Shaken

These days I find that I am easily shaken. Like a glass of water with sediment inside of me, once shaken it takes time for those particles to settle at the base again.

I’m getting tired of waiting for my feelings to settle before I can see clearly again.

A Few More Steps

I feel like for much of my life I’ve been a few short steps away from a crisis. Thinking broadly about my time since enterring high school, when people have asked how I am, I always seem to recall having to catch myself from saying that I was struggling with something or other. Whether it was study, moving house, processing past hurts, challenges at work, or figuring out my identity, I’ve always felt like I’ve had heavy burdens to work through leaving me little room for extra challenge on top of it all.

Certainly there have been times in my life when I was feeling strong and robust and able to take on more, but as I look back now, I seem to have usually been at 80% capacity for handling stress.

Maybe it’s just ’cause things are hard now that I can’t remember this isn’t my default.
Or maybe it’s because I’ve learned to look for the struggle in life, and that I then focus on how heavy my burdens are.
Or maybe I really am just going through a tonne of stuff all the time, and life is hard.

I guess I can’t figure it out right now. All I can do is keep my head above water, work through what I’m working through, and live my best life. I do worry though that I’ll spend my whole life processing, healing, and working through stuff, and then I’ll die exhausted and spent without ever enjoying the fruits of my labour. When is enough enough, and I can stop working so hard on myself? I suppose I’ll have to make time, and to focus on appreciating that time rather than seeing it as the exception in a problem-saturated story of my life.

It’s starting to rain

I’ve been playing a bunch of Breath of the Wild lately, and I’ve been thinking of my energy levels in terms of Link’s stamina wheel.

This morning when I woke up and it was was about 15% full. With coffee, by the time I got to work it was about 30%. A little more time, a few cups of green tea, and I got it up to 70%.

My first appointment of the day dropped it to about 55%. And then, if I had stayed for lunch surrounded by my colleagues, I’m sure it would have gone down to 40. But instead I left the office, slowing the decline at least, so that I’ll probably be around 50% by the time I get back into work. Might be a double coffee day, though that has mixed results.

I wonder if life is like this for everyone. Maybe I just need more sleep.

Teasing

At training tonight, Kancho was explaining about blood pressure, and how you don’t want to live a sedentary life where some small exertion causes you to have a stroke (all of which was solid advice). During this, he mimed holding a controller and, casting around for a game reference, locked eyes with me and asked “Xin, what games do you play?”

I started laughing and said “Kancho please…”
Because as it so happens, I’ve had an anxious day and spent most of it playing Overwatch, Breath of the Wild and Postknight. And I find it strangely delightful that Kancho and I have this enduring joke where he keeps teasing me about video games instead of spending more time enjoying the real world. We can’t really see eye-to-eye on it, but it’s all in good fun and I don’t mind being ribbed.

But it also kinda sucks being teased about something important to me, especially in a world where the average age for a gamer is in their 30’s. I guess it’s true that most people I encounter in person probably wouldn’t describe themselves as gamers, but it’s a super important part of who I am, and if I go for more than a few days without playing something I lose touch with my sense of self.

Video games have always been super important to me, not only because it’s who I am, but as survival mechanisms during challenging times in my life. I’ve made several attepmts at writing a blog post about it, but it’s taking much longer than I anticipated; every time I start to go down the rabbit hole of that dark place I used to be in, it takes me days to crawl back out. It gives me chills to think about – I hate dwelling in and on those times.

But I do want to write that post, because I want to create the counter message that video games aren’t just silly virtual experiences. I know they have the capacity to save people, and I want to write about it. It’s just a little hard.

Not really sure where this blogpost is going. Consider it a placeholder, I guess?

In My Mind

A few days ago I watched a very excellent episode of Running Man based on Phantom of the Opera (you can watch it for free here). I got the main theme from the musical stuck in my head, and I’ve been singing it to myself ever since.

Curious about how the lyrics were related to the story (particulary the phrase “My power over you grows stronger yet”), I looked up the plot. I remember seeing the film as a teenager and not finding it particularly enjoyable, except for the famous theme, so it surprised me to read what a dark and macarbe story it told. The Phantom, disfigured from birth, hidden away from the world in a dark lair that he created for himself, tormenting the occupants of the Operahouse and killing (or threatening to kill) the inhabitants if they didn’t do as he demanded… I found it strangely appealing, even as I found it horrible.

Despite how ableist it is (set in the late 1800’s, so a different time to be sure), I really resonated with the idea of the Phantom. As someone who created a Domain themselves, I could appreciate the idea of having a place where I was all-powerful. I could relate to the idea of being outcasted, shamed, and rejected. And the Phantom kind of fills out the fantasy of being so powerful that others have no choice but to do as he wishes. I can see him as a sad and lonely figure, never knowing love or kindness despite being worthy of it. I see his gift for music, and wonder about the world that might have been if he was celebrated for who he was rather than shunned.

At the end of the day, as much as I admire the imagery, he murdered people so that he might feel loved. Christine was so frustrating tome, being so pure and loving that she would accept a life of misery or death to save others from his violence (very Desdemona).

I don’t really have anything productive to say, other than I seriously can’t stop singing this song in my head. It haunts me. Maybe Andrew Lloyd Webber is the real phantom.

Stepping out of the Flow

It’s been a busy day. I woke up at 7 having had some troubling nightmares. Dreams of trying my hardest and still failing, because people changed things without telling me, or I was utterly in the wrong place at the wrong time. I woke up angry and cold, grumpy and tired, and it took me an hour to convince myself that the small pleasure of staying in bed scrolling through facebook was not as tempting as the prospect of getting up and doing something better with my time.

Feeling sorry for myself, I watched anime, waiting to feel less miserable. No such luck. After an hour, while I was enjoying the minor distraction, I was feeling frustrated and now stressed that time was running short. It’s such a hard choice for me to get up and embrace life rather than curl up and seek pleasure after a rough night.

The day was busy – apart from one game of Overwatch, it was very “productive”. I cleaned, ran errands with Beth, wrote emails and prepared for supervision. I met with people, I got things done, and I moved quickly and efficiently, crossing 14 things off my To-Do List (some of them taking several hours).

And yet, the more focussed I became on completing tasks, the more desperate I was to continue completing tasks. I began to spiral, trying to do more and more with less and less. I began micromanaging my time into fifteen minute blocks again, thinking “Well if I can finish dinner by 6, that’ll give me enough time to eat before training. It’ll take me two hours to cook, so I need to start by 4. I’ll get home at 4:30, so I’ll need to cook faster, or just take time out of my digestion time slot and go to training full…” Getting more and more desperate, stealing more and more time, falling further and further behind and always playing catchup. And always thinking of the next couple of items on the list, wondering how I’ll fit them in today, knowing deep down that it’s impossible but still feeling frustrated that I can’t find a way to make it happen.

Before karate, I wrote a note in my phone to bring up with my counsellor.
“I’m super stressed at the moment. I’ve vomited twice in three days and am feeling anxious every day. I feel so stressed all the time – like I’m drowning, the waves crashing over my head, and I’m exhausted. I have just enough strength to keep kicking to get my head above water for just long enough to take enough breath to just keep kicking. There are so many things that I wanted to do today that I didn’t get around to, and I’m drowning I’m drowning I’m drowning.
I keep feeling like I’m going to cry.”

It was hard for me to get into karate, but I did. The longer I did it, the more I enjoyed it, until the end my heart was light and my mind was sharp. I was tired, it’s true, but I was happy. And then as I got in the car to go home, I began to think of that To-Do List and I started to feel the weight again. But before I let it gain too much momentum, I wanted to write this down to remind myself later:
Xin, there are times when you become so stressed you lose perspective. You focus on the minutae, getting closer and closer to the details without having any sight of the big picture. You’ve stepped out of Flow and you haven’t even noticed it. In those moments you really get caught up in how important it is to write one more email, or cross one more thing off the list; when you start stealing time because you don’t have enough to do the things you feel you need to. It is precisely at those moments you need to Slow. The Fuck. Down.

Practice some mindfulness. Do some yoga. Have a shower. Go for a run or a hike. Breathe, watch something, play something. Hit the reset button however you can.
And don’t expect to hit it within five minutes. If your distress levels are super high, it’s going to take a little while to properly bring them back down into the green. And it’s so damn important that you get them back in the green, because when you’re in Flow, when you’re one with the Tao, when you’re centred and calm, you’re making good decisions. You’re using your time and energy well, in ways that count. You’re noticing how you are and what you need, and you’re making informed decisions about what to do with yourself. That is you at your best, and it is super important to spend as much of every day as possible in that zone. Make time for it. Because if you’re a slave to your To-Do List, none of it matters.

Drowning

The bucket inside of me that can hold stress and fear has been very full lately. I find myself teetering on the brink of “coping” and “overwhelmed” several times a day. Sometimes several times an hour.

I have moments where I humble myself before greater powers than myself. Where I open my heart to the stress and the pain because I know it will help me learn something important, or to grow strong and wise.

And other times I feel myself circling the drain. I don’t know how long I can go on. But I won’t let my story end, because I and those who love me have worked too hard to make it this far. I refuse to go quietly into that good night.

But it tempts me sometimes.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way. Like I’m low-key drowning in my own distress, but so slowly it doesn’t seem to be a crisis. That the waters have always been this high and this rough, I’ve just gotten used to it.

In the heart of the maelstrom, I don’t know what will help. I can’t tell if softness or hardness will get me where I need to be. I don’t know whether to lean into it or lean away from it. I can’t tell my yin from my yang right now.

All I can do is recall the advice I gave myself yesterday, in a moment of clarity: that all the things that I think are “important” don’t matter at all compared to staying alive and easing this suffering. As hard as it is to take time away from being “productive”, if it helps me return to my Self sooner then it’s time well spent. It’s difficult, I know, to want to do so much and be so limited. But that’s how things are right now, and you can spend time and energy fighting it, or you can ease into it. You can start to enjoy it. With mindfulness, every moment can be pleasurable, even if it isn’t comfortable.

I can’t promise to be mindful 24/7. But I do want to remember it more often. I think that will be the key to my survival.