Stress (aka: Stresssss)

Oops…I just caught myself massaging the back of my neck. Again. And chewing on my pinky fingers. Again. Which may not seem like a big deal to lots of you, but to me, it means one thing.

STRESS.

Stress Sources

Wait, what stress? I thought I was just coasting along, my usual relaxed self. (Okay, correction: Relaxed for a Type-A personality. Relaxed for an INTJ). But we all have our own little signals that tell us when our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress. Some people overeat when stressed. Others smoke, or drink too much, have bouts of insomnia, or a myriad of other physical or psychological symptoms that spring up when our plates are just too full.

So what should we do when we recognize these symptoms? According to the American Psychological Association , we should identify the sources of our stress. Hmm, let’s see…

My oldest teen has caught a nasty case of Senioritis — that annoying and highly contagious bug that high school seniors often catch this time of year, when they feel so invincible that they slack off in school, convinced that they won’t fail. So I get to take off the sweet, cookie-baking mommy hat and put on the steel-edged hat of The Enforcer.

Stress.

My ex-husband has decided to initiate court proceedings to have my child support officially decreased, thanks to my shiny new full-time job. Despite the new job, however, it has been a challenge to keep the budget balanced while raising three teen/tweens as a full-time single parent and saving for college expenses. So a potentially big income cut would be a serious blow. I’ve just begun hunting for a second part-time job – something to help make ends meet once our household income drops. Bye-bye free time.

Stress

The older teen just headed off on an expensive school trip with his band — the only trip I’ve been able to send him on for all of high school. Senior prom tickets are really expensive, too. So is his recent dental work. Also, my teen daughter, the former gymnast, has fallen in love with dance. “Hey mom, can I take a second dance class at the studio?” And the twelve-year-old keeps outgrowing his clothes. And did I mention how much it costs to feed three kids this age nutritious, homemade meals filled with fresh vegetables? Oh boy. Kids are expensive.

Stress.

I just finished a bout of medical testing  (an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, and even a special endoscopy where I got to swallow this cool miniature camera). The doctor found nothing, except for signs of gastritis. Gastritis which sprung up around a year ago, and was likely triggered by — you guessed it —

Stress.

Effect of Stress on the Body

It is astonishing what stress can do to our bodies, even when we think we’re handling it well. Kind of stresses me out to think about it. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us manage the way we deal wih stress. Here are some great suggestions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi or getting a massage
  • Keeping a sense of humor
  • Socializing with family and friends
  • Setting aside time for hobbies, such as reading a book or listening to music

I’m pretty good with most of these, especially the sense of humor part. Very important stuff. But I still kinda suck at the socializing part. But know what? Today at work, I got to spend lots of time socializing with coworkers (in between moments of working hard, of course). And know what? It’s like a magic pill for this stress thing. Despite the enormous pressures I’m feeling, I’ve barely reached up to massage my neck or chew my fingers all afternoon.

Uh-oh — trying to come up with a nice, neat way to end this post is only adding to my stress. So I’ll just tip-toe out of here and hope none of you notice. Time to go and…

DE-STRESS

 

Deep Questions (aka: One-Sided Conversations)

deepquestions

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good, deep conversation with another human being over the age of 18. Conversations in the workplace tend to stay on the shallow side, which is normal, I suppose, but unfulfilling at times, like snacking on fruit when what you really crave is a thick, juicy steak and a buttery baked potato.

foxtrot-too-deep

While browsing blogs on WordPress, I came across a post by Wendy, at Brilliance Within, which posed ten great questions that can help you to dig deeper, to get to know other people at a deeper level. Since I lack the social opportunities to use these questions in actual conversations, I thought I’d answer them here, should any other wandering souls want to get to know me a little better:

 

  • What are you enjoying most about your life at the moment?

 

At this exact moment, I am enjoying a Netflix Show, called The OA. It is a strange and mysterious program about a young woman who has near-death experiences, and through them is able to reach out and change the lives of other hurting people. But overall, I am enjoying the peace and stability of my life; of raising my children in a decent neighborhood, of working at a job I enjoy, of having good health, and of finding ways to keep learning, keep growing, keep becoming a better version of myself.

 

  • What’s your biggest fear?

 

I have two. One is the obvious and unspeakable fear of something bad happening to one of my children.

The other fear was already realized. My best friend, around six years ago, decided that she no longer wanted to be my friend. Before we parted ways, she confessed to me that our friendship had been uneven. I wanted a best friend, and she did not. She had felt for a while that I was like a dog, following her around. Just writing those words – even thinking them, unleashes such a flood of raw emotions that I am still unable to keep myself from crying, and I am a person who rarely cries. I thought that I had been a good friend, and kind, and generous, and loving, and that our friendship was reciprocal. I never knew that I was being too clingy, or that she had perceived me that way. Her words have haunted me so much, that I feel them any time I start to get to know an acquaintance. I am fearful of calling, fearful of texting first, fearful of reaching out to invite anyone to spend time together, because I don’t know how to keep from crossing that invisible boundary that makes people feel as though I am chasing them. When I sense that someone’s interest in me is waning, I run away, because I don’t want to hear those words again. Because of my greatest fear, I have become skilled at remaining cold and aloof, and skilled at letting people go. I have learned how to be content with loneliness instead of trying to build relationships.

 

  • What do you regret most?

 

This is related to #2, and cannot be expressed here.

 

  • What did you dream about doing when you were a child?

 

I dreamt of being a children’s book author (still working on that one) and a tap dancer (no thanks, haha). I also resolved around the age of ten that I would never get married, and would adopt a bunch of kids and drive a bike instead of a car (which I did until I finally got a driver’s license at the age of 26).

 

  • How do you feel about your job? What would be your ‘dream job?

 

I’m crazy about my job. It covers my favorite aspects of IT (creating, building, and administering computer systems and supporting users of those systems). I also hope to have my young adult novels published someday in the not-too-distant future, but my day job is perfect for me, and I look forward to doing it each day. The only thing that would make it even better is to be in a position where I can use my leadership talent and skills at my job, which I intend to work my way toward.

 

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

 

Hopefully in that position of leadership (see #4). I also see myself as a soon-to-be single empty-nester, as my youngest kid will be on the verge of graduating high school and heading off to university. That is a pretty lonely vision. It is hard to imagine life without my children.

 

  • If you could choose 1 place in the world to travel to – where would it be?

 

Only one? Seriously? My list is sooo long! Okay, then, I will have to choose England, so that I can travel to the places in the Harry Potter and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Shakespeare stories that I love so fondly.

diving_deeper

 

  • What is your ‘vision’ for your life?

 

I don’t have one all-encompassing vision. Just a series of smaller goals. Raise my children to be kind, caring, educated adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are content with their lives. See my future grandchildren grow up. Keep working hard at and enjoying my career. Keep finding ways to learn and grow and experience the good things in life. Share my stories with the world. Travel a lot.

 

  • How could you enhance your relationships/life?

 

I don’t know. Unless #2 magically fades away, I don’t believe that I will ever develop any close relationships beyond those with my children.

 

  • When do you feel you’re happiest/saddest/most in love?

 

I suppose I am happiest when everything feels at peace, like when reading a good book while lying on a warm, sunny beach while my children play nearby. Saddest when the darkness is too dark and the night lasts far too long.

better-conversations

Please feel free to answer questions in the comments below. After all, the point of asking deep questions is to start an authentic conversation, and to get to know other human beings.

 

No Fishing Allowed (aka: My Anti-Flirting Weapons Cache)

I wish there were a battery-operated aura I could wear whenever I go out in public. I could change the color of the electric glow to communicate to other people if it is okay to approach me.

Green light: Hi! You seem cool. Let’s chat for a while.

Yellow light: Hmm…proceed with caution, but be ready to walk away on my signal.

Red light: STOP! Stay back! Do not approach. I repeat, DO NOT APPROACH!

red light stop

I’m pretty sure that, when it comes to strange men, my red light would be on like, all the time. Nothing sets off my panic alarm like some man I don’t know approaching me for any reason whatsoever. So whenever I go out and about, I try to make sure that I have two handy weapons – a book in which I can bury my nose and a pair of earbuds so that I can pretend not to hear. This does not always work, however. Maybe I need to hire a fake boyfriend to accompany me whenever I need to leave the house. Or maybe just buy one of those electric NO buttons to add to my weapons cache. Then, whenever some guy tries to talk to me, all I have to do is click the button and let it speak for me.

The NO ButtonDude: Hey, what’s your name?

Button: NO!!

Dude: Where are you headed?

Button: NO!!

Dude: Can I get your phone number?

Button: NO!! NO!! NO!!

not dating

Tonight, I am going out dancing at a club with a bunch of other single people – something that I have not done since I was eighteen years old. (Yes, seriously). I adore dancing, but my anxiety level is very high, because:

  1. I don’t know this group of people I’m going dancing with. They are just a group of mostly strangers from a Meetup group. I am worried that I won’t be able to relax and be myself and really get into dancing with a bunch of strangers. Especially if they are going to be drinking, because I am not a social drinker – especially if I have to drive myself home. Which I do.
  1. Because I have no clue what women my age wear out to dance at a nightclub, and it’s not like I have a friend to call and ask for tips. Am I supposed to buy a special kind of purse I can dance with? Shoes? Help!
  1. No Fishing AllowedThat whole problem with men. Because I have no idea if that whole thing where strange men hit on single women in night clubs is just overblown in my imagination thanks to TV shows, or if that is actually how the single adult world works. The very idea makes me feel sick with fear. I don’t want to be flirted with. I just want to dance.

I know — maybe I should bring along my book and ear buds. Just in case. Better yet, maybe I should just stay home, where I can relax, and be myself, and there is no need for NO buttons or red lights.    unavailable 2

Just One Friend (aka: Wistful Thoughts of a Facebook Hater)

I am a Facebook hater.

Mostly.

It’s funny, because years ago, I was a Facebook addict. There was little I enjoyed more than checking in daily with my peeps, posting status updates and comments, and joining in the games on our very own virtual playground. It was my second greatest social outlet.

But…life happened. And life isn’t always pretty. And Facebook became something to hide from, rather than something to enjoy. It still feels that way.

Mostly.

Sometimes, I love to see updates and photos of everyone celebrating life. But sometimes, seeing all those happy, glowing photos filled with smiling faces can be a little too much. Friends together at parties. Friends at concerts, singing along with the band. Friends camping. Friends waving from the bleachers at sports arenas. Friends running in races, striking goofy poses for the camera.

Like. I click the button from time to time. Like. Like. Sometimes I post the obligatory family photos of my kids, and a few people (strangers and distant relatives, mostly) click like, too. It’s a never-ending circle of shares and likes that mean so little, really.

Maybe it is a kind of envy, the gnawing, empty feeling I get sometimes when I peek at everyone else’s happy chronicles of adventures with their friends. It is dumb, really. I love my quiet life with my three great kids. Together, we have plenty of fun. We camp. We hike. We roller skate. We laugh together. I am not bound to travel through life completely alone, because I get to enjoy them nearly every day.

adult friendsBut still. There’s this constant yearning. If only I had one friend. One good friend. One who would be as happy to hear from me as I would be to hear from them. One who would be like – What? Go to a soccer game/concert/camping/karaoke/movie/party/weird new restaurant/bookstore/lecture/farmer’s market/have a cup of coffee/whatever? I’m in! Relaxed, caring, reciprocal coolness together.

It’s not like I don’t put forth an effort. I’ve tried a number of times in the past few years to make acquaintances, and then nudge that toward friendship. Sometimes, I think that maybe I’m close. But it is so…I don’t know…difficult. Maybe it is due to my INTJ way of seeing the world. Maybe it is my insecure way of fearing that our feelings are always one-sided instead of mutual. (Or maybe that is not the voice of insecurity, but of wise intuition).

Maybe it is a strange sort of Catch-22, in which my lack of friends frightens away potential friends, as though they can sense the desperation hidden beneath my calm, cheerful exterior. Please be my friend? And I, afraid of seeming too needy, quickly back off, too. And so, friendship doesn’t happen. And I return to my cave and my world of imagination. Why is it so hard to make true friends?

If I had just one good friend, then today, perhaps we would have sat in the stands together, cheering on Manchester United as they beat Barcelona. (Those are um, soccer teams).

Together with my one good friend, maybe I would have found the courage to go to a downtown event that my Meetup acquaintances mentioned earlier today.

With one good friend, maybe I would go eat inside of restaurants instead of getting takeout and watching old shows on Netflix by myself.

besties laughing

Maybe that one good friend would even help to connect me to a few more friends, and together, we would all go out to roller skate or dance to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. And maybe take a few silly, fun photos to post for the Facebook peeps, like all the not-so-lonely people do. Or not.

Or maybe I will just live it all in my head, then write about it in my creative, introverted way. Which is okay, too.

Mostly.

Jumping on the Bandwagon (aka: Trustworthiness and Culture)

My 13yo daughter is suspicious. “Sure you’re just a regular mom,” she said to me yesterday. “You run superfast. You know all this computer and networking stuff. You speak Spanish and watch all these foreign movies. I mean, who just watches movies in Swedish?”

“Please,” I said. “I’m just a mom. Seriously. An ordinary, cookie-baking soccer mom.”

“Yeah right,” she said. “Let me guess…you work at a bank.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have let her marathon-watch Alias.

Secret Agent Mom

It was a funny and cute accusation. But it also made me wonder. You see, this wasn’t the first time in my life that another person had accused me of being fake, of covering up my so-called true identity with something less sincere. (My ex-husband, in fact, was among such accusers, hence why he is now my ex-husband). On one hand, I find it amusing. I mean, maybe there is something about my personality that makes people say hmmm… Maybe it is the way I constantly walk my own path instead of jumping on political or cultural bandwagons. Maybe it is the way I refuse to reblog those ridiculous memes that shout in bold letters: REBLOG THIS POST OR YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON WHO KILLS KITTENS! Maybe it is because I run superfast, watch Swedish movies, and have an interest in computers and networking stuff. Oh, and bake cookies.

Clearly, such a person can’t be trusted.

trustworthyI wonder what qualities make a person seem to be trustworthy or untrustworthy to others? It’s not a new scientific concept that most people make decisions about another person’s character based on outward appearances. Something as simple as eyebrow height, the pitch of a voice, or how “average” a person’s face appears to us can make a huge impact on how we perceive their trustworthiness. Want to make people trust you more? Try to appear just like everyone else.

fast fast fast runner
Ah, there it is again. The curse of the lone wolf. Perhaps, apart from outward appearance, a person’s life choices and ideology must also be deemed “average” in order to gain the trust of others. Perhaps we find ourselves unconsciously drawn toward people who not only look more like ourselves, but behave more like ourselves, according to the customs of our culture. Perhaps, in a white-collar, wine drinking culture, the blue-collar, beer-guzzling man will have a hard time gaining trust. Perhaps a conservative, rule-oriented group will have a hard time trusting a freethinker who questions authority. And perhaps down-to-earth, simple-minded folk may have a hard time believing the sincerity of a superfast-running, foreign-film-watching computer lover who may or may not be from Jupiter, no matter how delicious her homemade cookies may be.

But that will not keep me from trying to live the most honest, sincere life I possibly can. Even if no one believes it but me. Believe

 

Being Weird (in a Culture of Sameness)

He who joyfully marches in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.

Albert Einstein

Imagine a world in which there is no racism, sexism, or conflict over religion. Now, imagine a world in which those things do not exist, because everyone is exactly the same. Sound like a theme for a dystopian novel? That’s because it is. The idea of sameness, a perfectly homogenous society, has been repeated in so many utopian and dystopian novels, that the novels as a group have begun to reflect their own theme. Sameness.   Swimming against the tide

We shudder to think of it. Because on the surface, we pride ourselves in being members of an enlightened culture, living in a time when our differences no longer divide us. A culture in which people can differ in appearance, in philosophy, in politics, and in socioeconomic class, and yet still coexist in harmony.

Or do we?

In a neighborhood where every house is painted a safe, neutral shade of tan, beige, or taupe, we cringe to see when a homeowner chooses to paint his home blue. What a crazy neighbor, we say. Doesn’t he know that his house is supposed to match the others? In a community where men wear their hair short and trim, and women wear it long, we are taken aback to come across the opposite. Oh, the woman with short hair must be a lesbian, we decide. And the man is probably a redneck, or perhaps a poor artist. And a family who owns a pet pig instead of the usual dog or cat or parakeet? How odd!

We shun what we cannot classify. We make fun of that which we do not understand. We alienate those who do not agree with the majority.

I am weird. At least, that is what people tell me. I have been told this so often throughout my life, that now I wear it as a label, even offering a warning to the people who dare to grow too friendly – “You should know right off that I’m weird. You know, just in case you only like ‘normal’ people.” I say it jokingly, in a better-to-laugh-at-yourself-than-let-words-hurt-you kind of way, but the truth is, the label still kind of hurts. Rudyard Kipling Conformity

And I have always wondered, what is it about me that people find so unusual? I certainly don’t go out of my way to appear different. I don’t dye my hair zany colors, or boast tattoos. I don’t have an intense or boisterous personality. I’m pretty sure that I have a healthy sense of humor, and can usually hold up my end of a conversation (as long as the conversation is not about celebrity gossip, golf, or reality TV scandals). But still, somehow, I am weird. Is it because of my classification of INTJ on the Briggs-Meyer personality scale (0.8% of all females in the population)? Is it my I.Q. score that makes me different? Is it because I am comfortable being alone? Because I enjoy alternative rock music, learning different languages, and geeky computer technology? Or the way I like to quietly take in the world, then reflect it back through stories and poetry?

non conformist

Whatever it is about me, it makes me weird. It means that other people do not know how to classify or relate to me. And so, in their discomfort, they slap on a hurtful label and cluster in their homogenous groups, where everyone gets along, because everyone is the same. They listen to the same music, eat the same foods, and share the same philosophies, or religion, or politics. “Want to join us?” they say. “Then you must become like us.”

We must be the same. It is the only way to achieve perfect harmony. Ironic, isn’t it?

Used to Be (aka: Seeking Community When You’re a Nonconformist)

colorful latex balloonsWe used to have parties. It is one of those observations, briefly uttered by one of my kids, marking the contrast between who our family is now compared to who we used to be. Or maybe it is less about our family, and more about who I once was. I used to throw parties. Big, noisy parties full of distant relatives or church group acquaintances. Small, intimate gatherings with close family friends. Colorful and silly children’s parties, messy with icing and confetti and cupcake crumbs.

Used to.

Back when I was a different person, I used to throw parties, which are now distant memories of music and laughter and food successes and failures. I used to receive invitations to parties, too (and not just the everybody-come-and-spend-your-money types, either). And every now and then, in moments of loneliness, or perhaps in a passing celebratory mood, I think, how nice it would be to invite a few people over! How nice it would be to have an excuse to cook some special dishes and mix up drinks and dust off the party games which have not been opened in several years. But then I think, now whom shall I invite? And just like that, my sense of enthusiasm for party planning deflates like a loosely tied balloon. friends party

Whom shall I invite? Who is my group? Planning a party was so much easier back during the days when I was part of a primary group or two. Now, I am no more than a drifter, skirting around communities of people which either change so rapidly that I rarely see the same faces twice, or are so large that I wander around, lost; or are so well-established, that I do not see how I can possibly contribute.

I recently tried to make friendship a tangible goal. Throughout the summer, I made it my personal growth project – like a mission, to try things that I had not tried, in order to change the situation. Make friends. Join the group. Be social in real life. And so, I attended Meetup event after Meetup event. When I met interesting people, I asked for their contact information, so that I could stay in touch. I said “yes” to going out on a few dates. I put away my iPad and forced myself to join the conversation, or even (gasp!) start a conversation with someone I did not know well.

The results of the summer project? Well, I had some enjoyable conversations with people I will probably never see again. I did a few fun things that I can now check off on my personal list of Neat Things I Got to Experience in Life. I learned some new ideas from strangers which continue to change me in small but significant ways. I learned that coming out of my cave is not always scary and disastrous. And I think that I even managed to make a friend (though at times I am still unsure if I have yet earned the right to use that term).

topsy turvy weird bird

But as positive as the results of my summer project may have been, I am still sadly lacking in the social department, with little more than superficial connections. Perhaps I could squeeze my way into some social group the old way – by watering down my personality so that I can conform to the norms of the group. As much as we like to think that our society honors the individual and celebrates diversity, the truth is that nonconformity makes us uncomfortable. It is human nature to form our social groups based on commonalities. Be yourself! We preach. But if “yourself” happens to be too weird to fit into a group, then learn to love yourself, be your own best friend, save yourself, date yourself, treat yourself, enjoy time alone, because obviously, you’re going to have to.

Sometimes I wish that there were some website for people seeking meaningful non-romantic social connections. Something like Linked-In for bestfriend wannabes, where you can post a personality resume. Something like:

Name:

Tiare (aka The Girl From Jupiter)

Roles You Could Potentially Fill in a Social Group:

Comedian

The Melancholy Intellectual

The Clueless Airhead who has no idea what is going on down here in the real world

The sweet, cookie-baking Nice Girl who still feels guilty when she says bad words

*The Storyteller

Things You Are Into:

Writing stories & poetry

Sports (esp. soccer and tennis)

Classic literature, films, music, and other esoteric shit

Silly memes, YA books, vampire shows, and other shallow things that keep life from being too serious

Camping, hiking, geocaching, nature

Cooking and baking

Talking in a British accent, like a valley girl, or in Spanish when the mood strikes me

Handicrafts

Daydreaming about world travel

 

Then, anyone who registers for the site can come along and browse one another’s Desperately-Seeking-Social-Group ads, and say – ahh! Just the right type of weird individual to fit into my ideal social group! And with a few clicks of the mouse, I have created an instant community of people to invite to a real-life party at my house. Friends Wanted Advertisement

Okay fine. Maybe the world couldn’t work that way, exactly. And maybe it would be foolish and dangerous to invite a bunch of carefully-selected strangers into my home for fun. People do lie about who they are, after all. But I suppose I am feeling nostalgic, or wistful, wishing that there were some way to fast-forward to the magical day when life will cease to be about who I used to be and what I used to do and will suddenly be what I wish it could be.

But some goals simply are not tangible.