Exceptional

I have been quieter than usual the last few days. A lot going on in my mind, and more challenge than usual to gather and capture all my thoughts and emotions to put them in order to write. This post, I’m not sure there is order in my chaos, a sure sign of a me trying to capture a lot of big concepts and events and synthesize them down into something that makes sense for all of you. Of late I have been dwelling in the land of sexual abuse, likely triggered and fed by the latest Hollywood scandal. I feel lighter now that I’ve sorted through and downloaded my thoughts. But I always feel obligated to put this type of disclaimer that this is not a typical light-and-fluffy sort of post. 

Are you exceptional at anything? Playing jacks? Skipping rope? World peace? The idea is dominating my thoughts the last couple of days, so much so it’s been hard to sit down and focus on writing out the why of it all much less a training recap.

I had an appointment with TM on Monday as we are winding down this year’s tune-up. Losing friend J extended the process, because while I look and act okay, the cracks are still pretty fragile just beneath the surface. But it wasn’t grief that has my mind in slow-mo idea crunching; it is the idea of exceptionalism.

Vast majority of my life thus far, I have chased and relentlessly pursued average. My childhood traumas made me feel extraordinarily separate and alone, so I craved to be just like everyone else. Safe. Sane. Unmolested.

Yet my whole life, I have had it pounded into me that I am not like anyone else. Those pushing that idea of my not being like everyone else has not had a good or positive connotation. If I blend with a crowd it is because I choose to comport myself into some facade of normal and keep my thoughts to myself. I rarely ever belong, even now as a middle age adult, and through the days and years of my life I have learned to accept it and build a good life and niche. I have no complaints; I only see pathways to enhancement and improvement. Acceptance of my lot does not mitigate my curiosity and interest in the world around me. I cannot change what happened to child me – I learned that a long time ago – but I also learned to survive and thrive in spite of it. How often does that happen? In my experience, not often enough. I have watched the self-destruction of too many other peers in my childhood sexual abuse experience history and efforts to heal and overcome to think my successful transition into middle aged adulthood is a typical occurrence and outcome.

But I am wildly uncomfortable with the thought of exceptionalism, even good, positive, complimentary exceptionalism. To hear TM say that to me – TM who has never lied to me in all these years – felt like a death sentence. Or a lifetime of future discomfort sentence.

My discomfort lies primarily with deeply rooted fear and anxiety. To be different, exceptional, makes me a target. I’m the outlier gazelle in the sights of the predators. Difference is I am a grown-up now. I have a voice. I understand right and wrong, and I am far from powerless. Every time I think of my childhood, I have to pep-talk myself off the ledge of old, crippling fear.

Some scars still ache.

The full context of how this came about: I asked TM if he had insight to why I am successful this time with my diet and exercise consistency when I have tried and failed in times prior. His response was that I am someone who is never going to be satisfied with the simple answers to the complicated problems. I am always seeking to know more and to understand why. It’s true I enjoy knowing how things work. I am a knowledge junkie, a collector of information. In our years of working together, it all comes down to understanding why. Why this happened to me. Why did he choose me. Why didn’t I do more to make it stop. Why, why, why. There are no answers that satisfy me or that could ever quell the raging anger I have learned to restrain and contain and keep in context. But the search continues and seems unlikely to end until my final breath.

I have had to learn to live with that as well.

For a long time I imagined my latent desire to understand the essential why of evil doings to be the central strength and failing in my whole life. It’s made me try harder to be a decent human being; my fear turning into a kind of evil spawn colors most significant decisions of my life to date.

But TM points out that my need to know and understand things was part of what kept me from giving in to the despair that brought others to their knees. Or worse. It is not enough to be smarter than the average bear; it takes a lot more courage (I hate that term) and determination to survive without crutches (drugs, alcohol, poor moral choices, poor life choices, etc.). My personality type also contributes to my success in this endeavor.

For a knowledge junky seeking to understand just about everything that comes into my orbit, I am rather blindly ignorant in my own self-awareness. Frequently I think it is a handicap that comes from the old injury, and self-protection is reasonable. Looking too closely at how I think, who I am as a person requires critical self-examination of all aspects of my life. I’m incapable of that, or I am on my own. Hence the therapy and annual tune-ups.

TM and I had previously discussed my Myers-Briggs and the consistent INTJ results. I have been dismissive of that, feeling the confidence and other favorable traits were so not applicable to insecure and mundane me. TM disagrees and used the example of compliments. He can tell me how much trimmer and fitter I look (as he did on Monday when I showed up in his office wearing gym capris and t-shirt). Because I do not think that about myself to the point that someone I admire and respect as enormously as TM would take notice, I dismiss his comment and opinion as him being nice. Except TM does not say anything he does not mean; in his line of work, he is very deliberate in word choice, tone, and delivery of every utterance. What he thinks may fail to impact me in the moment (because I disagree with his comment) despite my genuine admiration and respect, our conversations linger long after we part from our meetings. I do have my own strong feelings and opinions on many subjects even if they are not fully expressed. In this case and others like it, I offer gracious thanks for kind and flattering words – I have learned at least that much – and either change the subject or blabber incoherently about nothing. Point is, he can tell I am discounting his words, because they conflict with my own ideas. This is me reinforcing my confidence in my more correct point of view.

Put that way, I feel both happy at my confidence (in my own lack of confidence) and horrified that I might come across as so blatantly contrary. But people who like me still like me, so there’s some comfort that at least I’m not obnoxious about it.

The whole 20 minute discussion at the end of our meeting was like turning on my thought grinder the last couple of days. I have been busy and productive in other aspects of my life, but part of it has been fueled by my X-ray examination of this from every single angle and processing what it all means or could potentially mean. Part of me feared I have learned nothing in the many years of off-and-on therapy I have been through with TM (and others), but that knee-jerk was quickly dismissed as negative girl shenanigans trying to hijack.

Truth is I’m mostly glad we can still have a conversation that alarms and elates me. There is so much more still left to know about myself, and I have not become stagnant and boring and hanging around awaiting a slow mental and emotional decline. Developing any sort of self-awareness – I guess it’s not instant pudding either, where you add milk, stir, refrigerate 30 minutes, and voila! Dessert. Like most complexities in life it takes time and patience (hate that term, too) in order to develop any sort of understanding and mastery.

I do like the puzzles life presents to me to solve. Even those outside my sphere of experience or ability to solve, I like that they exist and someone else will work at them and create intriguing solutions.

I learn from my experiences and missteps. In all facets of my life.

This morning I was doing 1-legged Romanian deadlifts with a cable weight machine, and I cannot even describe how tediously difficult I still find them. But I am better with them now than I was 6 months ago, and hopefully 6 months from now I will be a step up from where I dwell right now. Going through them, trying, Trying, TRYING to not weeble-wobble sideways, I understand the mechanics better now. I know what “slow and controlled” means in relation to this movement, and now I really know how slow and controlled is supposed to look and to feel. Knowing does not mean body is capable of doing it. Understanding the way it is supposed to work does not mean mind ceases sending out doubt impulses that impair concentration, though. Despite all the other ways I may do this balancing act, the cable changes it just enough to make challenging in a different way.

When I had few other ways of doing 1-legged RDLs, it seemed so much harder. But now I have dumbbells, TRX, and landmine – possibly others that I have forgotten. All look and feel just a little different. With that kind of comparison and contrast, the cable version is not so bad. Or rather, my effort with them is not so bad. In fact, my effort with them is very good and my ability is improving. Because of my interest in how my body works. And my faith and trust that I will improve. So many times I doubt myself and my capability to learn.

This is what enormous progress from 2+ years of consistent effort and study looks like for me.

My trainer is fabulous and very good at his job. He’s also scary smart, which was the outstanding quality and key takeaway from our very first meeting. While still fully in the thrall of my own brand of gym crazy, I recognized and respected his intelligence and compassion. Yeah, it took a few months for me to gain traction on what that meant to and for me, but I got there.

I rarely feel especially smart. I feel curious; I feel interested. I feel capable of learning, yet not especially bright. Because of that, smart people are almost addictive. I love that they know things, are bright in ways I lack, and are able to share their knowledge and capture my interest in different things as I try to develop understanding and make it all make sense. The puzzles they solve so effortlessly and present are good mood food for me, because there is a particular brand of energy that tends to draw me in and get my thinking pumping. Unless they are assholes. If they’re assholes, no amount of scary smart is worth my time.

With my better health quest, I’ve made huge strides in reshaping my shape and improving the quality of my overall health. TM made me recognize and understand that it’s my making the better choices for help and guidance that have kept me focused and allowed me to develop the mindset to keep going long after my typical (up until now) expiration date with exercise and healthy eating. My personality demands certain qualities in my coaching, and if I try to deny that particular quirk I will end up unhappy with my poor results.

TM reminds me of this every time we meet. Not saying it in words, but by his example in working with me to guide my thinking and teach me new tools to manage my life during the other 166 or 167 hours per week I’m not sitting in his office. Every year we moving into the next chunk of undiscovered country of all-about-me.

Thing with therapy – something often complained about by others – the all-about-me discoveries may never end. Some years I feel very self-indulgent in our tune-up sessions. Others, I have real stressors or issues I want to address head-on and resolve for a better, less nut-ball crazy life. This year, I wondered if there were perhaps there are other qualities of my personality now demanding recognition and attention? Although deeply sad and grieving the death of friend J, I am not in crisis. I am not endangering myself, my marriage, any of my closest relationships, or my livelihood. If anything, I am shedding other deadwood and unhealthy relationships that impact my ability to pursue what is most important and/or modifying my impulses and capabilities that might impede personal growth.

Learning new skills, acquiring new tools to live a better, more interesting and fulfilling life – all good. But the struggle is real. And no matter how much or how frequently I may feel myself completely ridiculous in how difficult it seems, the struggle is still real and tough for me to process and reconcile past, present, imagined future. Sometimes.

It truly is the “sometimes” in this equation that grows smaller every year.

I cannot deny or change the broken pieces, emotional shrapnel, big ugly scars from terrible injuries sustained as a kid inside my heart and my head. Look at any of the scars on my body and I feel confident I could tell you when, where, and how I acquired them. The ones on the inside – I am mostly incapable of speaking about them in detail to anyone. So many years of silence and withdrawal have made those events harden like granite in their mind vault compartments. But therapy has provided me tools and workarounds that let me move about freely through my life in spite of the mental and emotional limp-inducing load I carry.

Healing could be a misunderstood term. It’s not that I stop caring about or feeling the pain from past hurts; I seriously doubt I or anyone else will ever forget major traumas. But perhaps healing is the choice to set it aside to the point that these grievous injuries no longer rule or have direct impact on our present or threaten our future.

Very recently, I read something that described therapy as a temporary measure that does not fix you, but provides tools to fix yourself. Not sure I agree with that either, because I will never be fixed or made whole. However, I know TM and other professionals through the years have taught me skills to cope and to let go as much as I could to be functional and productive, to have a good life. The piece was thoughtful and made me feel like I were having a whole body root canal without anesthesia. As unpleasant and painful as that sounds, it frequently happens when someone says something imminently sensible and intelligent. The context of which she was writing (cheating in a primary relationship) is completely unrelated to me and my issues; perhaps there is a solution and tools for someone to fix themselves in that context. But reality for me is that my dragon is unslayable, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be quarantined and its dark power harnessed for good or at least better purposes.

Maybe in this way, I’m exceptional. Framed in that context, my thought grinder winds down and quiets for awhile.

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