A bout of stress

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You know how it is: as soon as you have a conversation about something you will see information about that thing -whatever it is- everywhere. A few weeks ago it was fruit flies, last week (or possibly earlier this week) it was aging/living longer lives and this week it’s stress.

The voices tell us:

And how does stress manifest? How does it serve?

As a child, I internalized all the anxiety I felt around me; I worried constantly. I did not know – and could not have – that this was ‘stress’ until a doctor diagnosed it as such. It took many more years before my own brand of ‘fuck it’ developed, and even as recently as ten years ago, there were situations that could push my buttons. Life, of course, was more stressful then – moving to a new country, starting a new job, figuring a lot of things out all alone, etc. But first I coped, then I conquered.

I don’t feel anything resembling stress now. I wish I could give that gift to everyone I know.

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Kill switch / Hold on hope

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“Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” -Anne Lamott

Feb 2017; Same old lessons, different day:

  • Be the adult: Don’t sit around and wait just to see what happens. Be the adult; be responsible and just hit the kill switch immediately. Do not give someone else the chance to jerk you around with their indecision and inability to find or voice their feelings. This is difficult if you have fallen in love or have more feelings than the other person. Someone jerks you around, runs hot and cold, shuts you out but gives you mixed signals and words, and behaves in an unhinged way; if they hem and haw, make premature declarations and backtrack or ‘aren’t sure’, you have your answer. Instinct and experience have handed you the hard-won answers: use them, heed them.
  • Acknowledge your own real feelings:  Just walk the fuck away when you know logically and through evidence exactly where you stand and where this goes. Be connected enough with your own feelings to know when you’re trying to convince yourself of what does not exist and are faking it to justify satisfying morbid curiosity.
  • Scrap the three Cs & adopt three other Cs: Don’t stick around out of curiosity, courtesy or compassion… or some rancid mix of all three. Look at context and content to see if someone is being a cunt (or whether you need to be one) and go from there. (And ‘cunt’ here is the strictly English way of using it…)
  • Turn around and run from flashing lights and sirens: You see flashing lights and red flags ahead and choose to ignore. In fact, you run right into the fire. DON’T! You hear the alarms and sirens going off and think maybe it’s just your fear. No: don’t wait; don’t give the benefit of the doubt; don’t make excuses on anyone else’s behalf; don’t ‘be noble’. Just run – fast – in the other direction.
  • Turn off the projector: When you have a whole shitload in common with someone, don’t overlook all the things that don’t connect. Don’t project attributes or feelings you possess (and imagine you share) or wish the other person has onto him/her, hoping s/he will embody them just because everything else is shared in common. It doesn’t matter that you were led to believe these things were shared at some point: don’t assume that it is real or will stay that way.
  • Tune the fuck in: “Goddamn, girl, you don’t gotta be psychic to know the truth. That boy don’t love you. At all.”
  • Remember that silence speaks volumes: Silence might not be permanent; it might not signal that someone is pseudo-“ghosting”; however, someone who cares is going to talk to you – whatever is going on – even if s/he is not sure quite what is going on or how s/he feels.
  • Kill the curiosity before it kills you: It’s very tempting to watch the whole movie even when you know it’s not gonna be a happy ending. It’s an extension of acknowledging your own true feelings – sticking around because you’re curious is a waste of time. It’s not good enough – that is, you are not being good to yourself – to tell yourself you weren’t doing anything anyway, so it won’t hurt just to watch all of this unfold. It will hurt. And if you’re not careful it could lead to something worse – ending up in a situation you really don’t want. (You know what I’m talking about here: you cannot even figure out why you want to be wrong because if you were to get what you tried to convince yourself you wanted, you would be miserable.)
  • Keep your eyes (and ears) open: It IS clear what is happening – on every level. But you want to believe it is going to turn out differently no matter what harbingers of doom lurk around every corner. It’s clear. Embrace the truth your eyes show you and ears tell you, not the misleading song of the heart. But don’t be so open that you become a sponge absorbing all the misery and anxiety of someone else while getting/feeling/experiencing nothing in return.
  • Refer back: When in doubt, when bending to someone else’s will or charm or even carelessly letting them dictate all the terms and conditions, the way you relate to each other: refer back to this list. In fact, print it out. Laminate it. Carry it around with you everywhere.
  • Identify triggers and patterns: It’s not anyone’s fault: period. But it is also not anyone else’s fault. You have triggers and patterns. Certain kinds of people appeal to you; learn to recognize the ‘signs’ that you have met one of those types. Recognize and put a halt to your own ‘enabling’ and ‘deflecting’ behaviors (similar to ‘absorbing all the misery and anxiety and getting nothing in return’ listed above). You have to be open to taking it to receive it – all this kind of shit takes two to do.
  • Hold on hope: Okay, so you don’t hold onto hope about a hopeless situation. Face reality and embrace it for the often hopeless dead-end it is. Nothing is ever surprising in that way. But it doesn’t mean you should declare hope dead. There are fragments of it floating around everywhere.

“Every street is dark
And folding out mysteriously
Where lies the chance we take to be
Always working
Reaching out for a hand that we
can’t see
Everybody’s got a hold on hope
It’s the last thing that’s holding me
Invitation to the last dance
Then it’s time to leave
But that’s the price we pay
when we deceive
One another/animal mother
She opens up for free
Everybody’s got a hold on hope
It’s the last thing that’s
holding me
Look at the talkbox in mute
frustration
At the station
There hides the cowboy
His campfire flickering
on the landscape
That nothing grows on
But time still goes on
And through each life of misery
Everybody’s got a hold on hope
It’s the last thing that’s holding me”

-Guided by Voices, “Hold On Hope”

Your own dictator

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“How could I tell you anything? You are not even talking to me.”

On to the second of the two “New Age” books I agreed to read:

“Remember that self-doubt is as self-centered as self-inflation. Your obligation is to reach as deeply as you can and offer your unique and authentic gifts as bravely and beautifully as you’re able.”

Self-doubt and struggling with a lack of sense of self are two different things – but interrelated.

I don’t feel paralyzed by strong self-doubt, and I certainly don’t feel like I lack a sense of self. But I do have those moments of doubt that stop me – maybe not the doubts that tell me I can’t do something. More that I doubt whether I have the strength to persevere through difficult things. I feel this keenly with practical things – do I have the fortitude to push through the difficulties and complexities of learning and understanding all the things I would have to learn and understand to take on X career or Y project? I never feel this doubt or self-questioning otherwise. But then, what of this obligation to reach as far, as wide, as deep as possible into your own capabilities?

Is it really an obligation? To whom? Yourself? The world? I wrote yesterday about projected expectations, and other people assuming things about you. I had a conversation with my father recently (it doesn’t happen often; he is the king of assuming things about others), and he told me something about his sudden bouts with anxiety and the nervous and constant buzz he has in his stomach; he asked if I had ever felt that way. Oh, only every day of my childhood. He was incredulous when I said this, “But why on earth would you be nervous or anxious? You were so smart.” As if being smart erases the kind of self-doubt, nervousness, shyness that shadows you every minute of your life – all it does is help you craft an identity, authentic or not, that you can use when you are out, forced to interact in the world. Does the innate ability or intelligence you possess eventually outweigh or overtake all the doubt or nervousness – or the complete misunderstanding or blindness that those, supposedly closest to you, have applied to you?

Are we obligated by having a natural gift or talent to pursue it? Sure, it seems a waste not to, but are we shirking a duty or responsibility by ignoring our “unique and authentic gifts”, or merely letting ourselves down?

Ultimately, as Julie Carr writes, “You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
”.

FORECLOSING ON THAT PERIL
Julie Carr
I’ll keep explaining—because maybe you still don’t get it
Those children in California (substitute any state), dead from gunfire—
Let me begin again in a little roof garden with my friend
A perverse reader, he listens to my stories as if they were TV
I mean he mocks me lovingly on the roof and at the library book sale
My friend is not a banker but a prison activist
He used to be a philosopher, but like many philosophers, he’s taken a turn
that should be easy to understand
The trajectory from philosopher to activist is like the curve of a single brushstroke across a large canvas
Artists in the fifties paid attention to that
I hate flat language like this, but I’m pretty flat
sometimes. You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
As I tell my daughters often
Emotion is a site of unraveling (JB)
I admit, gripping my T-shirt
I wish I were writing in prose an unfolding intensity that shocks history professors and prison activists equally
Later, in the grass, we’ll practice gymnastics and that way contribute our sweat
to Our Ephemeral City

And, reflecting on the doubt, and the not-entirely-accurate identities we inhabit in figuring out who we are, I realize we are like animals who shed their skin. You change identities no matter who you are, and the former you still informs, as memory and experience, but does not define, as the previous New Age tome I read wisely posited:

“To relinquish your former identity is to sacrifice the story you had been living, the one that defined you, empowered you socially – and limited you. This sacrifice captures the essence of leaving home.”

The writer also cited one of my favorite poems from Derek Walcott (here’s a piece); it half-applies:

“The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”

Photo (c) of Mt Rainier by the late, great Paul Costanich.

I Just Can’t

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No, I just can’t. I am not a therapist. I can’t listen and reassure any longer. Anxiety and OCD may be real things, but I can’t live with someone whose life is completely driven by both. It’s exhausting, it’s repetitive, it’s just too much. Add to the mix that crippling anxiety and OCD drive a sufferer to blind alcoholism. And whether gripped by anxiety or drunkenness, there is a part of either OCD extreme that feels to the observer like an outrageous offshoot of narcissism.

The anxious, sober OCD is fueled by the fear that X-thought (a relatively innocent thought or action) is somehow going to land you in trouble, send you to jail, destroy your life… so you better drink those fears away even though it’s when you’re drunk that you commit more of these questionable/putting-yourself-in-peril actions. The impression feels narcissistic because it’s hard to watch as you contort these meaningless non-events into things that might ruin your life – as if anyone gives a shit or has time to give a second thought to the non-events you’ve hyperinflated in your mind.

The drunk OCD is fueled by a hypersexuality that cannot be quelled, and the bravado brought on by more and more drink makes you more reckless. You turn hateful, critical and cruel – when you are the perfect picture of a mess, you think this is the perfect time to call everyone else out for their supposed imperfections. The impression here is one of a narcissist because you are the only one who matters in this self-hating equation.

Sobriety returns – always at a terrible and painful cost – to you and everyone around you. And the cycle begins again. And again.

I just can’t.

The Changing Workscape: The Upsides of Remote Work

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When asked whether the company has meetings, he replied: “Has anyone ever said ‘I wish I could go to more meetings today’?” – President of Automattic and co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg

While for me, there are no downsides to remote work, I can understand employers’ resistance and arguments against it. It’s new territory for most of them, so it’s easy to throw out a bunch of ill-considered objections: “if I can’t see or monitor my employees at their desk, I don’t know what they are doing” (which essentially means they do not trust their employees anyway and need to rethink staffing or their tendency to micromanage); “we need to work face-to-face to inspire creativity and innovation” (this may be true some of the time but is no reason to eliminate remote work); “we’re afraid productivity will suffer” (most studies conclude the opposite), etc. It comes down to a need for control.

Discussing the backwardness of the move away from remote work (in reference to Yahoo!’s hotly debated 2013 decision to forbid distance work), Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother Media, stated in a Forbes article by Jenna Goudreau (“Back to the Stone Age?” – sure feels like it!), “It comes from fear. Fear that if I can’t see you, I don’t know what you’re working on. It’s a distrust of your own workforce.”

The trick perhaps is both in making policy and accompanying attitude changes toward distance work – and finding a balanced approach to distance work. As Wharton research shows as part of its Work/Life Integration Project, there is no ideal “one-size-fits-all” way to do distance work. But offering the possibility means that a company has more tools to tackle all the challenges they face in attracting and keeping the right staff for its needs.

Objections be damned. Speaking from firsthand experience, I have benefited from the flexibility, increased productivity and benefits of focus, a better balance with work and home life and a much stronger sense of being trusted and valued in the company I was a part of. Likewise, it was true that I felt healthier, happier and almost felt as though things like vacation or sick leave mattered less; that is, while we do need time off, the ability to stay at home and structure my time and projects my own way (as long as I met deadlines and expectations) made all my time feel like my own. The comfort of staying at home also meant I was better rested, lost the misery of commuting and was just in the perfect spot for personal contentment and professional achievement. (Some arguments employees have against remote work, though, include the opposite – that professional achievement and advancement can be more challenging as a remote worker because you’re kind of “out of sight, out of mind” – you have to make extra effort to be noticed.)

The upsides are myriad for those employers who will embrace and allow distance work, not dissimilar to things I list as benefits in my personal views on distance work and telecommuting.

Increasing productivity & time savings
With more actual time for working (less time commuting or just sitting around talking – or being disrupted/interrupted in the office), productivity increases. A professor of management from UCLA, David Lewin, mentioned in the same Forbes article that a number of studies show that telecommuting correlates with higher productivity levels.

Boosting focus & eliminating interruptions
Improved focus is a key aspect of working at home that ties directly to improved productivity. Working in an office environment inevitably leads to a number of interruptions, and interruptions have a real cost. It takes time to focus, and every interruption disrupts that focus. Among other studies, University of California at Irvine research indicates that it takes up to 23 minutes to regain that same focus level. It only takes three “little interruptions” then to waste more than a hour of each day! It’s possible to make office rules, which we’ve tried at my office, to reduce these kinds of interruptions, but the truth is – in the destructive open landscape office environment that most companies seem to favor these days, no-interruption policies can never really be enforced. With people walking in, out and through all day long, someone saying, “Do you have a minute?” is enough to derail serious, hard-won concentration (I am a writer, and I need this!) But even the people in the big open room talking to each other – not to you – is more than enough to do the damage. All of these factors lead to the sense of not having enough time to do what needs to get done, which creates considerable anxiety and stress.

Building the dream team
A company can pick the cream of the crop if they are flexible enough to choose employment talent from anywhere. Not restricting a search to the local search area or requiring the right team members to uproot and relocate, a team can be comprised of the best in the world, not just the best in the local commuting area.

Retaining the best – creating loyalty – improving satisfaction
Showing employees that they are trusted and valued and giving them the flexibility to do their jobs creates goodwill and a sense of loyalty. A 2011 WorldatWork study found that “Organizations that have a stronger culture of flexibility also have a lower voluntary turnover rate. In addition, a majority of employers report a positive impact on employee satisfaction, motivation and engagement.”

Fostering corporate agility
Real savings can be achieved by reducing onsite workforce – that is, major real estate and other overhead and infrastructural expenses. With these savings, a company can have a lot more agility and freedom to operate more flexibly and manage expenses. By selecting best-in-class staff wherever they happen to be, a company may be able to take advantage of time zone differences (these are not always a drawback). Sometimes with a distributed staff, a company has staff closer to its customers who can handle those relationships more effectively than from a centralized location much further away.

Another aspect of this kind of agility is the ability to streamline activities. In companies that are really meeting-heavy, where people struggle to get their actual work done, because the tendency is to schedule extraneous and sometimes unnecessary meetings, a remote workforce has to adapt. It’s not that they will not continue to have meetings, but the number and scope of meetings can be pared down to what is needed rather than just what is convenient to have.

In my current company, there is not just meeting overkill but there used to be two annual marketing meetings to which all employees traveled. (And there is a lot of absolutely cost-ineffective travel taking place still). Finally the company decided to embrace the concept of a webinar to deliver this twice-yearly information to all the local markets. While the company is still firmly committed to an overabundance of in-person meetings, at least the step toward using technology to make up for cost cutting measures moved us in the right direction.

Work-life balance & health
I don’t have the hard and fast numbers on me, but it makes sense that people who want to work at home achieve a better work-life balance, which contributes to greater job satisfaction and to life satisfaction overall.

Companies should move away from self-destructive, factory models of work where people are rewarded for arriving early and staying late.” – Matt Mullenweg, Automattic/WordPress