I May Be Broken, But That’s Why Troubleshooting Exists November 13, 2013Posted by craftlass in life lessons.
My life changed again yesterday. When I wrote “Broken” I was at the highest stress level I’ve felt in years. Wit’s end, really. I hadn’t been online in weeks (well, the interactive sort of online, I’ll never stop reading certain blogs), I had been trying to hide my emotions from the few people I have been in contact with (especially the one I live with), and I couldn’t see any hint of light in either direction from the tunnel I’d dug.
Within minutes of posting I got a whole slew of leads, great advice, the sympathy that I didn’t want but actually felt like support instead of pity, sold some music, found out that some people really dug my Christmas concert last year, and was reminded of how quickly confusion can lead to clarity if you just talk to people who care and really listen to their responses. I even managed to pay my rent for this month!
The thing is, since I joined Twitter and started making friends through it, this has been a repeated experience in many ways. When I thought I couldn’t make it to the STS-133 NASA Tweetup people rallied to get me there, for example. I wound up helping other people get there, too, and without a hint of reservation or feeling put-out. Why do I struggle accept this new paradigm?
When I was a child and a friend hurt me, the first time I was outright stabbed in the back by someone I trusted, my dad sat me down and explained that you have to be careful with your trust and choose friends wisely. He said that if you have a single true friend in life you are exceptionally lucky. He’s right. That is generally the case. I was an oddball kid and there were people who took advantage of my generous nature and desperate need to find connections. I stayed in relationships that were not healthy because I didn’t want to hurt people in the way I had been hurt. I became an even more oddball adult. I learned a lot of strategies to try to protect myself, from healthy wariness to outright behaving as poorly as those around me. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t really understand friendship back then and I acted in ways that the society I was raised in taught me – attack before you get attacked. Not that I didn’t have any good people in my life, I always have, but they’ve been outliers rather than the majority. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out who is good for you and who is not. Most of us have to learn this the hard way, right?
There was one person in particular who seemed like a very good friend. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, have experienced a lot of the Big Life Moments together, and had a lot of fun back in the day. We had a lot in common. We also had a lot of issues and, over the years, I’ve realized that she was not very good for me (to put it mildly) multiple times and sought to end the relationship. Yet I always went back. After one of our most recent phone calls I realized that it was at least the 3rd time in a row that I cried after we had been talking. I thought over everything she said and it all fell into two basic categories: 1) All about her, even if the subject had nothing to do with her personal life (brilliantly demonstrated by Howard Wolowitz managing to turn every conversation into one about his trip to space, even when the subject was lemons, on The Big Bang Theory); 2) Telling me how much everyone but her thinks I suck in every way, but how wrong all of them are and how wonderful she thinks I am. Even worse, I realized it had been this way the whole time we’d known each other. Still worse, I realized that this was exactly the same sort of psychological abuse that I rail against when it’s men hurting their female partners. Every time I hung up the phone or came home from seeing her I felt worthless, utterly worthless. She was clearly trying to isolate me, make my orbit revolve around her. I’m pretty sure she didn’t do this on purpose, I think she has her own serious problems and I became the person who bore the brunt of her problems. I stayed on her team because I was worried about her problems. I didn’t want to give up, because one of my goals in life is to be a very good, compassionate person. I don’t always succeed, but I will never stop trying. At some point, though, the benefit of the doubt has to run out when someone is actively attacking you, whether they mean to or not.
Last year, when I was lamenting not being able to volunteer to help other victims of Sandy because I had to meet with FEMA and insurance folks, figure out where we were going to live until our home was livable again (not to mention organize multiple moves), and basically spend hours just getting our most basic needs taken care of, someone reminded me that I was a victim needing help, and only when my own needs were met could I be of useful aid to anyone else. It was funny, because I’ve given that same advice hundreds of times and yet, here I was, needing to hear it from someone else. We’re strange creatures that way. Sometimes the most obvious things DO need to be pointed out. I hung up the phone on my old friend one day and used the term “victim” in my head for the first time.
People often think that looking at yourself as a victim is bad. I see it all the time. “Don’t be a victim, be a survivor.” “Stop playing the victim card.” “Your victim mentality is hurting you more than the crime.” Sure, if you blame anyone/everyone else for all of your problems, it can get unhealthy quickly. But, and this is a huge BUT, until you recognize that you are a victim of a specific situation, you can’t take the actions that might fix the problem at hand and prevent a repeat occurrence. I stayed in unhealthy friendships for years, simply by refusing to acknowledge my victimhood, and it distorted my view of people in general. That acknowledgment gave me the tools to extract myself from a bad situation, and empowered me to take a hard look at all of my relationships and see which were fulfilling and which were damaging. You have to be a victim before you can grow into a survivor and there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about that.
So, when I got such an overwhelmingly positive response to my post yesterday, it caught me off-guard. I haven’t posted here in so long I figured maybe 10 people would even read the piece. Within an hour or so 6 times that many people had read it and it was still spreading. It was retweeted like crazy, by smart people who are influencers in the worlds I like to live in. I haven’t been on Facebook yet (it really takes all of my patience and positivity to survive looking at Facebook) but I did get notifications that it was shared there as well. I got messages from people I haven’t communicated with in years. I got messages from people in the same situation, grateful that someone expressed the frustrations they haven’t been able to share. Most of all, I got messages that cut to the heart of my problems and gave me the perspectives I needed from people who clearly know me a whole lot better than I had realized.
One of my favorite people on (and frequently above) this planet, Tim Bailey (go follow him if you use Twitter and don’t have him in your stream yet, he tweets mainly about space but also about living a positive life in such a refreshing way), told me a long time ago that my biggest problem is that I stubbornly refuse to ask for help. He’s right. He figured it out when he barely knew me. Come to think of it, the first time we met he did me a giant favor that I was reluctant to ask for. That’s the thing about real friends, they tell it like it is and make you a better person through such honesty. They don’t degrade you to manipulate, but they don’t sugar-coat things that are true. They give you perspective. None of us is perfect but a true friend will help you reach for your goals or just figure out what those goals should be.
Note to self: I really should call Tim. Why does my brain keep me from picking up a phone?
A lot of people tell me I’m brave because I share some of my darkest thoughts here. It would be far braver to pick up a phone and tell any of my friends, “I need you right now.” It would be far braver to admit that my life has changed, that the people who were aiming to hurt me are out of my little corner of the universe, that I know how to read warning signs better, that I don’t have to face life alone, that I have deep and meaningful relationships outside of my family, that the love I feel for people and that I feel is returned is not just a construct of my overactive imagination.
Making myself publicly vulnerable is the reason that I need to stop writing this and finish an estimate for a project I am beyond excited to work on as well as polish up the new resume and portfolios I’m creating with the great advice from people who know a whole lot more than I do about finding work, for the people who requested them. Confidence should ideally come from inside, but I defy anyone who claims that their confidence is not at all affected by outside reactions, especially anyone creative. When the same people who are willing to point out your flaws in a constructive way also point out your neglected talents, it’s a lot easier to believe those talents are real and deserve renewed attention. Isolation is a great environment for questioning everything and finding uncertainty all around you.
In a couple of weeks it will be the 4th anniversary of the release of “Bake Sale for NASA“, another life-changing moment for me and the catalyst that led to most of the positive elements of my life today. I never really wanted to be a musician as a vocation and I never tried the way I probably should have. Most of my life can be summed up that way, I let life happen to me. That was fine when I was younger, it led me down paths I would never have sought and taught me lessons I would never want to give up. I think I’m finally ready to pursue life with full vigor.
All because of a little help from my friends.
Drat, now I’m going to have The Beatles in my head for the rest of the day…