"Trust yourself. You’ve survived a lot, and you’ll survive whatever is coming." Robert Tew
Knowing ourselves is one of the great mysteries of life. There is always and always more to uncover about who we are and who we believe ourselves to be. The reconciliation of those two makes for a challenge of lifelong proportions. As we have new experiences all of our past, our processing of said past, and the progress we have made since come together to inform our present selves. I have spent much of my adult life bracing for impact. I am just waiting in perpetual flinch for something to happen. I am wincing for a pain that I know inevitably will come. It's odd to live such a bright life with the conditioning that darkness is almost always just over the horizon. Call it pessimistic but I call it pragmatic. There have been so many moments of joy that were interrupted by heaviness that directly called me to attention.
One text message, a phone call, a tweet, and on, and on. Whether it be personal or worldly I lay in wait. More and more I have noticed that much of my preparation to be implicated, hurt, or harmed is years worth of high intensity incidents where I was the one seemingly who was both able to and obligated to intercede. Flickers of panic, overwhelming fear, and taking on the mortal terrors of others. It's only when I stop cowering waiting for a moment that may never come that I remember it's okay to be light, to feel joy, and to embrace the present instead of constant anticipation of a future. I know inherently the future is bright, and even brighter than I imagine, and yet still rationalizing that hope with the realities of so much trauma is a struggle. I am work in progress striving toward being pulled regularly by the light as opposed to gravitating to darkness as a norm.
Last year at this time I remember going to the store in one of those carefree moments of simple bliss. Windows down, music up, wind whipping, shouting 90s hit lyrics as loud as I could. My head has me doing deep dives at the most random of times. It was in that moment that I put together this coherent conclusion that I had rarely felt safe in my life. I spend so much time being calculated, cautious, and controlled. I have never truly been free to be a "regular" person - whatever that means relatively. I don't quite know if I know how. The more I thought about it there were so few people that I fully trusted with the entirety of me. Time and time again moments of betrayal where people didn't show up, failed to be with me, or to recognize my wholeness led to disappointment.
I will never forget having to tell friends that I shouldn't have to teach them how to care, be kind, or express empathy towards me when I was the one impacted. It's like having an open wound and having to communicate not only why me bleeding matters, but how it happened, AND how to triage the wound. Outside of my immediate family the list of people that provide me the stillness of solace and peace in their presence is few and far between. There was/is so much fear there. Coming to that self-understanding was saddening but also empowering to set off to build or strengthen relationships to that fortified state. I'm always waiting for people to leave and to take with them the parts of me that I have gifted them. Not everyone has permanence in our lives but unexpected departures deprive us of closure.
I know what phrases elicit immediate emotional responses from me - any renditions of "we need to talk" or "call me" or "something happened." Hell any calls after 9PM especially between midnight and 7AM terrify me. Immediately my heart starts racing, I sweat profusely, and the panic sets in. Something awful must have happened. I remain in suspended anxiousness just waiting for my heart to drop as doom sets in. Someone has passed away. Someone is in trouble. Something bad has happened. I do all I can to read people's voices, body language, context clues, decipher messages, etc. The panic is so debilitating that I often forget to use the skills of clarity seeking to combat all that anxiety.
That's what I can do though. I can reclaim my body and stop the psychological terror induced by those words by asking questions or naming feelings. "I feel anxious when you use that phrase. Can you give me some context? I don't do well with ambiguity, can you clarify? Any more information you can provide so I can prepare. Is there anything else I need to know at this point? Can we talk about this now?" Too often those words derailed my entire day. I could think of nothing else but the impending awfulness that awaited me. Most the time it was subjective unnecessary dramatics. People having difficulty sharing embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, apologies, etc. Other times it was them wanting to give me feedback and expecting backlash but I do my best to pause, say thank you, and ponder their perspectives before doing with it what I will. In other instances it really was as bad as I had imagined and I just needed to begin my process of sitting with the information, managing my emotions, and doing what I needed to accept an awful truth. In all the instances, the time foreshadowing time was cruel agony. One of the kindest things we can do for others is give them clarity. We can just tell people what they need to know - with nuance, compassion, and grace. We can remove the delay. We can avoid prioritizing our comfort and instead focus on creating comfort for those we're communicating with. We can give context and be timely.
I need time and space to process - we all do - AND that process often ends with a product or some sort of progress. What did I learn about myself? What did I learn about others? How am I different after that experience? Where is the proof? What do I need to extract and hold on to from this, and what can I let go? I imagine this cycle of processing to progress as downsizing luggage. Every new experience is adding to your checked bags. When we're over the weight limit we're forced to take a pause to sort through it all. Do I really need this experience? Why am I still carrying this heavy feeling? How am I taking only lessons and leaving the rest behind? We throw things away, reorganize, and repack in more efficient ways. We lighten the load. We lift our spirits. We empower ourselves. Ideally we downsize to a carry on that gives us even more room for all the adventures that lie ahead to fill our newly emptied luggage. That process is continual for us.
We have to make time. Intentional. Time. Stopping everything and focusing solely on our experienced, what we've endured, and its impacts on us, our bodies, our mental health, our emotions, and our behaviors. It's in those moments of hyperfocus that we can create our own clarity. We can get to the root cause of our issue. We can excavate why certain things have harmed us so deeply. We can articulate what we're feeling so we can do what we need to do to regulate our emotions. We can tell our stories to ourselves one more time so we can move on. We can progress. We have to progress - lest we stay where we are, as we are. When we caught in a flinch we get stuck in waiting. It's no longer peace and prosperity - it's anticipatory enervation. We deserve to live fearless lives. We get to live enlightened lives. We get to be our brightest selves. Are we routinely doing the self-work and practicing self care to become emotionally literate in the language of us? X
Flinch Talk Alternatives:
I need to talk.
I want to talk about ... (us, my experience of your work, giving you feedback, etc.)
Is it okay if we talk about ... (insert topic of discussion) soon
I have news to share with you (keep it neutral if bad; and say if it's good when it is)
I'd like to share some affirming and/or critical feedback with you
Can we find a time to talk about ... (instead of are you busy/free?)
Responding to a "can we talk with" -" anything in particular so I can best prepare? or can you give me context?"
Get explicit - that phrase is anxiousness inducing for me; is there context you can give me?
When/where will we talk?
Can we talk now instead of later?
Any information I need to know to best prepare?