Braids 

As a kid, I picked at my scabs. Any cut or scrape I got took forever to heal, because I was always scratching and picking at the scabs. It’s always been an unconscious reflex, I’ve never really aware I’m doing it until I’ve got bloody finger nails and brown blood stains around the wound. This sounds horrifically emo, but it was how I dealt with anxiety. Same goes for bruises, I could never stop touching and pressing on them. The few times I’ve had stitches were dicey, I couldn’t stop poking and prodding bandages. 

I’m not going to be dramatic and say it’s because I like pain. In fact, it has little to do with the pain of these acts, its about the relief I find afterwards. I’d pick at a scab and cover it with a fresh bandage, the wounds always warm with irritation that fades comfortably into a healing stiffness. Poking bruises and the instant relief of covering it gently with hands feels soothing. It’s kind of like pain is the payment for relief. 

I’ve tried a lot of healthy replacements to these behaviors. Fidget cubes are my best friends, as well as play dough to squeeze, yarn to knit, and nail polish to pick. However, while these tools gave me a replacement for my nervous energy, they did not bring me the same physical relief. 

I have long hair. I’ve been growing it out from a pixie cut I got three years ago, and thanks to vitamins and care, it has grown past my bust line. As soon as it was long enough, I began braiding it. Just basic braids, I haven’t mastered the French braid nor the fishtail. Sometimes it would be a simple ponytail braid, or a side braid down my right shoulder. More often than not, I’d constantly keep a tress or two from the base of my skull tightly braided. 

It wasn’t for vanity I began doing this, rarely were the braid ostentatious or noticeable. The braiding had much more to do with how I was handling my stress and anxiety. At 23 I’d been in treatment for depression, PTSD, and anxiety just under a year. After experiencing a mild panic attack on a six hour plane trip home from Boston, I calmed myself by braiding my hair. 

Anyone with long hair will tell you how sore the scalp gets after being pulled tight, be it in braids, ponytails, or buns. In my experience, I find the sensation of taking my hair out of tight braids incredibly soothing. I slowly unwind the twists and then massage my scalp, which always calms me down and relaxes my mind. It’s the least destructive way I can achieve a relatively calm physical state when I’m tense from anxiety. I keep my fingers busy from picking at scabs, and I have the sensation of relief from unbraiding my hair. 

I don’t know anyone else who does this, or anything similar. Part of me feels like I’m insane for even admitting this out loud, but I’m hoping someone else will relate and know they aren’t alone in how they physically cope with anxiety. It’s hard, I used to scratch myself until I made new wounds to scab over and pick at, it was unhealthy and it concerned my family. It was something I couldn’t help doing when I was anxious, thankfully I’ve worked hard in therapy to find healthy substitutes for this behavior. 

Braids are simple but beautiful. They date at least 5000 years, appearing in every culture around the world. The relief I get from massaging my scalp after braiding is far more beneficial to my wellbeing than picking at scabs. I used to be embarrassed by this behavior, but now I’m more outspoken about my mental health struggles, I’m going to proudly own my braids for what they are: symbols of an anxious human trying to cope with the world. 
For more anxiety inanity, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Advertisements

Learning to Live as a Conflict Avoidant 

It came as no great surprise to me recently when my therapists (that’s right, PLURAL) told me that I am ‘conflict avoidant’. If you need a crash course on conflict styles, google it and catch up because I’m going to jump straight to the point: I do not like conflict. If I’m being honest, conflict feels like a creature with a thousand claws is scratching down my shoulders and squeezing my neck until I choke. But thankfully, through therapy and a hefty tool box of mental exercises, I’ve (kinda) tamed that creature and have made it (somewhat) my bitch.

Like all conflict styles, being Conflict Avoidant (CA) is no better or worse than the others. Every human being has a different manner in which they deal with conflict, and all manners have pros and cons. However it seems that humans get really frustrated when different styles of conflict are confronted by one another. I know this because I maintain close relationships, and each person has a different conflict style than myself. Some are easier to manage, while others often get tangled up in a mess. It’s a work in progress learning how to dance with each style.

I can only speak from my own experience being CA, so I try to be understanding of all other conflict types. I feel that as a CA, I’m far easier intimidated and am more susceptible to pressure and persuasion. I have often found that when I’m in situations of conflict in which the person I’m arguing with has a stronger personality and (perhaps) thicker skin, I often give up or give in. It’s rarely because I agree with the other person’s argument or I’ve changed my mind; it’s always because I can’t stand the pressure of conflict, I always feel like I’m about to suffocate and/or cry. 

This is really hard for me to write about, as it’s really my biggest fault. Standing up for myself is a huge overwhelming effort, one that I can pull off once in a blue moon but leaves me drained for weeks. More often than not when faced with conflict, I back down and walk away because I don’t want the negativity to germinate in my chest and take over. It’s just always been easier that way.

I think the reason I’m writing about my biggest weakness is because I’ve been examining self-esteem lately. My therapist has been asking me for ages, ‘where does your self-esteem come from?’ And I’ve never had a really good answer. Every answer I gave was half-hearted or desperate guesses, I’ve never really been sure where it came from. After recently going through some rough patches and putting my frustrations under a microscope, I had the answer: Solitude.

Two years ago, I moved into my own apartment. I had never lived alone before, after high school I went to college where I had a string of roommates then moved back in with my parents post-undergrad. Living with my parents for a year in my twenties was both a blessing and a HUGE pain in the rear. Sure, I was in my twenties and I was an adult. I had finally quit my soul-sucking job selling shoes at Macy’s to work for a school district that paid me better and didn’t make me hate humanity. But I still had that awkward need to ‘ask’ my parents permission before going out late, and when I got into a serious relationship that meant ‘sleepovers’ I was ready to leave the nest. I was ready to be on my own to fly.

I am very blessed to have been living alone for two years in my apartment now. My true introverted self flourished in my solitude, and there I finally met my true self and called her friend. I still live close to my family and have sleepovers with my boyfriend, but being alone has really allowed me to find myself and where my true strengths lie. I’ve set up an etsy business that I’m slowly (because I’m absolutely terrified) branching out into farmers markets, I’ve embraced my desire to make art, and I’ve learned how to clean the toilet (are you proud of me yet, Mum?).

I imagine you can see how my self-esteem is now so well matched with my weakness. They often hold hands as they skip through the minefield of emotions I experience on a daily basis. In my solitude I can find clarity and thought in any issue I’m presented with, but being CA often means I take longer to respond to an issue than others. When immediately confronted with conflict, I’ll often back down and give in to find some immediate peace, only to later examine the situation in solitude and find thoughts that I wish I’d shared earlier. My need to sit on any issue to mull over in solitude has cost me many relationships with impatient individuals; ones that were more open to conflict than myself, but I ultimately wouldn’t miss. 

I’ve gathered some tools lately to help me bear out being CA. First is the word “safe”, there is more power in that word than any superpower found in the Marvel Universe. I telling someone “I don’t feel safe in this conversation…” or “I don’t feel safe when…” automatically stops the other person. Unless they’re a real asshole, no person wants to be told that they make someone feel unsafe. It’s a terrible feeling! Because if someone doesn’t feel safe talking to you, that means you are not a safe person. Unless you’re a psychopath (in which cast, stop reading my blog and go get some help), no one wants to make people feel unsafe. I know that if I tell someone, “I don’t feel safe right now,” they cannot tell me I’m wrong. They are my feelings, and they are 100% valid. Anyone who tries to invalidate someone’s safety is an asshole.

My second tool comes on the heels of the first, and that is using statements that start with “I feel…” I have found that in using statements such as “that makes me feel…” or “When you did this, it made me feel…” you have already blamed the other person for whatever it is they’ve done. In stating “I feel…” You are taking ownership of your feelings and where you stand in any given situation.

The thirst tool is time.  This can be both a healing balm, or a slow poisonous death. Taking time to step back from a conflict to think and gain insight can present better solutions, but if the wait is too long the other person may grow impatient. Not all conflict can be dealt in the heat of the moment, but neither can they be left on the back burner forever. There is a mastery to asking for time to examine the conflict, the returning to it later enough that insight has been gained but the battle hasn’t been abandoned. This tool is one I’m still training, as being CA often means letting conflicts drop and pretending they don’t exist anymore. 

I’m still learning how not to see being CA as a weakness, but the setbacks tend to be debilitating. I am learning how to turn conflict into conversation; choosing to share feelings and ideas with others rather than engage in a battle of words that leave me with wounds more painful than the victory itself. This doesn’t always work, especially when the other person isn’t open to receiving feelings and thoughts with respect and mindfulness. However it can be a start to giving myself some inner peace in trying to resolve conflict in a non-hostile manner.
That’s not to say I’m now perfect; I’m still the queen of passive aggressive anger. I will cold-shoulder the hell out of you if you so much as think about hurting a loved one or stealing my food. I also make poor judgement calls, and I don’t think I’ll ever have any volume control. But I am trying to do the best I can with the tools I have to make daily conflicts more bearable to deal with. I’m learning how to embrace being CA without beating myself up over the setbacks. It has been, by far, the hardest task I’ve yet to face, but not one I’m willing to give up on. 
Follow on twitter @JoyPearson

Generated Poetry: The Formulation of Love

I’m on this kick where I use a word generator to give me 6 random words that I incorporate into a poem. I imagine I’ll be posting many of these, so bear with me (or not…. this is my website after all. So if you don’t like this, fuck you, go somewhere else to read garbage poetry that stinks more than mine!)

Generated words: Afternoon, Imposter, wept, Serum, Formulation, Deplorable.


The formulation of love can be rather tricky

It suffers from a deplorable lack of compassion

It’s also often ironically witty…

A cure-all serum does not exist

Safe for the hours in the afternoon I’ve wept

Over memories of when I was last kissed.

I feel like an imposter in my own head

Pretending I don’t have these memories

Of you, me, and our love you killed, dead.



For more spontaneous stupidity, follow my twitter @JoyPearson

Word Generator Inspiration

Lately I’ve had a desperate need to write, but I suffer from a lack of inspiration these days. To give myself a kickstart, I used a random word generator online to give me a set of six words that I would then craft into a poem. The words I received were ‘extract’, ‘betrayal’, ‘contagious’, ‘messenger’, ‘union’, and ‘smart’. 

Using these six words, I came up with the following poem:

To extract thoughts and ideas from my mind

Seems so impossible, I take it as a sign.

A betrayal from my hand to my brain

A tenuous union that’s driving me insane.

If I were smart, I’d find hobbies more contagious

Things I can do that will be more advantageous

Someone get a reliable messenger for my hand and head

Before things remain silent, sadly left unsaid. 

For more poetic ridiculousness, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Random Rhymes

I’m on a weird rhyming kick currently, which always happens when I start listening to too much rap combined with watching Shakespeare films (Words, words, words). Rather than let them rot on the page of a random notebook, I’m publishing what I wrote out today. It’s probably not good (no wait…. it is DEFINITELY not good) but I know that if I don’t publish my writing more, the less motivated I’ll be to continue writing. So here I present, for either your enjoyment or torture, some bars I wrote out today.

Sure, yes sure!

I’ve got words to say

Say them or don’t

It’s all the same

My body shows peace

My mind wondrously strays

Lovers, liars, cheaters, sneakers

I know all their secrets

But I’m no snitch or squealer

Unless you do

Something found rude

Or just not true

I’ll let it stew

Until I need to serve it up, I’ll drink some booze

and watch you lose

Whatever dignity that’s left for you

Ha! Okay, okay I’m not that dope

I’m a girl hidden in the crowd

Not on display riding a float

This is no joke

I have no hope

Everyone will look at me say “you should not have spoke.”

Take from that what you will, I’m going to go write some more clunky rhymes and pretend I actually know what I’m doing when it comes to writing. For even more convoluted thoughts, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

The Chase and the Fall of Squeaker the Mouse

I think a fair share of us have witnessed a moment similar to this one.

I was settling down in bed for the night when I heard TC come up the stairs and into the bedroom. I started calling for her to come up on the bed (she always responds to my invitation). Her head peaked over the side, and I saw she wasn’t alone.

By matter of circumstance (AKA I was taking selfies) I had my camera on and turned to snap the above pic just before she leapt up on to the bed (hey, I did invite her after all…)


For those of you who’ve never truly ‘experienced’ cats, they like to bring their humans gifts. Given how much I dote on TC more than the other three cats, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise she wanted to return the love. But a simple cuddle would have sufficed!

Seeing the mouse I, of course, yelled “OH SHIT!” And leapt out the bed, shooing TC off the bed towards the door, so she could devour her gift elsewhere….. then she dropped the mouse.

I swear to every deity with my hand on a stack of Jenny Lawson books that when TC dropped that mouse, the little shit turned it’s head and smirked at me. Before the full “IT’S ALIVE!” Thought was coherent in my head, the bastard dashed under my parents’ bed.

I could tell from the glee on TC’s face that a grand hunt was about to take place resulting in a massacre under my mother’s bed. So I picked her up and (gently) threw her out of the bedroom and shut the door.

Squeaker (I dubbed him) scurried out underneath the bed and went for the TV cabinet. Fortunately, the cabinet is situated in the corner, so I had the little fella trapped.

 


Using towels and a pair of jeans, I blocked Squeakers exits while I waited for my brother to arrive. When Will got there, an Oscar worthy chase took place.

Will took some amazing dives, full body launches that would have had John McClane proud. The shower I’d taken earlier had been rendered null by the sweat stains all over my pajamas as I dashed up and down the stairs getting tools for extraction.

Unfortunately, after Squeaker dosappeared under the murphy bed in the spare room, he met an accidental end by hiding under a board that my brother stepped on (and rocked back and forth on to prove he wasn’t under it, I believe I said something along the lines of “JESUS FUCK AND HOLY HELL OH GOD!” When I lifted the board and saw the semi-flattened carcass) thus ending Squeaker.

He put up a valiant chase, Will and I really tried our best to get him out alive. After Will left, I went looking for TC. I found her hiding under my car, looking a little nervous. Once inside, and back where it all started in the bed, I cuddled her close and giggled, “Thank you for the gift, little warrior. I know you meant for the mouse to be a present, but getting Will and I to reenact the movie Mouse Hunt [one of our favorite films] might have been the best gift you’ve ever given me.”

RIP Squeaker

A Tale of Two Kevins

“Oh holiday, oh holiday, oh how I wish you hadn’t gone this way…”

-a bastardized version of ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ by yours truly

 

Thanksgiving is a favorite of mine; despite many years of complaining to my parents that I’m always the only girl at the party full of a families who only procreated males, I still love this holiday. This year was different, I elected to fly across the country with my boyfriend to spend the weekend with his family. This wasn’t an easy decision for me, I stewed over it for weeks, spent several therapy sessions monologging my anxieties and discomfort with it; but ultimately I knew that it meant the world to Alex and there’s little I wouldn’t do for him.

We took a redeye out of Sea-Tac at 11:30 pm heading for Boston, MA. Surprisingly I managed to snooze the entire way, waking up only minutes before landing. Running on 4 hours of fitful napping, we made our way to Newbury Port where Thanksgiving prep was in full swing.

After a short nap, I was getting ready for dinner and putting on some makeup when Alex walked into the bathroom to give me the rundown of all the guests. I’d like to say I was paying attention, but I was way more focused on making my eyebrows look even. Halfway through filling in my brow, Alex says, “Oh there will also be Kevin, who’s brought his husband, Kevin.”

“Wait….Did you just say Kevin and his husband, Kevin?”

“Yeah, they’re both named Kevin.”

“…This isn’t a Narcissus situation right? I’m not going to walk downstairs and find a guy holding a mirror flirting with himself, right?”

“Of course not!”

“So… Is there a Kevin 1 and Kevin 2?”

“No….”

“What about Kevin A and Kevin B?”

“No.”

“Do we call them ‘the Kevins’? ‘the Kevinii’? How about ‘a pair of Kevins?”

“Oh my god I love you…. I’m regretting this already.”

“YOU SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME BEFORE NOW!”

“I DID!”

“Oh no you did not! I would remember if there were going to be two Kevins at this dinner!”

“I definitely told you.”

“Do you honestly believe it took me this long to come up with these jokes if you told me already?”

“You must have forgotten.”

“No I didn’t, you didn’t tell me! I would have already gotten this out of my system! Oh god…. you’re going to have to keep me as far away from them as possible.”

“I think I’ve made a horrible mistake…”

“You’re damn right you did.”

(This is how I remember the conversation. Alex can say it’s all wrong, but this is my blog and liberties will be taken for the sake of hilarity)

 

Needless to say, I was more nervous now than I was before. Not unlike Lorelai Gilmore, it’s nearly impossible to hold back a good bit when it’s presented itself to me. Enlisting Alex as my alcohol fetcher, I kept a full glass of wine in my hand at all times (as I could not bring my weed to Boston to smoke) and began texting my mother about the situation:

ME: Did he look in the mirror and say ‘I MUST HAVE YOU NOW!’?

MUM: Be good now! Or if you can’t, make an impression.

ME: If I get downstairs and its a guy holding a cardboard cut out of himself, all bets are off… What if the poor guy has multiple personality disorder? Then I could blame Alex for not telling me.

MUM: You are seriously tired.

ME: TWO KEVINS ARE MARRIED! Don’t say you wouldn’t be thinking the same thing!

MUM: Yeah but I don’t know that I would be sharing those thoughts out loud.

ME: I’m not sharing them out loud, I’m texting them to you!

MUM: Well that’s different. Tell me if they dress alike.

ME: Okay so we have Plaid Kevin and Solid Kevin (he’s wearing solid colors).

MUM: Don’t say that out loud!

ME: Alex, bless his heart, is purposefully keeping me away from them.

MUM: Put the phone away and put down the glass of wine. It’s safer that way.

 

Weirdly enough, I managed to glide through the evening without asking awkward questions or putting my foot in my mouth. I had a wonderful conversation with Kevin (not saying which one because at this point it’s more amusing for me to be the only one knowing which is which) about horses and fantasy hair dye (him and his mother were fascinated by my fuchsia pink locks, courtesy of overtone.co [I use Extreme Pink for those who are interested]). The family had a lovely dinner and later sat down to play a trivia game that involved a lot of shouting (I was too tipsy to remember the name of the game).

Unfortunately, that’s when the holiday took a turn for the unpleasant. I texted my family back on the west coast, who were just gearing up for dinner. I won’t go into detail how it happened, but I ended having a massive panic attack.

I was in Alex’s bathroom crying and wailing, “I’m a terrible daughter! I should be there for them! They need me! I need to be there for them! I left them alone! I shouldn’t have left! I need to be there! I failed them! I failed!” It went on for who knows how long. Alex held me up in the bathroom as I continued to sob and wail about my failure as a daughter. Finally he got my mum on the phone, who talked me down and told me that everything was okay and they were just fine. I calmed down a little, but I was still weepy when the phone call ended. I couldn’t be unconvinced that she was lying to make me feel better.

Alex got ahold of my brother, I sobbed about how I didn’t want him or my parents to be alone on Thanksgiving, how I felt like I’d abandoned them. He promised that they were all okay, that the parents were happy and he was just fine. I still didn’t feel okay.

I went to bed, Alex holding me close as I finally came down from my anxiety high and fell asleep. Then came the second wave….

I woke up around 5 AM east coast time, my stomach was roiling and things weren’t feeling good. I hadn’t eaten much at dinner except for a lot of Duck Confit and many glasses of wine. This has happened before, I eat too much fatty food and drink a ton of wine and get sick. But this time was different.

Fairly quickly my stomach was completely empty and all I could do was painfully dry heave into the sink. Alex had to keep me steady because my body was shaking and my legs weren’t holding me up. I broke out into a heavy sweat but I was freezing cold. Any attempts to keep water or ginger ale down were met with failure. Three hours later, it got to the point where it was becoming clear I was heavily dehydrated and the dry-heaving wasn’t going to stop.

Alex drove me to the ER and I got admitted pretty quickly. As much as I hated needles, I practically cried with relief when the nurse came in with a bag of Saline and anti-nausea medicine. I went in and out of sleep, Alex staying by me the entire time and calling my parents to let them know the situation.

After two bags of saline and an epic new game Alex and I made up, I was discharged with the instruction to stick to gatorade and water for a few hours before going to solid food. Lesson learned: do not eat fatty food and drink a ton of white wine, the combination is toxic (at least thats how it felt).

Finally back at Alex’s family home and relaxing in bed, I talked to my mum on the phone about the miserable 24 hours I had. The panic attack, I now realize, came from a very vulnerable place inside me due to family tension experienced around Thanksgiving the last few years. I’d really gone out of my way to always be there for my parents, so it was really hard for me to be away from them, even though the tension dissipated long ago and we’re stronger than ever.

Mum assured me that she loves me and that I’m now at that age where I have to share my time with other people than just my family. It’s a hard realization for me. I’m not a person who expands their social circle easily, it takes an entire blacksmith team to break and resize the circle for anyone new to enter. I don’t like obligations, even with my own family; to now have to deal with obligations with others is a real struggle and test for me. Most of all, I don’t share myself very easily with people, I like to keep to myself.

I am blessed to have known Alex’s family for a while now, so I was welcomed with warm open arms by them this weekend, and I am so thankful for that. I feel like a goober for having had a panic attack and taking a trip to the ER; I don’t like to think of myself as high maintenance but boy did this weekend prove me wrong.

So I sit here on Saturday afternoon, still contemplating THAT Gilmore Girls ending (seriously though, those were NOT what I thought the final four words were gonna be, but I loved it) and reflecting the lovely moments I had: making Alex’s Papa smile and grin as I listened to his stories and remarked how much more handsome he was than his grandson, watching brand new Gilmore Girls for the first time since I was in grade school (but seriously though……. THOSE FOUR WORDS! I NEED MORE EPISODES!!!!), making up a movie/actor trivia game with Alex that we’re addicted to now (at least I am…), and reconnecting with old friends to discuss Gilmore Girls (seriously…… GIVE ME MORE GILMORE!).

Despite the lows, there have been spectacular highs. Every dark cloud has it’s silver lining, and mine right now is singing “Where you lead, I will follow….”