A New Identity

Yesterday, I wrote a blog, which I assume to have been some kind of – almost violent – call to “order” or something. It came from a place of despair as well as a small bout of excess encouragement, the latter arising from the relief of having overcome my fear of going into hospital (and hospital being the trigger experience to end all triggers…). In other words: A bit hyperbole. Dramatic. (what else was new…? ;)).

As I’m settling back into my day-to-day routine – if you can call it that to begin with -, I’m becoming more settled, more peaceful again. I’m sure, this is in part due to the aftereffects of getting heavily medicated at the hospital, flushed with antibiotics and all kinds of other substances I’m not even too clear about in terms of ingredients. So, I guess I’m somehow modulating the battle cry. I came back from the hospital thinking I could just do as I had been doing all my adult life: Pull myself together by all means and just perform and function. I mean – I guess, I could still do that, at least for another short while, but why would I keep violating myself like this? My point being here: It dawned on me that in submitting myself to thoughts of this nature, i.e. you got to go back to working full time, you have to be a part of society again, you have to make money and stand on your feet at all cost, I was and am still following standards defined by others, trying to abide by other people’s expectations. In other words: Hanging on to thoughts of this nature means perpetuating the abuse! That’s not healing, it’s actually counterproductive to healing and simply going back to (better) known territory. Terrible territory, abusive, violent territory, but… familiar in a way. Setting such “perspectives” for myself equals going back to survival mode in a setting that has been feeling threatening, hostile, dangerous, unsafe, unpredictable and in no way soothing or protecting of me and my true nature. In still different words: Not a good idea.

As I took my longer walk last night, a new thought began to settle: I have moved away from whatever previous identity I had fabricated for myself for the past 25+ years. That previous identity was carved along the lines of your standard model of a working citizen and career. I had been in and out of employment on payroll, alternated with periods of being self-employed, the latter finally working out best for myself – or so I thought, until I simply wasn’t able any longer to manage the inherent rejection, setbacks, denial, belittling, marginalizing and – abuse in different ways (like e.g. getting cheated out of money repeatedly, just to give you one example). Having worked as a project manager, consultant, technical trainer, technical writer, journalist, translator in the high paced IT industry seems to have mercilessly drummed on all sore spots in me in an ongoing, constant manner. I must have found ways of taking the vengeance away from those triggers or else I couldn’t have sustained myself for that long (like I said, we’re talking about roughly 25 years of being in that walk of life). But it simply became pointless to go on like that. At some point, I lost faith in seeing progress or a perspective for growing into something better, bigger, easier sustainable. The cards were dealt, my role was more or less set in stone – and it sucked and didn’t seem to offer any growth, not even careerwise. In retrospect and in being brutally honest with myself, I barely got by. This realization seems to confirm itsself through the experience of how quickly it all fell apart as soon as I shifted the focus towards self-healing and away from keeping the pace at the rat race. (hey, sounds like a song title, doesn’t it? LOL). It didn’t even take a full two years until about 40,000 in savings were depleted (largely on medical bills not covered by my health insurance) and until I had to file for bankruptcy in 2011, while trying hard to maintain a modest lifestyle and in keeping a very modest infrastructure running (Housing, computer, car. Food. Almost no socializing, no movies, no eating out unless invited, which I became reluctant and ultimately unwilling to accept, an occasional cup of coffee with someone here and there). Former friendships started to fall apart – not all of them, thank God! -, I started to recede on account of the associated stigma and the insane battle with the remaining fragments of a once well established and comfortable social security system in my country ensued. In hindsight, I have to issue a strong warning to anyone standing at the junction of keeping at it or conking out: Don’t! Not in this country anyway. You’re setting yourself up for a nightmare the scope and intensity of which you can’t possibly imagine. As things stand today, notions of Hitler and the persecution of minorities, disabled people, artists, scientists, queers and anyone not exactly fitting in to the agenda of the time abound again. I’m not exaggerating. People are killing themselves in the thousands from mere despair of seeing their livelihood and their entire life effort denied and stolen from them! Some are left to dying inside their scarcely subsidized homes, left without food and sometimes unable to come and collect food stamps. I’m not making this up, there are independent reports in the hundreds of things like this going on every day. (P.S. This just in: This is really happening. Try Google Translate to make sense of the story in German. A man kills himself for lack of seeing hope for a turn for the better…) Those of us in this country, who have fallen through the cracks of more or less ongoing employment are the new hated-upon minorities, along with immigrants, disabled people and basically anyone not showing up for work at 8.30 sharp. We’re even beyond stigma. It’s become a manhunt. But I’m digressing.

So, new identity. Well – that of the disabled guy. Ok, in all fairness: I guess I could do – a number of – things, in theory. Physically, I’m only partially disabled after overcoming – for now – some ongoing inflammation in the joints from a gout condition which had me immobile for a good deal of 2011 (the knees along with atrophy on the left leg, also from surgery in my later teens. I’ve never fully recovered from that). Which makes this condition even harder to deal with, because people will readily make all kinds of assumptions, usually along the lines of me appearing all well and then concluding I was unwilling to work or something like that. I’m not. It’s just become very difficult to find a setting in which the persisting triggers don’t sabotage all other effort and render me dysfunctional sooner or later like it happened in 2007 and sending me down this very rough road I have been on eversince. As a matter of fact, since going down the path of partial and ultimately full disability, I haven’t been able to think of a setting I might be able to adapt to in an at least semi-permanent manner. I think I am able to mildly socialize – when I can, that is, on account of a missing budget for that -, but so far, it would be unrealistic to commit to something on an ongoing basis as anxiety and the physical outcomes of still active triggers null and void the effort that goes into rolling them back (in this context: Hospital was brutal on account of that – the forced on proximity, the noise like doors being slammed, being at the mercy of complete strangers, the uncertainty of what was about to happen etc. etc. The retriggered trauma couldn’t have been any more complete, it was a nightmare!). However – this has to be my goal in order to become part of something again. Because being this ghost, this recluse… isn’t a mode of operation, either. I am grateful, I get to communicate and interact via this blog and the social media. I’m sure, this has kept me from simply losing it and going full blown coo-coo. But I need to see myself as part of something bigger again at some point (I’d love to play in a band again, once I’ve learnt to manage known triggers more effectively – with the help of medication, if necessarry, the latter of which I have not been able to obtain so far). Hence my decision to now openly talk about disability coming from this condition for now and making a contribution towards advocacy.

Isn’t it “funny” how being sensitive and feeling more and having suffered boils down to the equivalent of disability in this day and age? What about the inherent strength of having endured and survived? I’ll ponder this another time. I guess, I’ll eventually come up with a more detailed and dependable set of tools and qualities I have been relying on so far and which will hopefully serve as cornerstones of finding a sense of security from within, thus ideally enabling me to move about more freely again. I guess, part of the healing can be to assess those aspects that have seen me through and then identify ways and scenarios where they will come in handy as far as a new foundation to stand upon. Sounds like an idea?

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6 thoughts on “A New Identity

  1. When I read your post today, I got the sense that you ARE finding a sense of security from within! I have a retired psychologist friend who says to me often, “With awareness comes change,” and according to what you wrote in your post, you are aware within yourself of that possible sense of security and strength. The “change” part may not be something that you need stress over to the point where you stress yourself out, for the subconscious does a lot of work on its own if you but tell it what you want it to do. You probably already know this. Perhaps if you gently whisper to it each day and before you go to sleep at night what you want in the way of change, that change will take place without the “Sturm und Drang” you may fear and expect.

    Anyway, I base the above on my own experience, and yet I know we are all different. But maybe it’s worth a try. I read hope and change in your post, and that’s why I’m telling you this. Namaste . . . Jean

    • Thank you, Jean! It’s very helpful to hear and read how other people perceive me instead of falling for my own tunnel vision all the time. I’m actually giving that gentle whisper a good try right now by speaking a powerful mantra before going to bed and after waking up. It’s said to reprogram the neural pathways into a new (better) belief system. In addition, I’m going to resume a short series of hynotherapy/trance sessions with my trusted therapist. I have also shared the trauma “charge” of past trauma with him – more or less just to release it from my system and liberate myself from bottling this up. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement, I appreciate them a lot!

  2. We are definitely kindred spirits. I found the mourning of my former life, potential, goals and trappings one of the hardest parts of my recovery. I didn’t even realize this would be part of the process. Somehow I was convinced that I would bounce back and land square in the middle of that old life again.

    I wouldn’t go back now for anything.

    Yes, I have had to learn a whole new way of living. Poverty was an experience of my childhood, so I had some idea about how to be poor. What I wasn’t clear on was how to be happy, regardless.

    I had to take myself through some existential questioning…. to explore what I really used as anchors in my life and how I experienced happiness. And, I had to redefine my perspective of what constitutes a successful life.

    One of the curious revelations I had was that I had spent half a lifetime bathing myself in a set of expectations that actually made me something of a slave. Owned by my possessions, my reputation, my achievements, my income and status. I bathed in empty enjoyments. Then I became too ill to provide them for myself.

    By everyone else’s standards, I lost everything. But, what truly happened is that I shed materiality, while also shedding vanity and the greed that kept me on the proverbial hamster wheel.

    My life slowed to snail’s pace, with empty spaces of time and nothing to drive me toward anything. The world stopped and let me off.

    The mourning was deep. It was as if I watched myself linger and die, die and linger to haunt my own self. But, somewhere I started to find understanding. I began to care more about my health, developed more of an interest in protecting my mental health for the long term. I lost my interest in the topics of my career and I finally recognized the emptiness of material and status pursuits.

    I allowed myself to enjoy where I was… to live in the moment… to experience some form of zen.

    At the heart of me I am a person who actually enjoys simple things. I love to be outdoors. I love unstructured, creative days. I love tending to my garden, growing food. The irony is that I can have these things now that I am ill. I can look forward to a simpler life — hopefully working slowly toward some security for later years, but not ruminating on it.

    Life is hard for most of us now. Those of us who are ‘disabled’ may have a harder time because of the limitations on paths to income. I had to get resourceful and have one serious discussion with my old ego, but I found domestic work, farming, gardening, online data entry, temporary warehouse assignments and all sorts of other little odd jobs to keep money coming in. I now work with family in exchange for room and board, helping with the kids and being a companion for my aunt, keeping up with daily householding. It’s simple but it is rewarding and I don’t have to combat stresses or triggers.

    Be prepared to unravel some complexities in the letting go. There will be emotions and pre-conceptions that will surprise you along the way. If you can look at them objectively, somewhat philosophically, and with love for yourself, you will open up some incredible realizations.

    I know you are on your path to find all these things for yourself. Have confidence that you will not only find what you need, you will probably find that you enjoy the simplicity of your new life much more than you ever expected. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Wow, Kimberly! What you say is, in my opinion, so true! I went through a similar process in the early and late 80s–after stopping the abuse in my home. However, since I had never really had all the trappings of a career and success, “downscaling” my aims was not so difficult. I was in my late 40s and decided to follow that “still, small voice” within me and also to go where my heart wanted me to go. What did I have to lose? Nothing! And I had myself to gain. Since I was already living simply and was content with my lot that way, I didn’t grieve for what I didn’t have. There was no reason why I would lose the quiet mornings pulling weeds in the garden and listening to the birds sing because I could have that no matter how much or how little my material wealth would be.

      What my heart and that “still, small voice” told me was to pursue a career teaching adults how to write, and that was exactly what I did. I managed to endure four years of graduate school to prepare for the work, and then when I went to work, I loved it! In fact, I remember many times thinking that I should be paying to do the work and not the other way around. I retired only because my vision began to fail, and the paper work was more than I could handle.

      Life is different, Kimberly, when you follow your heart and your soul and let yourself be directed that way rather than by externals. There is an authenticity about life, then, that doesn’t exist when you follow the expectations of others or of society. After all, you are an expert on yourself–you know better than anyone else how to direct your own life. It took me a long time to figure that out, but at least I did it while I still had time to live it.

      Sometimes, when people find out that I have two graduate degrees, they ask me why I live as I do–in subsidized housing and using food stamps. Well, teaching remedial writing in a community college is not a big money-maker and does not lead to huge retirement benefits. But I would not have done anything differently. I have a decent roof over my head, enough to eat, medical care, sufficient clothing, etc. And I have my imagination, my intuition, my ability to write clearly and post to my blog in hopes that somebody will read and benefit, and the insurance to pay for therapy. Sometimes, even, I can go to a movie. Or buy an ice cream cone. So what more could I really want?

      In the 1950s and 1960s, a gal named Malvina Reynolds, a prof. at one of the big California colleges, began writing songs, and she made an album called “Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth,” at least that’s what I think it was called. If you want reassurance that you are on the right path, you might like to listen to what she sings. I think her albums are available on Amazon. As voices go, hers is not conventionally great, but she is authentic–she really means what she sings! And she had lots of white hair and wore bib overalls. She was old. But she knew whereof she sang. A few of us old farts got it right. She is dead now, but some of us will never forget her. Namaste . . . Jean

      • Wow – so much great inspiration and positive examples of not only how to deal with the complex aftermath of previous difficult situations, but actually of how to make the most of life per se – or so I’d think!

        Living on little means that provide for the most basic things only is what I’ve been doing for the past six years myself. For the most part I’m o.k. with that – the only thing I’m missing is having a chance of socializing more often. Despite all the triggers, I also seem to find that there is a people person in me and the latter needs to find ways of coming out to play again 🙂 Tonight was such a night that was really special. I went to see a concert at a nearby music venue, where I’ve performed myself on occasion and whose owner I have become friends with. Tonight’s concert was a very special treat. (see my blog entry on this here: http://wesbound.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/sollymusic/)
        It actually reminded me of the passion I had been feeling for music in younger years and how I have somehow “automatically” overcome triggers or managed them in some way so I’d get to have the opportunity of performing with great musicians and meeting audience and such.

        I think, it isn’t entirely impossible for me to come back to that sort of thing in some way. Maybe not as often as before, certainly not full time and for sure not as a primary or sole source of income – for reasons beyond me, but also because of the trigger potential, of course. However… I got reminded that music creates this bubble of safety for me, which I have been fairly o.k. to operate from – with some new moderation now, as the quiet aspects of me need some solitude and quietude to breath. I guess, I’m talking about finding the right balance. Who knows – maybe I’ll do like Malvina.

        Isn’t it amazing what people can grow into when we follow the call of authenticity? I’m inspired, ladies! By you, by this night, by …. the human potential. Amazing.

    • Awww, thank you so much, Kimberly! I think I feel you in regards to the mourning. Your statement of expecting to land square in the middle is exactly the place I had somehow held in front of my “inner” face, a target to work towards – and it wasn’t until now that I fully realized, this not only was not going to happen, but more importantly that I don’t have much of an inclination or intention to go back to that! Much like you say, you wouldn’t go back for anything. I now feel the very same way about that.

      One of the curious revelations I had was that I had spent half a lifetime bathing myself in a set of expectations that actually made me something of a slave. Owned by my possessions, my reputation, my achievements, my income and status. I bathed in empty enjoyments. Then I became too ill to provide them for myself.

      By everyone else’s standards, I lost everything. But, what truly happened is that I shed materiality, while also shedding vanity and the greed that kept me on the proverbial hamster wheel.

      Spot on! This is me to a T from what you’re writing!

      There is one new aspect I feel the need to accustom myself to, though: Since I’ve survived and coped by way of setting goals and specific targets for myself and then working towards those, the loss of a clear path and perspective is new to me and triggers the experience of being lost and helpless at times – not all the time, thank God. But this is the exact place, where some anxiety still lives and catches up to me, sometimes in bouts of panic. I’m getting better there, learning to calm myself down and putting things in perspective without giving in to a full blown fight-or-flight reflex. I’ll get there with time and practice I guess. I still wish I had some access to medication for those times, when all “on board tools” fail. I think, I’m going to discuss this again with a medical person.

      Other than that, I think I also feel you in regards to having become able to enjoy the simple and little things, those things our daily hustle and bustle usually leaves no room for. It was part of the process of identifying the things I really enjoyed and appreciated and much like you say, being outdoors, seeing and feeling nature at work has had great healing powers – and keeps doing so. When anxiety doesn’t hit, I have actually learnt to really be in the moment and enjoy it. So far, only with and for myself, hopefully in the company of other people again as well.

      In any case – yes: We’re kindred spirits. And thank you so much for sharing your findings and your journey! I think, we are all breaking ground in this complex territory, don’t you think? Each of us individually, but also together. I’m very grateful for that.

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