Monday, March 14, 2005

Fuck-ups and Mental Blowouts `05

I honestly can’t convey just how great it is to be back in the Chicago office. It’s great to be back in Chicago in general. I missed Cyllia and the lead architect (let’s call him Mr. T.), and getting calls from Sarah, and waiting until 10am for Yellow to show up, getting back to creating materials for projects I actually understand and have a handle on… yea, it’s nice. It’s nice to be sitting at my own fucking desk with my music at hand and coffee in my own coffee mug.

It’s the little things.

Not that things are terribly easy right now… Life is incredibly busy, full, stressful, both physically and emotionally.

I didn’t realize just how ragged I was running until last night, when Jenn and I went out for our usual Sunday Borders & Starbucks run. I sat down at Borders and relaxed, found a beginning runner’s guidebook (shin splints. Ah. That’s what I’ve got after Friday’s run. Ah. Yes.), then moved to the back, picked up a book of Alaska photographs… and was confronted by a rather irritated-looking Jenn, who snapped at me for not being more visible, as she’d apparently been looking for me for some time.

We exited the building, Jenn still pissed off, and she bit off at me for my ability to blend into my surroundings and make if very difficult to be found, and why was she the one who always had to come looking for me? Why couldn’t I go looking for her? Borders, the grocery store, it was all the same! I’d lose myself forever, and she’d have to track me down! How could I be so annoying!


Jenn and I are a little stressed right now. Can you tell?

I took a deep breath and halted our course at the corner of Broadway & Lawrence and felt myself doing the little mental checklist backpeddle: if I start screaming at her for being silly and being upset at a silly thing, and effectively blaming me because she’s unable to find me in a room full of people, what’s going to come out is us just screaming at each other for a silly reason because we’re both tired, hungry, and incredibly, incredibly stressed out. So, effectively, we’ll be having a snippy verbal fight at the corner of Broadway & Lawrence for no fucking good reason except that we’re really tired, and then we’ll be pissed at each other for the rest of the night, which will be fucking stupid, as we hardly see each other anymore anyway, and during the time we’re together, it would be nice if we weren’t pissed off at each other.

So I said, “OK, how can we fix this?”

And just her talking about how pissed off she was seemed to make her feel better. We discussed why she was pissed off, which I really tried to sympathize with, but which I couldn’t understand because I wasn’t in any sort of hurry while browsing the bookstore. I didn’t think our Borders run was on a time schedule. I was just there to relax and read books, and when I got bored, I’m sure I’d have gone to find her. But she’d gotten bored before I had.

I couldn’t think up any good solution for this, except that whenever we went out, we should have a time schedule and a meeting place. But that seemed really counterproductive to me, as I reserve weekends for relaxing time, and having a time schedule on everything seemed incredibly stressful.

“Let’s just go home and skip Starbucks,” I said, putting my arm around her. “I’ll order the Thai food and go and pick it up. I know you’re totally stressed out. We’re stressed. Let’s just go relax, OK?”

After talking, she seemed to feel better, and suggested we go to Starbucks anyway, and my whole body relaxed, and I was like, “Oh, thank God, calamity averted,” and my mind and body sort of crashed, so that by the time we sat down at Starbucks, I was on the downside that comes after an adrenaline rush. I felt drained and tired; totally emotionally tapped out. Backpeddling, trying to avert a snippy argument in Uptown with, basically, the only friend I have in Chicago, trying to keep this relationship together and stable when we only see each other once a week or so, had blasted out the last of my emotional resources.

It’s an accumulation of little things, and the last little thing broke me.

I’ve spent the last week living out of a hotel room and trying to negotiate a relationship with an actual guy that includes not only the friendly part (which is difficult enough), but the sex part (and everything that comes with it), and both of us bring our own emotional baggage into the mix, and that’s gotta be dealt with up front, and that’s what I’ve been dealing with all week, on top of the fucking hotel living, the mostly non-existent workouts, and the incredibly, incredibly, stressed out and fucked up work environment at our office out there. It’s a fuckfest.

But what really did it was the emotional stuff, because I’m so bloody fucking sick of emotion. Because I was pulling out of myself as much care and nurturing and understanding as I had left in order to not get into a pissing match on a Chicago street, and it blasted me out.

So we sat in Starbucks, and I started to bleed out this stream-of-consciousness thought on what I’d felt in the street, and how that fed back into everything else that’s gone on this week, and this year, just to sort of bleed it out so Jenn would know where I was at. What it comes down to is that I’ve got one friend in Chicago, and she’s tapped out: she’s got an SO, too, and her SO and her Ph.D. responsibilities take up a lot of emotional energy, which means she’s just as tapped out as I am… and honestly, I’ve reached the point where I realize I’m so broken down that I’m willing to ask for help – and the only person I’ve got around to ask for help is tapped out (Jenn insisted this wasn’t the case, that if I ever needed anything – but she’s tapped out. Trust me. She can’t take any of my bullshit onto her already full plate. It just ain’t gonna happen, unless she’s willing to have a mental blowout, too, and I’m not gonna incite that. There’s a point at which being a good friend means not asking things of your good friends, because they don’t know how to say “no” to people they care about any more than you do).

So I was forced to realize just how much trying to start up a relationship after six years of being on my own has taken out of me. It’s been about a month now, which is about the point you both realize the other isn’t a psycho, and you start trying to build stuff up and work things out, and there are a lot of ghosts and demons I’ve got tagging along behind me, stuff I didn’t even realize I had.

The problem with having been in a really unhealthy/abusive relationship and not having any real “relationship” since then is that you’ve got a really fucked up template about how things are supposed to go; and yea, I mean, sure, any time you’re with somebody new, you learn a new set of rules and preferences, but for me, there are weird ones like when I said something that really cut him (not realizing what I did), and he went a little quiet and stoic before responding, but during that long silence, that little light went off in my head, “I’m going to get hit. He’s going to start screaming at me. He’ll throw something at me. I need to practice some defense moves in case he freaks out on me.”

There was no violence or screaming, of course (I’d really like to think I’ve made a better, more adult choice this time around, and instead, we spent several hours talking this over), but the fact that I had that reaction when I realized I’d irritated/hurt the guy in bed with me was really telling about how fucked up my expectations are of what a relationship entails. Says a lot about why I’ve avoided them for so long.

If I wasn’t so crazy about this guy, of course, I wouldn’t be doing this. It’s too much for me to do right now, and I wasn’t ready for it… but shit, let’s face it: it’s time for me to get over my bullshit. I can’t go on avoiding intimacy forever because I’m afraid that every guy around the corner is going to turn out to be just like my ex (charming and passive for a year and then screaming, demanding, controlling, blah blah, insert your domestic abuse cliché story here). I’ve reached the point in my life where I have enough confidence in myself to walk away if somebody ever tries to pull that bullshit again, and I’ve read enough stories just like my own to (I hope) recognize the danger signs and pull away before I get too entrenched, but of course, there aren’t any guarantees. People change. Shit could happen. I just need to know that I’m strong enough now to walk away from a relationship with somebody who seeks to take away my agency and confidence. It’s not my job to mother people, or fix people, and the last thing I need is a guy around who’s condescending and who holds me back from doing what I want in order to make himself feel better about his own choices.

It’s funny; I’ve read lots of stories about women who’ve been in abusive relationships, but I haven’t read many accounts of women trying to get back into relationships after having been through a shitty one where your template has become “relationship=me not being a real person/putting up with someone else’s draining bullshit/losing myself to someone else’s desires.”

For me, it’s not easy in the least. In fact, it’s one of the most emotionally draining things I’ve ever done, because every time I turn around, I’m finding something else that I’m weird about. I had a very, very, fucked-up relationship template.

And, of course, relationship issues are never one-sided, and we both bring stuff to the table, and negotiating all of that while trying to have a life… yea. It’s not easy. I didn’t think it was going to be. And it’s taking a lot out of me right now.

I don’t know yet if it’s going to be too much. I’m hoping that now that I’m back in Chicago, things will ease off. I’ve got my martial arts class tonight (FINALLY, after four or five weeks of NOTHING), jogging tomorrow, some cleaning to do. I’m back inside my life, and it’s a life I’ve built up that I really, really like.

Today was the first time I actually considered staying in Chicago after next year. I love this place, this life. I might not be able to afford to stay in the place I have now, but I could just get a studio or one-bedroom, or, if I can get a better-paying job, I might be able to figure something out. There are law schools in Chicago, if that pans out. If not, there’s plenty of writing to do here, and a community college down the street where I can pile on some extra classes to keep my atrophying brain in gear.

There’s a lot up in the air right now. I don’t know how it’s going to pan out. Usually, I take great comfort in not knowing what’s going to happen. It’s how I know I’m doing the right thing. But here, now, there are so many variables that they’re weighing deeply on me, and I need some time that I don’t have to really figure out what I want over the next couple of years. More and more, I want to throw off the law school idea and run away overseas for another stressful blowout year where I sleep on a mattress on the floor and work a crappy job or live as a poor student… When you realize that the next big birthday is 30, you tend to want to go out and live that crappy poor student life as much as possible with the last decade you’ve got to do it with any respectability.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I suppose that’s what it comes down to: there are a great deal of things I don’t know, and I’ve hit the tipping point where that’s actually starting to matter to me.

4 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I've come across your blog and really enjoy it. I don't know you, but I am fairly new to Chicago so I feel like I can empathize on a teeny-tiny level, at least. Well, that, and the sanity-swallowing, Grand Canyon-sized fear of not knowing what to do with one's life :) Anyway, you have a great blog.That's something.  

Posted by kate

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I've come across your blog and really enjoy it. I don't know you, but I am fairly new to Chicago so I feel like I can empathize on a teeny-tiny level, at least. Well, that, and the sanity-swallowing, Grand Canyon-sized fear of not knowing what to do with one's life :) Anyway, you have a great blog.That's something.  

Posted by kate

Anonymous said...

My only thoughts on the topic are not to give up on your dreams, and that if you are able to hammer together a way to do law school you really should. The emotional stuff is never easy and actually might get harder and more complicated with the years (that's what kids do for you). It could be that you might need some help with all that past nasty baggage if you feel it's hindering your current relationships. That's not a bad place to start actually, and it could be useful to you. There are books out there that have addressed the topic.

But another round of bumming around the Continent as escapism is probably not the answer you're looking for. The big B-day is a time to suck it up and go for a goal(s) you'd be proud of in 5-10 years. Sure, that might be that stunning BF Lars and his ski biz in the Italian Alps, but that's not all that likely. The emotional stuff does take work, it's always draining. For everyone. It's why we come to appreciate the true wisdom of solitude only with age. Dealing better with all the emotional crap is a start.

But the process you spoke of on the streetscape, which is essentially everything that's necessary for just proper socialization, must happen dozens if not hundreds of times a week for many, many people. People do this at work usually without thinking much about it. It requires some thought, some training and some practice. Again, nothing you did not know already. It's always stressful, always too hurried, and always done on an ad hoc basis, unless you can afford the luxury of therapy.

But this is really why only a select few are truly suited to be good parents, and the rest just visit various forms of abuses upon their young. Some of them subsequently learn and grow from the experience, some just manage and produce some decent literature from it. Some pass it on to their children with ill and uncertain effects. You get the picture. It's nothing much to fear, but it can seem overwhelming. That's why those Starbucks moments are important, to decompress.

Now imagine a mortgage, some student loans, 10 K in credit card debt, a cranky/busy spouse, ill tempered neighbors and/or in-laws, one or 2 kids, ignorant teachers and then comes the family medical emergency, or the sick and dying relative who needs your care and attention. The factors multiply with age and characters involved, but it's the average middle class existence today. This is why it's good to strike the best bargain you can with yourself while you are young. The trick is to get as far down the road in your professional career as possible while you are still relatively unencumbered. The odds just favor a better outcome that way. Again nothing Granny couldn't ave told you, right? Have some sherry/port before bed too, it always improves the outlook of the day. Cheers! 

Posted by VJ

Anonymous said...

Kameron- Ye *Gods*, do I ever hear you on the relationship template thing. Not that I'm coming from anywhere near the same place you are with prior experiences and suchlike-- my last relationship died a slow, long-distance death, with each of us gradually turning into people whom the other didn't like very much-- but I know all too well that if I ever start seeing anyone again, there'll be a mountain of own my shit that I'll have to get over.

On the not knowing thing, you've just described how I felt for the last year, right up until I got the call from MIT. Okay, not the running away to be a poor student part-- I'm kind of immersed in my own equivalent of that right now-- but more a deep-seated anxiety about what the f*ck it was I was actually going to do with my life. It had become very clear that I couldn't just keep on going like I was, but at the same time, I felt like the way forward was blocked up by a seamless brick wall.

Best of luck with it, and I hope you figure out what you're looking for. 

Posted by Alec