The Contrarian

I have a contrarian in my life. My contrarian isn’t necessarily someone who goes against popular opinion. Instead, they are someone who almost always goes against my opinion. Basically, if I say “a”, my contrarian will say “z”. They constantly second-guess me on every level. No opinion of mine is too small to escape notice and question. My contrarian loves to tell me I am wrong about … well, everything. I know you probably think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you, I am not. If I say I like something, my contrarian immediately speaks up to tell me — in painful detail — why they do not like that thing. If I say I don’t like something, my contrarian is happy to share with me all the reasons why I am wrong, and why I actually like the thing I have said I do not like. If I am stupid enough to share my hopes and dreams, my contrarian will tell me why these things are silly and why none of them will come true. And so on. I don’t want to bog this post down with examples, but I think you get the idea.

I don’t ask my contrarian for opinions — ever. Instead, I will make the mistake of mentioning something in passing conversation, and my contrarian will seize upon it and offer opinion after opinion after opinion. It’s almost like I can’t have a normal conversation with my contrarian. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s like my contrarian wants to be too embedded in my life. They want to offer opinions and “helpful advice” even when I have plainly said I don’t want any advice. And even when I have said the advice is not helpful.

The thing is, when you have someone like this in your life, it makes you second guess yourself. Constantly. Because my contrarian has been part of my life for my whole life, including my formative years, I developed a habit of second guessing Every Single Thing. Every thought, every opinion, every feeling was always fair game for my contrarian. It often felt like my entire life was laid bare, like someone had taken a knife to my soul and split it wide open for the entire world to see and criticize and comment upon. It was emotionally and mentally exhausting. I never knew who I truly was. I never knew what I wanted from my life. I never even thought of those things. I fell into this pattern of floundering around, feeling lost and like I could not make up my mind about … well, anything. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, other than to say I came into my adulthood feeling like I was always wrong and like I would never be able to make my own choices.

I bet you are sitting there, reading this and thinking to yourself, “What the heck is wrong with you? Cut that person out of your life right now.” We live in such a cancel culture that I think cutting someone out of our life has become the advice of the day. It’s kind of an automatic reaction, isn’t it? However, in this instance, it is probably also the correct advice. I’ve gone through years of therapy, and I have received this advice many times. But the truth is that I’m not willing to do it. I don’t have it in me to do this, because I know it would hurt my contrarian so very much.

And so, I have tried to learn to live with it, instead. Is this the best choice? Honestly, I don’t know. There are times when I feel bitter about it. There are times when I feel angry about it, because I think about all the things I missed out on or all the things about myself that I have needlessly questioned or all the times I felt like a horrible person because of things my contrarian said or made me believe. Sometimes, I wish I could cut this person out of my life. Sometimes, I feel like not cutting them out is a sign of weakness. But, in the end, I know I could not live with myself if I took that step. I know I would not be honoring the type of person I want to be if I shut the door on this relationship.

In some ways, the wisdom of age has helped. Physical distance has also helped. I have learned, over time, to be kind but blunt with my contrarian. I have to temper my bluntness with kindness because my contrarian is sensitive to criticism. (Oh, the irony!) I have learned to tell my contrarian to stop offering opinions and second guessing me when these things feel too hurtful. When the opinions and second-guessing are not too hurtful, I have learned to ignore them. I have learned that I can nod my head and pretend to take all the advice, but then go off and do whatever I want. I have learned to remind myself that I am a good person and that my feelings and opinions have value. I remind myself that my contrarian loves me, in their own way. I remind myself that they think they are helping, and that they believe they are coming at all of this from a place of love and support. In reality it doesn’t work out that way, but “reality” can be a fluid thing, in my experience. And, if it all becomes too much to take, I have learned to cut off conversations that make me feel bad about myself.

Is this ideal? No. I don’t think it is. But I think it’s the best I can do for myself under the circumstances. In particular, I feel sad to know that I will never be able to sit down and have this conversation — the one that I am sitting here, typing out in my blog — with my contrarian. Because my contrarian can’t hear the things I need to tell them. Like, they literally will not hear them; they are not able to listen with an open mind and an open heart. Allowing my contrarian to remain in my life means I will never have resolution or peace for this swirl of emotions. But, maybe, in some ways, having to think through all of this has made me a stronger and better person. Maybe, it has taught me to approach others on even ground, and it has taught me to listen with an open heart and mind. My contrarian could never give me these things. But, just maybe, I can give them to myself and to those around me.

A Week of “Meh” …

Last week was a week of “Meh”. Remember how I mentioned I was doing some contract work for a local nonprofit organization? And remember how I mentioned that I was enjoying the work? And remember how I mentioned that I was starting to feel more alive and better about myself than I had in years?

Yeah. Well … that’s all gone. Thank you, COVID-19. I found out last week that I won’t be getting any more contract work for now. Luckily, the company feels it’s a temporary pause. They didn’t cancel my contract, and they told me they are looking forward to having me back on the team when things go back to normal — whenever that might be.

I’m not mad about getting shut down. I totally get it, and, honestly, I was not surprised. I felt really fortunate to be getting work as this pandemic started rolling across the U.S., but, in the back of my mind, there was that feeling of dread. You know the one I mean: that nervous, sinking feeling that tells you things are going too well, and that you are soon in for some disappointment.

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It sucks. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that. The people I was working with were very apologetic. I know they feel terrible about it. But, really, they have no reason to. It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s just the way things are for right now. Times are uncertain. We have no idea how long we might have to huddle in our houses. Maybe only until the end of April. But maybe all the way to June. Or maybe even longer. Everything feels uncertain and scary now. Businesses have to cut expenses. And, of course, an independent contractor is the first expense to go. I’m not angry about it. I’m just … sad.

So, my contract work dried up last Monday. Before the pandemic happened, I had applied for a job with a company in our town. Last Tuesday, I got a call from the hiring manager for that job. He wanted to let me know they are dropping me from consideration, although he appreciated my interest in the job, and he said he wants to introduce me to other people in the company’s legal department once we can all leave our houses. I came into the hiring process late, and they already had people lined up for second interviews, so I didn’t have much of a chance, from the start. The hiring manager told me this, up front. I appreciate his candor and his willingness to continue offering me some of his time and assistance. It was incredibly kind of him to make the effort to call me in person, instead of letting the form rejection letter speak for itself. But … getting rejected sucks, too. Even if you weren’t totally sold on the job (which I wasn’t), getting rejected is a blow to the ego. Last week felt like a combination knock-out punch!

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And so, I have been feeling bad about myself. No matter how much I tell myself none of this has anything to do with my skills or qualifications … No matter how much I remind myself no one could foresee how everything has had to shut down due to COVID-19 … No matter how much I remind myself that this is all a matter of bad timing and nothing more … I feel like a big, fat, ridiculous, stupid LOSER.

Depression has joined the party in my head, whispering that I am worthless and making it hard to do anything I want or need to do. It’s hard to get up in the mornings. It’s hard to work up the energy to do even the simplest household tasks. Luckily, I can’t avoid cooking, as my family still needs to eat. And the dogs still need to be fed and loved on. These have been saving graces for me. Even so, I can feel it pushing down on me — that black cloud of self-hate, tinged at the edges with feelings of failure and worthlessness.

Here’s the thing: I need to get my shizzle together and stop whining over what I have lost. Today, I sat down and thought about all the good things in my life: my family loves me, my parents are still in good health, my dogs are a constant delight, and so on. Yes, I may have lost out on something that made me feel good about myself, but my family is still okay. My husband’s job seems stable, and we are (so far) weathering this crisis pretty well. I don’t hate staying at home, which is a huge positive right now. I can still enjoy nail polish and reading and all the little things I love on a daily basis. No one I know is sick with this horrible virus. I am so fortunate in many ways, and I don’t even realize it.

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No, I think it’s not quite that I don’t realize it. I think it’s more that Depression has a way of hiding these things from me. At times when I start feeling down on myself, I have to remember to go looking for them. This isn’t to say that feeling sad over getting rejected or losing work is wrong or anything like that. On the contrary, it’s a valid feeling, and I need to let myself grieve over the things I lost. But I need to remember I haven’t lost everything. I need to remember I have also gained. And I need to remember that this loss, no matter how awful it feels, isn’t the end of the world.

Today, I took a walk in the sunshine. I felt the wind against my skin. I smelled the freshly cut grass. I raised my arms toward the blue sky above, and it was Good.

A Story of Mornings

I am not a morning person. I never have been. I am more of a night owl. No matter how tired I am, you will seldom find me in bed before midnight. On those rare occasions when I manage to crawl into bed at a decent hour (like 10PM), I usually end up reading for another hour or two before finally going to sleep. It’s like a switch flips inside of me after a certain time of night. I am “up” and ready to go!

Except … it’s night. And I’m an “old” married lady. And a mom. With responsibilities that have to happen during the daytime. It’s not like I can get dressed and head out for a fun night on the town when I’m feeling awake and ready to get my day started at 11PM or midnight.

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So, I have never been a person who hops out of bed before the alarm, rested, excited, and ready for the day. I’ve always kind of wished I was like that. Being a morning person, somehow, seems much more productive than being a night person. Perhaps it’s because life happens in the early morning and the daytime. It should happen equally as much at night. After all, a day is 24 hours, 12 of which are near dark or after dark — right? But I suppose Morning and Day had a better PR campaign. And Night was left with Vampires. And me.

Over the past several months, my usual patterns have changed. It is subtle — more like a different nuance than an outright change. Where I have always been slow to wake up, now I catch myself thinking about how I don’t WANT to get up in the morning. In those moments between being fully asleep and fully awake, Depression slithers in and whispers all kinds of things at me.

I feel good about the new year. I feel optimistic and hopeful, for the first time in a couple of years. Even though I can’t yet see exactly HOW things are going to work out for us, I feel, in my heart, that they truly are going to work out for the better. But in those moments when I am first awake and faced with the prospect of a brand-new day, my Depression natters and picks away at that confidence and hope. “You are foolish,” it whispers. “You are a failure. Look at the situation you are in right now. It’s all your fault, and you can’t fix any of it. You will never do anything right. Ever.” And, the worst one of all: “None of this is going to work out. Nothing will change.”

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None of this is true. I know that. I KNOW it. And yet, Depression is so horribly, terribly persuasive. It seeps in around the edges and finds little chinks in the emotional armor. And I find myself lying there in bed, snuggled under my weighted blanket and thinking about how it will take more energy than it is worth for me to get up and face the day. It’s better to stay here, where it is warm and nothing has gone wrong yet. Depression always agrees with that.

And yet … the day is out there. Life is out there. It is a precious gift, and it needs to be lived through the good and the bad. So I gather up my strength and my courage, and I put my feet on the floor. Ready to fight another day. Maybe, if I do this enough times, Depression will learn to be quiet, for once.

A Rough Day

I’m taking a break from my Maui vacation posts. I had a rough day today, and I needed to blog it out. It is the latest in a long string of rough days. My family’s circumstances are changing right around us. It is stressful and a little scary. We are unsettled.

I don’t usually write about things like this. I mean, I write about my family sometimes. And I sometimes write about difficult things facing us. But I seldom write about myself, my background, and my own feelings.  I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfortable sharing this. Because I don’t want to hurt anyone, and there is a little kid inside of me who is desperately afraid of the wrong people reading this. Because they wouldn’t understand. And yet, there is something within me that needs to say it out loud, even if it is only to send the words out into the ether.

Sometimes I feel like life pushes me along in its wake. It shoves me this way, then tugs me that way. Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really. So you just go along with the flow. What could be wrong with that? It’s easy. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to want. You just float along.

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But it’s not that great. What if you want to choose for yourself? What if you want to know where you’re going? Maybe you have a destination in mind and want to choose your own path. Maybe there are specific things you want to do or see. But none of that is up to you. Because Life.

I’m a floater. I always have been. I was more or less trained to be this way from birth. I always had to be agreeable. I always had to be pleasing. I had to wear certain things or do certain things or care about certain things. Not because any of it mattered to me, but because it mattered to the people around me. Always put others first. Always care about their feelings, but have none of your own. Don’t make choices. Let others have their way. Don’t have hopes or dreams. Just … Don’t … Want … Anything.

When you grow up like this, you get the message. And it is this: You don’t matter. You are not good enough. You are not real.

I am an adult woman who is nearly incapable of making a decision. Or having an opinion. Or making a choice. Even something as simple as “Where do you want to eat?” or “What movie do you want to see?” ends up with me shrugging and saying that I don’t care. It makes my husband so mad.

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And then, one day, you’re all grown up. And you still can’t cope. Maybe you think you can. Maybe you even feel like you have made peace with all those things from your childhood. You have forgiven and moved on.

Except …

All those things are still there. Every hurt. Every sting. Every bruise ever suffered by your tender heart. Every moment of every time you told yourself, “If I do this one thing perfectly, I will be loved. I will matter. I will be real.” It never happens. And somewhere deep inside yourself, you know it never will. You hope for it and you try for it over and over again. And you end up feeling stupid and foolish.

No matter how much you think you have changed … no matter that you are now an adult … Those feelings and insecurities are always inside of you. Sometimes they bubble up to the surface and catch you off guard. And then you find yourself sitting in a public place in full-blown panic attack mode. You can’t stop crying. And you wonder if anyone would notice if you just put your sweater over your head to block out the world. Just for a few moments.

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That was me, earlier today. I had a conversation with my mom. It wasn’t any big, heavy conversation or anything. It was just our normal, daily chit-chat. But something she said caught me. All these feelings came bubbling up, too fast and too much.

How foolish I must have looked: an overly-chubby woman with slightly wild blue hair, perched on a stool and crying into my sweater. It was not my finest moment. Luckily for me, I was meeting a dear friend. She arrived and gave me a hug and helped me collect myself.

I wish I could go back in time and meet Younger Me. I wish I could hug her tight and tell her that I love her. I wish I could tell her she is strong and okay the way she is. I wish I could tell her she is enough. And that she matters. And that she is Loved.