Monday, September 2, 2013

Turning Twenty Seven: A Year of Connection

[Each year, around my birthday, I review the previous year. e.g. 2425, 26, etc. Here's 27.]

It’s hard to describe what it’s like not to have your own body for most of your life. I’ve used various metaphors (“wearing a sheet instead of clothes” “feeling like a shadow instead of a self” “a thing that only exists because a mind can’t exist alone”), but they’re all inadequate. For at least 24 of my 27 years, I have felt like a mind without a body. And even in years 25 and 26, as I’ve started to find myself, the constant fear and anxiety have kept me profoundly alienated.

But, without question, this past year has been a year of connection. I have discovered so much of myself and gotten so much closer to others. It has been immensely difficult, but it’s also felt very healing too. My dry existential cynicism aside, I am fundamentally a hopeful person. And this year is further proof that though so many days (and weeks and months) are so hard, my life as a whole keeps getting better.

You guys, I have cried so.much. this past year. And not just on my own: I have cried in front of other people. I have cried in front of groups, in front of strangers, with friends and peers and supervisors. In classes, in offices, over the phone, in bedrooms. And it has been wonderful.

Well, that’s probably poor word choice. It’s been painful, but it’s been a real, connected pain, not the grinding, isolating pain I’m used to. Crying, for me, is a sign that I am connected with myself. And crying in front of others is a sign that I can trust and be vulnerable and let others in in a way I have never been able to do before.

And it’s not just crying. I’m learning to be angry, learning to beaffectionate, learning to be present. I’m gradually developing the ability to “listen” to my anxiety, to hear what it says, and to answer it in ways that are affirming and kind (where, not so many years ago, I would have been violent and cruel). I can take a walk and just admire the colors of the sunset. I can, rarely but sometimes, really taste food. I can connect with others, not just cognitively but emotionally.

Perhaps all of that sounds odd. But I have lived inside of my head for so long that it’s all I’ve known. The physical, embodied world is just so new to me. And although I still feel like I’m stumbling more often than not, the increasing moments when I feel connected are truly revelatory.

More on that later. For now, here are some example of positive growth in the past year:
-          I’ve taken a lot more emotional risks with my friends, and as a result I’ve gotten much closer to many of them. Building my capacity for platonic intimacy has been a really significant part of my growth this past year.
-          I’ve become a lot more ok with being single. There’s still a huge part of me that wants a relationship so badly, but I’m learning to make life good and meaningful without it. I’m learning not to wait for my life to get better but to, instead, find ways to make it better now.
-          I’m learning how to identify and manage stress. Sometimes, I can actually relax and let some of it go. I held on too tightly in Spring13 and it blew up on me, so I’m learning to pace myself and take care of myself better.
-          I feel more confident in my counseling. It’s still quite often a trial, but I’m beginning to see some of the value I can offer my clients. I’m also getting much better at just being present with them instead of trying to fix them.
-          There are multiple people at the Counseling Center who I feel are challenging me and supporting me. Working with our “Diversity Committee” has been a huge source of community, esteem, and inspiration. It’s probably been the best non-friend thing that’s happened to me this past year. I feel part of a supportive team that gets shit done in a way I’ve never felt before.
-          I’m developing a bit more sense of my “style.” Growing into myself helps. It’s nascent, but it feels a lot less amorphous and confusing than it did a year ago.
-          I started a short story reading group and have been involved with a few feminist discussion groups, helping to challenge my mind and connect more with friends new and old alike.
-          I got more involved in psychology professional organizations, giving me a pathway to stay involved and grow post-graduate school.
-          I’ve traveled a fair amount and actually gotten a feeling for different places (which is new for me). In the past year, I’ve gone to Austin, Nashville, Asheville, Honolulu, Houston, and Dallas (4 times). Most of my travels have been alone, which has been intimidating but has also helped me feel like I can handle myself in new situations.
-          I was able to make some progress with my procrastination habits, getting work done on self-determined schedules. Significant emphasis on some.
-    I did a lot of processing with one of my exes which was really painful but really healing, too.

Continuing challenges/areas for growth [it’s interested to read how many of these I’ve actually addressed from last year’s post; better make these count!]
-          I eat really poorly. I exercise by walking some, but I definitely need to take care of my body better.
-          My cleaning habits are pretty bad. I need to set aside more time for taking care of things instead of escaping into my computer so often.
-          I’m getting better, but I still have lots of anxiety and avoidant coping strategies. I’d like to move through those more instead of running away from them.
-          I would like to practice being kind more. I hate being kind to myself, but I am continually learning that it’s really difficult to be kind and love others if you’re not kind to and love yourself.
- I want to keep practicing being “present” and not stuck in my anxiety, isolated from myself and others.

Finally, there are two themes developing which I most want to nurture: I want to continually strive to become more connected to myself, to others, and to the now; and I want to continue discovering and becoming “my self.”

Becoming the person I want to be and becoming more and more connected feel like the core of my life’s work. It’s work that will never be done, but I’m learning that’s the only kind of work that brings enduring satisfaction. I’m sure what these things look like will change with time, and I know I will always struggle in reaching them. But I want to live authentically, to live each moment so that if I die in the next I will not regret it. And I feel like this the path to get there.

So much of twenty-six was so hard. And yet, given how far I’ve come, I must admit I’m a bit eager to look back at this post a year later and see how much more I’ve grown. Here’s to getting older.

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