amount of shame associated with losing my shit like that, and I tried to hide in the living room, rather than crying in bed with Ten next to me. I know he wanted to comfort me, but I have been conditioned over the years that there is a time and a place to have an emotional breakdown: alone, in the car, listening to Yes. I'm sure it's not healthy to stuff my emotions like that (or at least that's what I tell other people when they stuff their emotions), but the role I have taken on in my family has me convinced that being stoic will help my siblings to be strong.
I'm sure that's bullshit. Vulnerability is what strengthens families, not shielding your emotions in order to avoid the appearance of weakness. But it's hard to allow myself to be vulnerable. Even with my partners and friends (unless I've been drinking), whom I'm normally able to share those feelings with. I will sidle up to Ten and use meek body language to ask for a hug; or curl up in Capt Jack's lap; I've asked both of them for comfort too, which is kind of a big deal for me.
My dad, wherever he is, wants me to stand tall in my grief, not be too proud to cry. Grace doesn't look like what you think it does, and stoicism is manufactured and disingenuous. Despite knowing this, and that my body is manifesting my grief through physical pain, I can't handle being seen in my grief.
All of this is part of the process though. My feelings are normal and okay, and I will improve. I still have happiness and joy, and I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other one, leading my family to a safe place. My chosen family have been invaluable in this process, and I love them all. What I have learned in the last 8 months has helped me too, and I'm no longer interested in any kind of destination with the internal work I've been doing. Just the journey. Just the moment. Even the moments that hurt.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Hiding in my blanketfort

this is how I'm doing...
I've been working on something for a few days, but it's been really hard to put it all into words. I wonder if I'm still just numb from it, not allowing myself to properly grieve, while I'm seeing other people who knew it lose their shit over this.

My siblings seem to be in a similar space, though, so I guess that's okay. We haven't really talked about it, just the three of us, but they seem to be in the same headspace that I am over dad's death. Maybe it's because we watched it happen. Maybe it's because between the three of us, someone was there everyday he was in the hospital, and one of us was there the entire three days he was in hospice.

Maybe it's because all of the hurt was taken up by watching him die. God that was terrible. He was in bad shape when I left on Wednesday night, but he got much worse, and didn't even live a full 24 hours after I last saw him. I want to say that his being dead is traumatic for me, but the reality is the dying process was the traumatic part.

Months of chemo.
Continuing to lose weight when all he did was eat.
The cancer spreading in spite of all efforts.

It ate him. Cancer swallowed him up and took him away, and I know I'm not totally numb to it because I'm angry. Why didn't his GP go "hey this is weird" when he lost 70 lbs seemingly over night? Why didn't the stupid surgeon just operate when he said "I can take it out right now if you want", instead of going with the plan which only ended up slowly poisoning him to death? Why didn't any of his doctors listen when he started complaining about abdominal swelling? Why couldn't they do more to help him?

Why wasn't I there more? Why didn't I try harder to make sure all the paperwork was taken care of ahead of time? Why didn't we go camping as a family last summer? 

None of these questions can be answered now. There is nothing I can do or say to bring him back, and even if we could, he would still be sick. Maybe I'm not grieving as hard as other people because I came to terms with it while it was happening. Yes it was fast, but I did everything I could and everything he could have asked me to do. I was there. And so were my sibs. We watched it happen, and now that he's not dying anymore, maybe there's comfort in that. I don't know.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dear Daddy,
I know you loved me and were proud of me, and I feel very at peace with your death because I know that you are at peace. I know that you get to spend time with your mom and dad and sister; all the people whom you loved who have died, not to mention hanging out with your favorite Beatles. And of course, your faith had you welcomed into the light and love of your savior, a Being who changed your life (and ours), for the better.
I'm relieved that your physical form let you go, and that g-d pulled you into the next realm. Your suffering was too much for any of us to bear and watching it separate you from your physical form was harder than anything I've ever been through. The end of your suffering gave me peace.
But I am sad. Sad that we don't get to make more memories. Sad that you won't make it to Erin's graduation. Sad you won't see any of us get married, or see my siblings become parents if and when they choose to.
Most of all though, I am sad for all of the people whose lives you don't get to touch. In the last decade, you made so many people's lives better. You set an example for people in your community by living the teachings of Jesus. You set an example for your children by working hard, but always making time for family and not taking anything too seriously.
Everyone who knew you was proud to have been in your life. I'm sad now because no more people get to see that firsthand. But I will honor your memory by working hard, keeping my family close, apologizing and making things right when I am wrong, and being graceful with people who disagree with me. And I will always live my faith, not get lost in trying to be right all of the time.
I know that you loved me and were proud of me. In the end, that's all I ever needed from you, and I'm really glad we both grew up and figured that out.
I promise we'll take care of each other. And I won't let Ian sell Erin to a rich businessman in SE Asia.
Don't talk to me
Don't tell me it's the same god
Acting like you know what's up
Calling me an artist
An intellectual
Like it's a bad thing
Trying to dismiss my experience of the universe because it isn't "congruent"
With your Borg philosophy
Where everyone has to be the same
Act the same
Believe the same
When you and I both know better

Don't tell me it's the same god
Your god created hell
My god said do unto others
My god said be good to each other
Take care of the sick
Study the book and learn from it

Calling me an artist
An intellectual
Like it's a bad thing

Who do you think you are?
Go on, pray for me
Do it
But you'll never pray me out of hell
I've already been there

Have you?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Goodbye Daddy...

Kachees Campout 2011
Today at 4:18, my dad's labored breathing ended. His heart stopped, and he got to go Home.
I know many people were praying for him, for our family, and I am very grateful to all of you, even those I have never met who said prayers, sent thoughts, or lit candles. I am even more grateful to my closest friends non-involved family who did everything they could to make sure that I was taking care of myself while doing everything I could to make sure he was taken care of the last couple of days.
This post is not a eulogy, it is a note of gratitude. It doesn't matter who in my family you know, I am grateful to you for sending positive energy. Most of all I am grateful we, as a family, were able to honor his wishes so he could die the way that was most holy for him.