Accepting Her Imperfection

This is the third time my cat Kuno has knocked down our curtains and the second curtain rod she’s broken. It’s really frustrating because it’s one of those things that go wrong that is completely outside of my control. I usually get frantic when things just explode in my face like this.

There’s nothing I can do, really. She wants to see out the windows, which is fine. I’ve never seen her pull them down, so I don’t know how to accommodate her. I cannot prevent it from happening again without getting rid of my curtains, and I want to keep my curtains because they’re lively.

I feel powerless, and powerlessness makes me panic. I run back and forth between my two bad options and want to cry because it’s lose-lose. So I panic and shut down. It seems like it’s all I can do.

I have left those curtains on the floor for a few hours, just… Too overwhelmed to deal with them. But I will do what I can. I will bend back the rod and rehang the curtains. I will leave them more open so she can get to the windowsill. And I will hope for the best.

And just keep going.

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Distress Tolerance

Distress tolerance is an actual psychological technique in which the therapist asks the patient to face whatever it is that causes their negative emotions (fear, anger, anxiety, distrust, shame, etc.) for a short duration in order to learn healthy responses to that stimulus. The process is repeated, possibly with increasing durations or stronger intensities of exposure, until the patient is empowered to face similar situations in real life.

⭐️ Note: This is neither a professional definition, nor a universal approach to the therapy. It is merely a summary based upon my experience. Please research the technique before using it on yourself or others. Ultimately, all therapy will be more effective if you understand how and why things are being done, so that you can adjust the technique to suit your specific situation.

So, in a simple way, I used distress tolerance to teach Kuno, my cat, to trust people. (See an earlier entry called “Facing Her Fears” if you want details.) Tonight, I decided to use distress tolerance with myself, in facing my social anxiety. (Again, there are earlier entries about this topic too: “Loneliness and Loss” and “Indoor Introvert” might be your best bets.)

I live in a region with deciduous trees and four seasons, so every autumn, the leaves fall, and people are expected to clear them from their lawns. Between my husband and I, I am the one with more free time, so it is logical for me to do things like yard work. Of course, between the two of us, I am also the one with more fears, so it is harder for me to do things like yard work. It’s difficult for me, because I want to be useful and more capable than I am now, but overcoming a lifetime of pain doesn’t happen overnight.

So, tonight, I went outside with the rake, just after dark, and I raked maybe a third of our yard. No one could see me, because it was night, which made things feel a bit safer for me. I was probably only out there for 30 minutes, but I wanted to bolt after 5-10. It was difficult, but I recognized that things were actually safe, so I pushed through the distress until I finished a set goal. Once I finished with the area of my yard that I set out to rake, I double checked it, and then came back inside.

I haven’t seen the results of my work yet, since it was dark, but I still feel like I accomplished something because I now have a positive experience to help offset some of my fear. That alone is worth it.

Empowering Her to Grow

A few days ago, I learned that Kuno, my cat, is afraid of the sound of the door opening. She was on her cat tree, now located by the front door, when my husband came home. As the key turned in the latch, her eyes widened in terror, her muscles tensed, and at the next sound, she fled. We didn’t see her for the next 10 minutes or so, but I find that it’s best to let your cat manage its own emotions as much as possible. Pulling a terrified kitty out from under the furniture will only hurt you both.

I thought that the problem might have been her inability to prepare for the situation- she couldn’t tell that it was about to happen, she didn’t know who was coming in, etc. The next day, I tried to help her out a bit by opening the main door about 15 minutes early. As expected, she soon came down from the tree and moved to look out the glass door. Things were fine. She was watching the world, I was watching her, and I thought that things would be better this time.

Car arrived. Door shut. Alarm armed. Husband approached the door, and…. gone. She flew out of the room, back under the bed or into the closet. Mission failed. Well, kind of. Ultimately, she did reemerge from hiding faster on the second day, and she also examined her surroundings a bit, so I think it’s still good overall.

I would like for her to be able to face new and unknown experiences with confidence some day, though. I would like for her to not be afraid of everything that happens around her. I would like those things for myself as well. So, as I watched her peer through the glass, I thought about how much difference a small action on my part had made in her response and her potential.

I am looking for ways to do the same for myself now- ways to empower myself or to prepare myself for unpleasant situations. I’ll make it one day. Wait and see.

Welcome to the Wilderness

I just shared the URL of this blog with some friends and family members, so it seemed fitting to write a welcome post for them. And yet, what can I say? I’m writing this in advance, on a blog with few views, to a group of people who may not read any posts here. Some will, but others probably won’t. Still more may read a few entries and then stop. Goodness knows that I try not to take it personally.

This leaves me in an awkward spot: how can I write something that both values the people who read and doesn’t set me up for disappointment if it ends up having no views? Maybe I’ll just write about this experience, explore the discomfort and its source, so that I will still draw value from it even if no one else does. That seems reasonable to me, and Kuno has no opinion on the matter, so it’s unanimous.

I’m excited about people reading this blog because it will make me feel valuable. They are taking time to invest in me and to pay attention to my struggles. It’s validation.

I’m afraid that no one will read this blog, because it could set off a long chain reaction of thoughts: that I’m not valuable, that I have nothing to say, that my voice isn’t worth hearing, that no one cares, etc. If you’ve ever struggled with doubt and fear, you can probably fill in some of the thoughts that I have missed.

Most of the time, when I look at my blog’s stats, I try hard to breeze over them and not to take them personally. On the days when there aren’t views or comments. On the days when no one follows or likes. Even on the days when someone does respond, I still try to ignore the stats. I feel like if I accept the success as proof of my value, I must also accept the failure as proof of my flaws. I cannot have only one side of the coin.

But is that true? Do we have to depreciate all of our successes if we want to keep our failures at bay? Or, even more relevantly, are we responsible for the responses of others to our work or is that separate from us entirely? I suppose that it probably is separate, because I have no control over it, but still…

I feel like I’ve been taught that my effort determines my results. Has that all been a lie?

Ascribing Perfection

One of the problems that I’ve routinely had throughout my life is that I tend to divide flaws and perfection very neatly between two people. In actual relationships, (romantic, friendly, or dysfunctional), there tends to be a division of flaw and virtue on both sides. Each person does some things wrong and other things well. Abuse tips the scales so that one person causes more damage than the other does, which makes things more complicated.

As I said, in normal relationships, both people carry some blame and some credit. In my relationships, I usually end up carrying all of the blame and giving the other person all of the credit.

I want to be clear and make sure that I explain that I am not in an abusive situation. Abusive relationships have two characteristics that are absent in my situation: first, one person actually is causing more harm to the other than can ever be justified, and second, the abuser is the one who creates and reinforces the idea that their victim deserves and causes all of the damage. Neither of those things are happening to me.

Instead, I am creating an abusive atmosphere for myself, by bringing fear and low self esteem with me into healthy relationships. It is a serious problem. Neither I, nor those close to me, can enjoy our relationships while I’m making things uneven and toxic. Well, that’s not actually fair- sometimes, the other person can enjoy the relationship, because sometimes, I manage to hide what I’m doing from them, and sometimes, they don’t care enough to look at how I’m doing.

But with the valuable relationships, the ones that really matter, the other person knows how much I pull in onto myself against their pleas to the contrary. Those relationships are ultimately suffering because of me.

And yet, even now, I give myself all the blame. Unbelievable.

Watching Her Grow

It’s been a short while since Kuno, my cat, moved into our new home. Those first two nights were rough: she howled all night with this sad, anxious cry. She was lost; this wasn’t home; something was wrong. In this phase, she slept the days away up on the closet shelf and cried all night while her humans tried to sleep. It was a pretty dark time for us all.

Since then, she’s started wandering into the main house, looking out of windows, examining the environment and more. It’s encouraging. We moved the cat tree into the main room, and now she sits up there and watches us in the evenings, which is as it should be. All is well.

For her.

The problem with identifying with your cat, well one problem with identifying with your cat, is that the cat will adapt faster than you do to massive changes. Her whole world changed at once- territory moved, landmarks changed, access to the outdoors removed, people changed, furniture changed, etc. It was big and yet…

Here she is, lounging on laps, sleeping in the sun, and getting fur on the furniture. She belongs here now, but I? I don’t. I am allowed to live a much bigger life than what I’m living now. I can walk around and go wherever I want, but I just stay in my house or in the public places I know best. She hides in my closet and I hide in my house.

Where is the adventure? Where is the risk taking? Why don’t I have someone preparing the world for me, like I prepared this home for her?

Why didn’t I learn these skills as a child? How did I become a helpless adult?

Do I need to stay helpless? Can I be more?

Indoor Introvert

This morning, I asked my husband if he was afraid to be surrounded by people.
H: *pause* Are you afraid to be surrounded by people?
Me: Yes.
H: *pause* I don’t really find it scary, no.

Of late, I’ve taken to using others as sounding boards- asking them about gaps or dark spots in my worldview just to see if our experiences line up. If they don’t, then I have discovered an area in which my view doesn’t need to be true. This may sound confusing, but it’s pretty simple. People aren’t necessarily dangerous, because I know people who enjoy meeting strangers. Taking risks doesn’t need to be scary, because I know people who enjoy pushing their limits. Having neighbors isn’t a guaranteed problem, because humans are made for community.

I’m trying to grow, and it’s working. But, back to this morning…

I’m afraid of my neighbors, in principle, not in practice. I’m afraid of the idea of neighbors, not by the people themselves; I don’t know the people and am thus incapable of having true fear, joy, dislike, or even apathy towards them personally. How can I have an opinion on an unknown quantity? It’s like professing my love or hatred of a foreign fruit that I’ve never tasted- I can imagine its texture or admire its appearance, but I cannot truly know what my experience with it will be like.

I am hiding indoors from these people, because I am afraid that they will be prickly or sour, that I will be hurt by the experience. So, my fears get to grow in rich soil because nothing challenges them, and I get to keep my worldview intact because no experiences get to challenge it. Win win, right?

I have to stop this. It isn’t healthy to live in constant anxiety.