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

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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

Art Therapy at Studio S Fine Arts

I took a big step for myself this weekend. I could wax prose on the subject, but I’m just going to get to the point: I posted my original art up for sale in my etsy store Wandless Wanderers where I also sell greeting cards and bath bombs. I honestly don’t expect anyone to buy it, but I’ve been pushed and encouraged by so many people that I figured I may as well post them just to get them to stop nagging me!

So I did. Yesterday I was filled with near paralyzing anxiety, going back and forth between posting and not posting for a really long time. I took a long sojourn to the beach nearby to sit, read, and think it through. All my thoughts went to the same conclusion: If I want to be an artist, I need to attempt to sell my art.

So I posted my art up in my shop, and it sold within minutes! I’m just kidding, it hasn’t sold. But wouldn’t that be a great way to end the story? Or begin it? Who freakin knows, I’m getting existentially off topic. The point is, I got over my fears and anxiety and did it!

One victory down, I figured I needed to keep the momentum running. I’d been contemplating attending a free art class a friend of mine was running. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, so I was erring on the side of “calling out sick”, but overall I knew not going would have been a dumb choice. I was correct in that assumption.

Just getting from my apartment to the class was a major anxiety struggle. Everyone is outside enjoying the sun, so the roads were crowded and I ended up straddling cross-walks with my car more than once (and nothing induces driving anxiety in me like having pedestrians walking around my car, glaring at me for not judging the distance better). So by the time I arrived and parked my car, I was pretty amped up and not feeling too sociable. But I’d already posted on twitter that I was facing my social anxiety, and I couldn’t back down!

Thankfully, it was a small class, and the atmosphere of the studio calmed me almost immediately as I began looking at the example pictures and started thinking of color combinations in my head.


To begin, I used an exacto-knife to cut out pages from a dictionary. I chose pages specifically with the words “Joy” “Wander” and “Mental” in them. It took me a long time to come up with this arrangement (I wanted to make sure I was covering words such as “menstruation” and “Menses”).


Next I used a stencil and traced flames over the pages, ideally to represent the creative fire I have burning in me (or just fire, it’s art, it can be whatever you want). Then I painted a layer of liquid masking within the flames so that water color wouldn’t seep through. 


As you can see, I did not use enough of the liquid masking, so the color bleeds into the flames a bit. But I’m honestly happy with how this turned out. The colors are vibrant and they make the disjointed flames dance a bit more. I also love that you can still read the dictionary definitions underneath so you get a sense of the kind of person I am from the words I chose.

So, to sum up: I shook off my anxiety and posted my artwork on Etsy, plus I faced my social anxiety and attended a class alone. So… pretty good weekend, in my honest opinion.
For more up-to-date notifications about my art, anxiety, depression, thoughts on a Jurassic Park/Downton Abbey crossover, or even bad jokes, follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

Arguing with my brain

I frequently disagree with my brain, it leads to a lot of anxiety and moments of frustration. Here’s a common conversation we have on the daily:

Me: Today isn’t going well. I wish I had someone to talk to about it.

Brain: Why? No one cares.

Me: Sure they do! 

Brain: They’re only being polite.

Me: Well it’s nice when they ask how I’m doing and listen. Oh look! A friend is online! I’m going to ask how they’re doing and see if they can talk.

Brain: Good luck with that.

*30 minutes later*

Brain: How did it go?

Me: Fine… They’re doing really well.

Brain: Did they ask how you were?

Me: …no.

Brain: See?

Me: See what? They’re probably busy! 

Brain: Or they don’t care.

Me: Sometimes things spring up that need full attention. They’re probably focused on something important.

Brain: Yes they are, they’re focusing on not caring about you.

Me: I highly doubt that.

Brain: Then why didn’t they ask after you?

Me: I just said, they’re probably busy!

Brain: Busy ignoring you.

Me: Okay, you know what? I am a good person! I care about others and I like hearing about their days! Even if they don’t have time to ask about me, much less remember, at least they know that I care about them and I genuinely mean it when I ask “How are you?” So why don’t you shut up, and let me enjoy my friendships!

Brain: …

Me: …

Brain: … They still don’t care.

Me: SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!!!

Anyone else have this argument with their brain? Logically, I know that my friends care and love me. But my brain likes to lie to me and make me feel unimportant. Having a mental illness makes it hard to trust in other people, but it makes it impossible to have trust in myself. 

I spoke to my close friend, Sarah Fader (CEO of Stigma Fighters, follow her on twitter @thesarahfader) and she gave me some damn good advice, “Sometimes, you need to just ask for what you want and not give a fuck about the consequences.” Hell fucking yes. It’s not easy to do, but I’m making a conscious effort to voice my feelings and to ask for what I need from others. 
Follow me on twitter @JoyPearson for more up-to-date arguments I have with my brain.

Fidget Cube Demonstration

I recently received a fidget cube and it’s been a real life saver. I shared it on my twitter and got a lot of questions, so I made a video to demonstrate the cube and answer frequently asked question:


Here is the link to the cube demonstrated in the video:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N5SNX80/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_1wHRybXJR3XAD
For more anxious antics follow me on twitter @JoyPearson

This Is Us Showing You a Breakdown 

Breakdowns are rough. The lead up is like inching up towards the highest peak of a rollercoaster, only you’re blindfolded and you don’t know when the drop will occur. 

The hit family show This Is Us portrays the breakdown in the most relatable manner I have yet seen in television. The signs are so subtle, Randall’s hand starts twitching, he misplaces words and thoughts, eyes wondering all over the place to avoid looking at the problem right in the face. 

There’s a moment at the end when Randall’s brother, Kevin, comes to his office late at night to find Randall in the middle of a breakdown. Randall is sitting in the corner of his office, silent tears streaming down his face; as Kevin sits besides him and holds Randall, he collapses. 

I sat with tears as I watched this, thinking of a day that occurred 3 years ago in my senior year of college. The signs where there for days; I’d been impatient with my roommates whenever there were too many voices or topics of conversation going on at once, I’d been showering 3-4 times daily (it seemed to be the only place where I could listen to my mind without wanting to slam my head into a brick wall), and my nails were constantly picking at myself (scabs, nail polish, etc). 

I felt like I’d been swimming in water with molasses slowly being added, making it harder and harder for me to move an inch forward without feeling exhausted. I had so many obligations to others, school, and my job that finding time for me was well near impossible. The time I did make for myself, I used to find and have my very last one night stand ever. 

I walked into my senior thesis class dressed to unimpress. I clearly remember wearing sweatpants and a plaid flannel shirt, my curly hair was down and curled around my head like a cloud. I was thankful for my hair later, for it covered my face enough during my breakdown that few could see my face. 

I won’t describe what happened, it’s still hard for me to talk about without feeling I’m reliving it. So I’ll give you a metaphor. I was an over-inflated balloon, full of anxiety and pressures that I was trying my hardest to keep condensed and contained. My classmates? They were the darts. They began slinging themselves at my balloon, holes started to spring in the surface and leak out my emotions. I try to patch them up and hold them over, but the darts don’t stop flying. 

I don’t know how long the critiques took that day, it felt like hours of criticisms and complaints, all aimed towards myself and my friend (who was also a balloon at this time too). Who knows how long it took, but finally I popped.

I reached out and snatched my bag from the floor beside my chair and stood up so suddenly I almost knocked the chair over. I mumbled something like, “Excuse me” and burst out the door of the classroom.

I remember breathing. My breathing was so loud I was sure everyone I passed thought a wind was upon them. All I thought was “Keep moving and they won’t catch you. Lock yourself in and they won’t get you.”

I remember slamming into my dorm suite, three of my roommates looking up from the common room table to see me move past in a beeline for my bedroom, where I slammed the door and locked it. 

I kept the light off because light showed to much, I didn’t want to see what I had turned into. It was the first time I’d walked out of a classroom, I was positive the professor was already calling my parents to tell them what a terrible student I was. 

So I called the only person I knew exactly what I was feeling in that moment: My brother.

My brother, Will, had been struggling with anxiety for years. I’d seen him go through his own breakdowns, so I knew he could help me through mine.

“Hey Joy, what’s up?”

I don’t remember what I said, but it sounded a lot like a screaming harbor seal. I was sobbing and wailing, even I couldn’t make sense of it. My roommates were outside my door knocking, asking me if everything was okay. I wasn’t okay. My balloon finally burst, and like a popped blister everything hurt with every breath.

Will calmed me down, telling me to breathe. Just breathe in, hold, then slowly exhale. When that worked, I told him everything more coherently. Later my parents called and comforted me as well. 

I sit here now watching Kevin hold Randall, and warm tears fill my eyes as I remember Will’s voice telling me gently to breathe. The thing about breakdowns is, you don’t know when they will happen; and when they do happen, having someone there to remind you to breathe makes all the difference in the world.  My kudos and deep compliments to Sterling K. Brown for his superb acting and portrayal of anxiety and nervous breaks.
Find me on twitter @JoyPearson for more anxiety antics

Graduation

My therapist and I sat in silence. The silences don’t normally last long, I always find something to fill it with; an observation about a film I’d just saw, a complaint about the tone of voice a coworker used, something or other got under my skin, whatever. 

This silence lasted longer. I couldn’t think of what else to say. I talked about all I had that was on my mind, most of it I was able to solve myself within the same amount of time it took for me to describe the ailment. So I fidgeted in anxious silence, and she leaned forward, “So, shall we talk about our work here?”

I felt the air in my lungs grow still; I knew that one day this was going to happen, but it always felt too soon. The thing about therapy is that it becomes a security blanket. Whenever something awful happened or a panic attack sent me into isolation, I knew that come Wednesday I would be seeing my therapist to dig and work through the problem like a cleaning out a fresh scrape on the knee: it stings and it’s painful, but it’s bandaged up in the end to begin healing. 

Now, my wounds have long scabbed over and healed; some of them left scars behind, but they’re nothing that I can’t sooth with some Louis Armstrong and a long hot bath. The nicks and cuts I get here and there I find myself treating with my box of tools I’ve been searching and gathering for in therapy. 

The smile in her eyes told me she knew I was ready, but still fear and anxiety clawed up from my chest and into my throat. She tells me clients normally slow down to an appointment once every two weeks before termination. I nod in agreement, though my chest and throat are chocking on anxious smoke. ‘Termination’ makes it sound like I’m being prepared for euthanasia.

I leave her office 20 minutes early in a stupor. I can hear my anxiety smoking nearby and calling out, “She doesn’t want to see you anymore. She’s terminating you!” but her smoke is far out of my air space so it doesn’t effect me. 

I recognize this is a good thing. I came into her broken, now I’m healed and taking care of myself once again. But like a security blanket, I don’t want to let her go in case I start to fall. 

I’m at the start of a new journey; I have two weeks from now to go out on my own and handle my baggage alone. When the baggage first arrived, I wasn’t given an instructional guide or a map. I was being told to move, but I had no idea where or how to move. So I went to therapy and gradually got a tool box and filled it up. Now, I have a rough idea of where I’m going and how I’m going to get there, and I’ve got the tools with me to fix any problem that comes my way. 

For all I know, next week something will happen and I’ll revert back to my weekly sessions. But for now, I’m going to be painfully optimistic and set out to take on my mental/emotional health battles with my toolbox at hand.