Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Baggage

April has been exhausting. Work is busy, hectic, crazy. Personal life is busy as well. But this is normal. This is typical. But it’s the stuff in storage that is steering me in a funk-like state that is bordering depression.

When my mom died a few years ago, I could not shed her house and all the stuff she stuffed into it quickly enough. But in every life there is a large bunch of personal family stuff that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. There was a pile of old photos and albums and miscellaneous items.

All that has been in storage. Except now it’s not. It’s been mostly dealt with – donated or thrown away. My photos, photos of my kids, a few of my sister and nephews I kept, the rest are of folks I don’t know or my sister – boxes and boxes of albums documenting my sister’s life – and since I no longer have relationships with either of them, I made the self-protective decision to throw what seems zillions of photos away.

There are a few mementos I kept – a couple of favorite drinking glasses from when I was a kid, a remaining serving dish from my parents’ original set – but the other stuff I was so paralyzed over in the months after my mother died was surprisingly easy to released to their next home. For the new owners of those items, it will not have the same stigma or history of negative, angry emotions attached.

And for the first time, I feel truly free.

Yet, for everything attached to my family of origin, there is a faint strain of guilt as well. The terrifying rage and anger I still feel has been mostly diffused – growing up, physically distancing yourself to match the emotional safeguards in place – tends to do that for us. Self-protection is not to be underestimated.

Hard as I try to be a good community member where I dwell, I am very conscious of where I have failed, either by choice or circumstance, or some combination of both. Part of my mind are broken enough to make normal then and normal now coexist peacefully as polar opposites. The closed-off part of me where feelings don’t work classically normal is like walking with a limp after serious injury and best case scenario of healing, and recognizing that in and of itself is a huge step forward.

Being open about my history is not an easy thing, but now, my family of origin is gone and I have been untethered from all that influence and the angry, reflexive negativity attached and now with the disposal of the last boxes of stuff that remind me of all my real (or perceived and told to me) shortcomings,

This range of emotions I feel – it’s not anything I would wish upon anyone else. It is rooted in a kind of dark, abusive, confusing place that breeds self-loathing and negativity  that touches and taints any and all attempts to lead a normal life. I am good at compartmentalizing; I am even better at avoiding unpleasant feelings and emotions. As time has passed, as the professional help to improve and overcome took hold, I have gotten better about managing my affairs and at faking it until making it with the general day-to-day business of living.

I will feel better tomorrow, Monday, whenever M goes to the dump and empties the truck  load of crap that we have finally gotten around to discarding. Maybe sleep patterns will return to normal. Maybe I will return to the place where my peace resides.

I take no real pleasure in the feelings I feel in this moment, because they are too close to the bad, hateful shit that churns up with thinking about any of it. Shedding the last of the mementos releases me to continue my life in whatever healthier, happier, peaceful ways I can find.

Cutting the final links in a weighty chain is … enriching. Building on that is the better path.

The fear box

Everyone has fears – big ones, little ones, epic phobic ones. It is my conclusion that my ability to cope and manage my fears determines the quality of my day-to-day life. And if it were only so simple as to decide to set them aside and not allow them to influence, direct, or drive my behaviors.

The hierarchy of fears range from real, nail-biting anxieties that could keep me up nights to the comical WTF things I cannot exactly place why they exist and persist. For example, I am absolutely, positively phobic about frogs, toads, hoppy and slimy reptile-like garden residents. I hate them. The mere sight of them on television documentaries makes all the hairs on my arms stand up in alarm and my visceral response – RUN! – has to be restrained or the channel MUST be changed. When we moved into our home there were all these privet trees and a not-well-maintained swimming pool with literally hundreds of frogs living in the trees, the rocks surrounding the pool, and in the pool itself. I was afraid to step outside after dark when I could hear them croaking everywhere around me.

Hence our stark landscaping. Hence M systematically removing those privet trees within our first few months in the house, followed by the shrubbery and nearly all the other living plants surrounding our home. When it came time to resurface our pool, those rocks where the frogs were hiding were removed. And my frog-slaying champion, among the first skills in homeownership he acquired – in addition to supervising the remodeling and repairs going both inside and outside of our house – M learned how to maintain our swimming pool to eliminate the greenish tinge and balance the chemicals, then raise the chlorine content to drive the frogs from the inviting pond.

These days, occasionally we have a stray frog in the last remaining leafy green plant. M will pluck him out and toss him into the greenbelt to find his way down to the creek. We still see the occasional lizard on the concrete, but those do not bother me at all and with the cats around, they are not living long much less happy lives.

As far as epic phobias go, that one is manageable. I simply avoid going where frogs and toads and hoppy things might be dwelling and make my own yard and outdoor environment a lot less inviting for their ilk.

Other fears are not so easily contained or managed.

I have written endless posts about and referencing what I refer to as my “gym crazy,” my term for the anxiety, fear, and intimidation of being in the gym and trying to pursue exercise and fitness objectives. It took a lot of time and patience to mostly overcome. Even now, while I go forth and walk around as if I belong and am unfazed by all that is happening around me, it only takes a less optimal or positive experience or interaction with J (unlikely, but I suppose anything is possible) or staff or member to make that anxiety come rushing back. I know all too well it is a fear that requires constant monitoring and some level of energy put forth to maintain my equilibrium. I have become skilled at it, so much so that I am barely aware of my surroundings or what anyone else is doing. My habit of putting the blinders on to everything except what is in front of me or on the List has become an ingrained habit.

M asked me once if I perceived myself as being snobby or stuck up to maintain this aloofness. Of course not. I am friendly and chat regularly with other members and staff I know who happen to be in the gym at the same time. Socially awkward, yes. Stuck up? Hardly. If anything, I think everyone is very busy and very serious about their work and I should not interrupt, even to say hi or do more than a very spare wave. Definitely I am not stuck up, kind of I am socially awkward, but mostly I am completely clueless by design.

Recently M and I had a more challenging conversation about our own communication. Truth is, sometimes I feel distrustful of him. Not because of the normal reasons – I am so far from normal in my relationships it would be abnormal for me to feel normal about stuff – but because he is somewhat unpredictable to me in his reactions and it makes me anxious. Even after all the years we have known each other and been together as a couple, even as happy and secure as I am in our marriage, there is still some deep-seated fear of strong, intense, emotion-charged negative reactions. I know it. He knows it. Yet we both feel a little hurt that I cannot overcome it completely, probably me more than M. Better than my own understanding of myself, M gets that some wounds are so deep they never completely heal and you “feel” with something akin to a limp. I, on the other hand, feel that I should always be better, and that my inability to overcome this trait is a personal character failing. That harsh judgment has lessened through the years, yet I know I still have the tendency to be ruthlessly negative toward myself and my own limitations. Work in progress.

Confidence, security certainly help with fear and anxiety management. However, it does not overcome it. How many people do I know who have good jobs, loving families, and are financially stable enough to pay their bills and live their lives, yet are deathly afraid to the point of their anxiety and fear impacting them on a daily basis. Having lived on the financial edge and had no security blanket to fall back upon, it is a very scary place indeed. But I look back now and wonder what my fear did for me? It certainly did not make the situation better. And on the occasions where the next big thing occurred and I was stuck between rock and hard place, I was still unprepared and incapable of doing anything constructive about the situation. And I was tired, so tired, already from pre-worrying and being afraid of this very thing happening.

I learned from those experiences, and it greatly influences my desire to be more in control of my life and circumstances and to have some measure of plans A-Z – just in case. What I know, though, is there is truly very little I have any (much less absolute) control over in this life. Perhaps this expanded understanding of how my universe works is what has made my exercise endeavors stick this time, because it truly is something I directly influence and have some degree of anticipating outcomes, even if body and mind do not always play well together and one, the other, or both give me grief.

I look back at the darker times in my life and wonder what about me, my attitude, my ability has changed. For the most part, financial security has a direct and immediate impact on my overall happiness and quality of life. Other things, other unfortunate circumstances and behaviors, choices from stemming from were beyond my ability to comprehend or control. Therapy helped enormously. I got better jobs and took on side work to bring in more income to pay down debt, build some savings, ensure my kids had a balanced, safe, mostly happy childhood. We created a budget and stuck to it. When we were in debt we paid minimums until there was a least some money in the bank for emergencies that would not require us to go deeper into debt. I read a lot then and still do to this day. Entertainment was not shopping to feel the great gaping spending addiction, but at my kids’ sporting events or the library or free events around town. I used to write a lot in personal journals, and truly, it’s only been the last few years of blogging and commenting that I have been more public about writing on any topic.

Seems to me that success is its own reward. I gained a little more confidence with every small win that I applied myself toward, and gradually most of my fears and anxieties have faded into manageable things I could talk myself through. It is still possible to trigger me, to turn me into an absolute stress puppy with events and things well beyond the scope of my control, but those are rarer situations and any concerns I have about them appearing on my radar are firmly pushed back into their boxes. For the trauma and drama that has become my baggage in life, I find that I have repackaged into a tidier, more compact little packages and placed them deeper into my suitcase at various waypoints in my life. Some I suspect I have even shed completely, but I lack the absolute backbone of confidence to commit to such a scenario. And that’s okay. Out of sight, out of mind works for me.

My fears – they are a box of emotions I cannot ever completely abandon. And I would be lying to say they are supremely well managed or maintained even most of the time. Most of the time, they are bobbing and weaving somewhere in my head, enough that I know they exist but not enough to impact me on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps in this I have found my healthy balance.

I do find that I keep learning about things that trigger me, that cause pointless anxiety and stress to flare and make me flounder about expending energy that I could be enjoying or using more productively. Knowing that and actively pushing away the negative, life-draining forces is very difficult once caught within its grip.

The holidays are a big giant bear trap of triggers waiting to be snapped on the unsuspecting. This year, with C and A clear across the country and closest friends completely out of the country, it’s weirdly lonely around our house. Yet … I feel no need angst or grief or the need to try and artificially fill it up with stuff or with other people. G and K are both working Christmas eve and have the loosest of plans for Christmas day. M has been energized by the front landscaping work, so much so that some other outdoor projects are now being upgraded on the priority list. We anticipate friends cruising by for visits or inviting us to drop by to see them, but nothing formal has been planned. I find I like the informality. There’s always, Always, ALWAYS food available at our house, and we could likely rustle up something simple for dinner if we have guests.

I like the low-key holiday weekend we have not planned. I have work-work to do at home, as well as a stack of books in my kindle to be read. Being on the couch absorbed in a good book sounds like the perfect way to pass a quiet holiday.

For others, our holidays may sound kind of lonely and dreary. But for us, Christmas is sort of just another day. Our little family, our tribe of friends – we love seeing or interacting with them any day of the year. The weight of expectations and marketing tend to make me feel really badly about not having more, more family to celebrate, more gifts to buy, more ways to spend money. Thankfully I am not listening to that awful noise and instead enjoying the fact that the holiday feels and generosity of spirit are something I strive to enjoy all year round.

Today at work we’re locking the doors at noon and having our in-office holiday potluck party and gift exchange, which will be fun. M is coming by, as are many of my coworkers significant others or in-town family members. It will be a lot of fun.

So today, I am not anxious or fearful or sad or anything else. I am only mildly nervous about the lunch time food and all the sugar and chocolate still floating around this firm. Tonight we’re attending an open house at TM’s home, which will be fun, and tomorrow I’m lunching with RD, who is in town for the holidays with his family. Chipotle, his favorite place; I wonder if I could bring my own sandwich and just order a drink? We will figure something out.

This year, my fear box is wrapped up in shiny paper and topped with a big giant bow. It is a gift that keeps me honest, humble, and aware of who I am, yet it is also a big part of what kept all my warts and flaws squarely front and center and obscuring and distorting my self-image. This year, I see my fear box more clearly as just a powerful tool that must be managed and used judiciously whenever possible.

Another realization to celebrate this holiday season.

Analyzing my emotions

I had a couple of nice conversations with my primary private clients today, and it was nice. The longest of these relationships was actually who referred me to my present firm and he knows my bosses quite well. While we were talking about the work I do for him and his firm and working out the schedule for this week and next with my transitioning to Thursday’s for self-employment work, the topic of what transpired did come up.

My client has the advantage of being 25+ years older and managed his own practice all that time and then some. Once upon a time he had partners and associates working for him, but since I have been doing his books his partners retired or left law completely and his associates have been 1099 employees that come and go depending on workload.

Because we have worked together for a very long time, he knows me pretty well from both a business and a personal perspective. We routinely have a year-end review lunch every year, where we talk about highs, lows, and areas for improvement in our workflow and habits. This is a professional relationship I value, and his opinions and thoughts on work-related issues carry a lot of weight with me.

Throughout the work drama this week I have had concerns that I am creating Mt. Everest out of the tiniest of anthills. Yet for me in my professional capacity, one of the worst blows is to be disrespected or minimized publicly. In private discussions, pooh-poohing or dismissing my concerns and opinions is not pleasant, but it is what it is and comes with the territory of being an employee versus a business owner. I have learned how to compartmentalize my emotions and ego in that regard. What happened this week (and last in my absence) … if they had physically slapped me I would not have been more surprised or angry.

I have spent the majority of my career in professional services firms of one stripe or another. No matter what sort of consulting service provided – law, accounting, environmental – the prevailing attitude is that if you are not a licensed professional or in a highly billable position, as an admin staffer your position is treated like animated furniture. Not by everyone, and most of the time people like their administrative staff as people. However, bottom line – most administrative time is not billable and therefore cuts into profits and therefore is always expendable. The unspoken component of the attitude is that the job is meaningless fluff, and not only surviving but thriving in such an atmosphere has turned me into a bit of an activist.

So I asked my client for his thoughts, his honest thoughts after I explained what had happened and how it made me feel. What he said:

  • Millennials have issues with their own sense of importance. Add to that being lawyers, smart lawyers, and you have strong potential for egotistical ass.
  • For my part, he says I am a bit too laid back, especially with lawyers. I need to get my assertive on and stay in front of them if I do not want them pushing me to the flashpoint of frustration and reacting to them.
  • While I have good organizational skills and instincts about people, I need to make them earn more of my respect and favor, or risk being perceived – incorrectly – as a weak or ineffectual leader. In other words, I am far too nice and need to demonstrate and wield my authority right from the start. Acting like a boss even when I do not have to is the only way to win this battle of wills.

Again, I hate being a manager. I hate being a boss. Yet most of the time I know I am good at it, because without me in my job, things could and would likely be a lot less pleasant at my firm.

But he did not feel I made Mt. Everest out of a tiny little anthill. My bosses bungled this and deserved to be the ones delivering the mea culpa. However, had I been more of a hard-ass on the front end the problem would likely not have escalated. Perhaps. I pushed as hard as I felt I could with the bosses about announcing the new office space plans and office assignments. This is a new boundary in our professional relationship and it has been enlightening.

About me and my own emotions and abilities at managing them, I know there seems to be a hot and a cold setting for me. Either I care a lot about something and am willing to give it my all, or I feel some graduated level of indifference. It’s why I am not a good teacher. While I really do want people to be happy and to be successful, too often we each fall short in our efforts to achieve that. My expectations are too high, or I cannot express myself clearly enough to impart whatever concepts I am trying to express.

Essentially, I suck at teaching. coaching, training others. I am kind of a sink or swim person, and if you are engaged, ask questions, listen to my answers, and learn … we will get along fine. Many sort of falter at that, and I believe at least 50% of the problem lies with me. I lack the special spark that makes me motivate people to action or to try to be better. And that’s okay. This is why there are jobs where that particular talent is not a requirement.

I care very deeply about my work and those I work with. Because of that, I am willing to go above and beyond to ensure the firm and those it employs are successful. This is true even for the spoiled brats. I want them to not be spoiled brats. I want them to grow the fuck up and go forth and have amazingly successful careers. But despite what their parental units have told them, it does take hard work and paying the dues to climb up and into the amazingly successful careers.

Or at least it does in the world I live in right now.

Anyone would be upset about the silly drama that unfolded and was sitting on my desk like a big pile of steaming poo when I returned. What concerns me is whether or not I need to locate the off/on switch for my emotions to keep them in check to retain my professionalism. Or maybe I simply need to suspend whatever judgmental instincts I possess. I am mostly unsettled by the whole dust up despite today being a perfectly normal, peaceful, productive day. It’s been awhile since I have been blindsided and made that angry about work. I hate that it happened.

Maybe if I could make myself care less life would be easier. But if my job were easy someone else would likely be doing it.

Losing my stuff

Titling this post “Losing my shit” would have been more appropriate, but I am trying to be considerate of those who are not quite as salty as I am in my language habits.

Most of the time, I think I am pretty rational and organized. Then again, most of the time I seem to spend working. In my professional life I am practically a professional organizer.

Personal life, not so much. Nothing like starting your day by frantically searching for your keys at 4:45 in the morning. I looked in all the usual places, checked a half dozen other improbable possibilities, and finally gave up and took M’s key for my car so I could get to the gym and not be supremely annoyed for losing my keys AND missing practice.

While I take ownership of my responsibility for my own stuff, this is partly M’s fault. Last night there was a major miscommunication – totally my fault – that resulted in a short, intense disagreement between us. I freely admit to not handling conflict well and that it takes a toll and sometimes takes a bit of time and/or space to completely purge the negative emotions from my system. What happened is G and K had made arrangements to store wedding beer in one of our refrigerators, and I completely forgot to tell M about it. As in, they arrived unexpectedly (for him – I knew about it) and that’s a big no-no in our house. So that was strike 1. Then M goes into this long, elaborate explanation with the kids of why it’s better to leave the beer in the house (thinking fridges are both sort of half full), only to be told by my son that I have already cleared out the refrigerator to make room. That’s strike 2. Then G and K are purchasing our former vehicle and may be selling G’s car, which was a surprise to M yet should not have been because I told him what I knew about it last weekend. So that’s sort of strike 2.5. So I get home, step out of my car, and M is at the door venting all his pissed-off-ness at the situation I put him into and complaining, loudly, that he seems to not be a resident of our household, that to other people it’s my house.

Fuck that. The kids did the right thing, made the arrangements with me, and it is 100% my fault that I forgot to tell him. Do not play that “the kids are shit because they treat me like I do not exist here” bullshit. Had I told him the kids were going to be dropping by with the beer, he would have asked what time, I would have said I don’t know, why don’t you text them and ask? And all would have been fine. But I’ve been busy with other things – like making a living – and simply forgot to tell him. Trying to lay blame on the kids does not fly well with me and I told him so very tersely, so it was not a pleasant get home from a busy, stressful, crazy day at the office.

Somehow in that tense discussion I tossed my keys on the desk and they flew off the edge without my noticing. They were  hidden in plain sight on the floor in the office. After getting home from the gym and frantically tearing through the house looking for them (and thus harshing my post-shoulder practice buzz), I happened to bend down to pick up a piece of paper off the floor and spotted them.

Thing is, the whole lost and found search for my keys has this domino effect of setting me up and into a pretty foul mood. Then I forgot to leave the gate unlocked for the pest control people … who were supposed to come yesterday, except I forgot the gate then as well and M was gone much of the day, but they were running behind and pushed us to today, and I forgot again. Fortunately they are running behind again today and M just got home to unlock the gates.

Kind of a sucky start to a Friday. It’s working out, but still. I feel like such a drama princess right now.

So, in order to hopefully save me from myself and this sort of bad feeling, I have bitten the bullet and ordered one of those key finder tag apps. I actually ordered 2 of them, so I can keep track of my work keys as well. Maybe my angsty drama at 4 in the morning can be avoided in the future.

And finally, in my when undelightful things happen, Monday trainer J showed me how to use the hamstring curl machine. Wednesday when I went to try it on my own, it was out of service. Bummer. Last week (I think) he showed me how to use a shoulder machine upstairs. Today when I went to use it, it was out of service.

If the dip machine I learned yesterday is out of service tomorrow, I am going to take it as a sign of something. Bad luck? Poor timing? Coincidence? Black clouds around me when it comes to machinery?

Still freezing in my office, so we are closing up at noon and all working from home. I cannot wait for hot yoga at 5 so I can warm up. And I am looking forward to getting home and getting back to baseline emotional normal while being mindful of where I leave my blasted keys.

Happy Friday everyone!

Less fear, more confidence

I was having a bit of a negativity shit storm this morning. Nothing serious – I caught myself before I dived off the cliff and could not recover the balance of my Friday.

But still. Some moments are harder than others.

This morning it was triggered by a voice message from the police department about the Very Bad Incident. I was in a meeting and could not take the call, and when I got the voice mail my mind went blank and all I could do was relieve the emotions and sensations of those moments – the fear and the smell of them. I wish I could forget both.

I made myself return the call. But first I did some ridiculously mundane tasks. I texted a friend to see if his cold was better and J to ensure I had not poisoned him with the kava drink this morning. I pep-talked a coworker about Valentine’s day and prepared expense checks. Then I finally worked up the courage to return the officer’s phone call.

Very Bad Men are still in jail. However, I am needed for another identification and statement next week, although there is a good possibility it will be cancelled. We scheduled the appointment and that was that.

I was alternatively freezing and sweating in my office, my reaction to this so visceral. It has been 3 weeks, and most the time I am fine and can get through entire blocks of days without thinking about it or reacting to it. One phone call and my obsessive mind is unleashed.

Mostly I shook it off. I am far from as fine as I was upon arriving at the office this morning,  when I was cheerful and happy and thinking about the new J-crafted exercises and my incremental success with practice this morning, but I am in control of myself and my emotions. I am at least well on my way to being back to that level of fine.

Fear. It has my brain chugging on several cylinders and fronts today.

There is the very real and very understandable fear from the Very Bad Incident. Unfortunately it is not something that I can shut off like a lightswitch. With time and patience on my part it will fade further from my system. Patience is not a strong suit for me, but I am trying to not obsess. Probably 70% of the time I succeed. Progress.

However, it reminds me that there are all sorts of other things I have fear and anxiety about in life. Some are more severe than others. And to my surprise, as I am thoughtfully dissecting this idea in my mind, not all of my fears are as prevalent as they once were.

I am still ridiculously phobic about frogs, toads, and other disgusting little hopping creatures. When we moved to our home I was afraid to go into the backyard because of the abundance of tree frogs everywhere, including in our pool. Forget actually swimming in it unless M had raked it thoroughly and examined the skimmer basket and the pool sweep to ensure there were none in hiding in the pool machinery. At that time there were some large rocks secured to the back of the pool deck and M would examine between the cracks to ensure there were none lurking there either. Phobic much? Why yes, thank you for noticing.

Much of the original shrubbery that was planted in the beds surrounding the house and the pool was removed that first year. First it was the privet trees along the back of the pool. We wanted to do that immediately anyway, because it would open up the view of the greenbelt as well as allow us to feel the full expanse of our backyard. But a big part of it was the frogs and getting them out of our yard and pool. From there it was the overgrown shrubbery along the fences between us and our neighbors and then out into the front yard. The planter beds that have not been replaced with concrete now sit empty while we decide whether to install gravel or other rocks and put planter boxes on top for flowering bulbs or something. The frogs no longer visit our backyard and our pool; there are few places to hide.

Working with TM, training with J, changing jobs and growing my tiny little self employment empire has brought about changes in my outlook and confidence level. Everyone changes, I suppose; hopefully we all grow and become better versions of ourselves. I have never thought of myself as someone who dislikes change, because I am a realist in that change is part of life. However, I am also honest enough to say I have an overly developed sense of concern about change and things within and outside my control. Perhaps my burgeoning confidence levels will eventually shrink those concerns to a more manageable level and degree.

Today I have been perking about the recent confluence of events that have increased my confidence and how it has affected me.

Becoming an entrepreneur instead of an employee. Last summer I had finally had it with my former full-time employer and decided to look for another job. Just reading through my posts during that period is a hilarious walk down memory lane and makes me glad that I started blogging. The number crunching, the planning for contingencies, the job interviews, and finally the serious, hard look at self-employment. I clearly remember being so scared of failing. Through and through I was sure I was about to commit financial suicide and that M and I would soon be homeless and eating cat food.

Timing must be everything, though, because I am actually amazed and grateful at how quickly I acquired a bunch of little projects and clients, several of which have evolved into ongoing work. Between referrals from my existing side gig clients, other business folks I knew, and former employers, I had a lot of little jobs lined up almost immediately as well as working part-time/hourly for my former full-time employer.

Since then, I have steeled myself for self-promotion and marketing. I am usually fine with chatting on the phone or corresponding with prospective clients about what they are seeking, but it’s a visit to crazy town before I have to show up and actually “sell” services to a prospective client. I have learned to just not allow too much emotional investment into the idea of acquiring or losing an engagement, because otherwise I seem to take the rejection far more personally than is warranted. It seems like my pre-meeting panic attacks are not a terrible, end-of-the-world way to be, as I find myself relaxed and able to just talk to people about myself and what solutions I can offer when the actual meeting does occur.

I presently have an adequate backlog of upcoming and routine work to be comfortable with the work/life balance and not feel desperate for another client and more work every time an opportunity presents itself. The day may come where I am completely confident and comfortable in my own skin to be able to market myself without having negative, anxious feelings flooding my system. Everything from “I am not qualified” to “I am a creepy stalker person” for trying to get in touch with someone about scheduling time goes through my head as I am trying to do the business development dance. It is a lot better than it was when I started last year, but it remains relatively imperfect in execution.

Better is good. I am delighted with better if it means I am not contemplating throwing up or breathing into a paper bag every time I have to try and woo a new client.

Training and growing more serious about improving my health. Reading back through my posts last summer, there was a lot going on in my life and trying to figure out how to make exercise work for me. J must miss the days when his phone was not blowing up with texts or our paths were not intersecting nearly every day at the gym. The level of anxiety and insecurity back then and my inability to conceal it better almost makes me wince. At the time, it was normal to be fearful and anxious about the gym. There was/still is to a lesser degree so much shame and judgment threaded through everything I feel and do, and it is painful to read how paralyzed I was and trying so hard to get better about it.

Just this morning J and I had a conversation about the gym and trying not to take yourself too seriously. Had we been capable of that level of interaction 6 months ago I would have made excuses to not return for quite awhile, if ever. Because I was so afraid of my own shadow and treating myself and everything around me with an unstainable level of frazzled, sensitive nerve endings. It was a vicious cycle. My fear and anxiety about the gym was real, but to try and have a conversation about overcoming my fear and anxiety only led to shame and greater levels of fear and anxiety.

Trust is not and easy thing for me, and I am fortunate to have had enough time and enough big and little successes in these first months to be able to develop some baseline trust in the process and the training partnership with J. Where we are now, it is a good place. I am more willing to experiment, to try hard, to practice, and to put myself at risk than I ever have been with exercise, and I am reaping a lot of rewards from it.

Beyond normalized blood sugar. Beyond being stronger and changing size configuration. There is a fundamental, slowly evolving belief that I am capable. Of learning. Of doing. Yes, I am still clumsy and I still have issues with balance. I have a long way to go to being my stronger, fitter, even better self. I am more confident with what I am doing in the gym and my ability to learn from J. I am still taking it way too seriously, but my confidence is holding sway over my fear. Someday soon I hope confidence will eclipse fear completely in the gym and my practices.

As for the food and diet, I am in day 3 of tracking my eating. It  has been the most awful, resentment-inducing process. But I am soldiering on with minimal bitching and moaning about it. I will be so happy when Monday morning comes and I can just get back to normal and not feeling as if I am obsessing about food every waking moment and dreaming about whether or not I wrote it down or took a picture of it and noted the time. Pain. In. The. Ass. Hopefully there will be some amazing breakthroughs to share with me about the error of my ways or atta-girls for things I am doing right.

Working with a therapist to improve my self-image and quiet the negative voices inside my head. Of all the things I have done in the last year, this is probably the hardest and most difficult for me to articulate. Once I got more serious about consistency with my gym practice, it was easier to make it a habit. However, it has proven to be tricky to enjoy my big and little victories. There is always something inside my head whispering things, like I am not really succeeding, I am only pretending, I am a poser, I have merely delayed the ultimate failure; believing I can succeed is going to make my fall that much harder. When I try not to hear, not to listen, they get louder and more vitriolic, until I have little choice but to falter and give in to their acidic undoing.

It becomes an ugly cycle. I take a tiny step forward into believing I am making progress, inching forward toward something better that I have truly worked for and deserve, and then the voices in my head cut me down at the knees and devour me whole. And I am back to square 1.25, which is at least not completely back at square 1.

During the holidays, after James’ death, I began to recognize that I cannot make the positive steps forward on my own, or I cannot make them stick with me and become part of my day-to-day reality. M is loving and supportive; he is unflagging in his belief and faith in me. J, other friends, so much cheerleading going on they should have their own positivity fest and sell tickets to elevate the down and depressed. But since it is almost impossible for me to truly state to them how bad, awful, destructive the noise is – because after all, I am getting myself out of bed and to the gym, I am off insulin, I am working and succeeding, I am so articulate and so nice all the time – nor would I want to burden those relationships with my toxic shit.

So I waited for my annual mental and emotional health tune-up with TM. Even that was hard. We have known each other for several years. He has treated me for everything from anxiety and anger to fear and depression. Always I come out on the other side more solid than when we began. Yet I was hesitant to ask a psychotherapist to help me overcome my next phase of crazy.

Gee, I know you have helped me enormously with the anger and anguish of a terrible childhood and denial from my parents of the sexual abuse I endured and felt they knowingly subjected me to, but I do not want to tell you I feel crippled with fear and anxiety and what happens if I continue to succeed and am no longer physically defective? What if you say no, there is no hope for me and my demons? What if you, TM, my dragon slayer yoda, says those remaining dragons are immortal and unslayable and I need to just suck it up and deal?

What if here, afraid of myself and my own ambitions, is the best I can ever hope for? What if I cannot do or be better?

I am not very brave. I am so far from courageous. I write here what I cannot really say in real life until I have written it down or obsessively rehearsed it in my mind. I cower in fear and cry inside and outside when challenged or pushed too hard. I want people to be happy because my own misery seems like a cloak that envelopes me, always, and I cannot bear the idea of anyone else feeling so crappy about who they truly are inside.

The scary smart that enter my realm … I marvel at them and their amazing abilities. They know so much. They can speak of things they have read, they have seen and experienced, they have such amazing recall for details, they have such easy charm and grace dealing with others, they are so truly kind and generous. I listen and I learn, and I feel as if I am the village idiot (in good ways) trying to keep up and to learn.

Such is TM. His training makes me feel like he has X-ray vision and examines my thoughts and soul before he speaks. I always feel like he knows what I want to say before I say it. Realistically I know that is not the case; I know he is a smart guy trained in his field to deal with people with problems. And I also know, despite my own overly dramatic characterizations of me and my issues, that I am not nearly as troubled or in desperate straits as I was once upon a time. These are tinkerings and issues that have existed for a long, long time, only now coming into a alignment with my readiness to address and resolve them.

I think this time, I am ready to not be so afraid anymore.

The confluence of these events are not really coincidental. I wanted to get into better shape to appear more marketable to prospective employers. Deny it or not, discrimination or bias based on age or weight are both real factors that are never discussed out loud by any responsible employer. I felt with some basis and merit that I was at a disadvantage on both counts. I began covering the gray in my hair and I joined the gym, hired a trainer, and began contemplating ways to make myself appear more competent and confident. While I still kinda/sorta could care less about my appearance beyond being clean and neat much of the time, I recognize that not everyone feels the same. I have also conducted enough interviews and hired enough people to recognize my own bias and have a healthy respect that other people share the same qualities to a greater of lesser degree. To do less is to be naive and stupid about the world in which we live.

So now I am a self-employed and part-time employed someone. Now stakes are even  higher and I have appearances to maintain, so I retain the trainer and stay focused and consistent on my exercise. I have to maintain and perhaps even up my game to get to some mysterious next level. Drop some weight, I think, so kick myself in the ass and get serious about the diet and eating. Kinda sorta working on it, in a sidling sideways sort of way.

I am less afraid than I was a year ago, and my life is certainly different. As my confidence grows, my fear lessens. And my hope for being comfortable, happy, and able to truly like and protect myself with the next rendition of me improves exponentially along with it.

Change, in this instance, is a very good thing; I will try embrace it.