Monday, 21 March 2016

Time to recharge

I'm taking a break from a few things at the moment.  The things from which I'm taking a break are activities where I'm in a room filled with people.  At the best of times, that's difficult for me.  This isn't the best of times.

A few people have told me how strong I appear.  One in particular said she admired my ability to pick myself up again, no matter how many times life had knocked me down.  There has to be a limit, though.  There's a point where, as much as we try to be strong, we feel ourselves collapsing under the weight of the burden we're carrying.  I think I'd reached that point a few months before I decided to do something about it.

Doing something about it, for me, means disconnecting.  The last time I went to a dance class that I'd usually attend on a regular basis, for example, I had to leave early, and I knew I had to take a break from it.  For a moment, I wondered if the best course of action might be to challenge that part of my personality, to resist the urge to shut down for a while.  Fortunately, I knew myself well enough to realise that I needed to take some time out, to think things through and maybe recharge a little.

I've often pictured myself sat on the side of a hill, watching everything happening below: taking time to breathe, as it were.  Someone recently said that, even though I'm physically present, there's often the feeling that I'm somehow separate from everyone.  Yeah, I feel that too.  That's the point where I really want to be somewhere else.

I admit that I effectively shut people out, and it's easy for them to think that I'm not affected by things, that I don't feel anything.  The truth is that I feel things too much, that I care about people and things too much, and that aura of cold detachment is like my shield.  That shield can be lowered, however, and that's what had happened.

I pretended that being asked so much about my fiancĂ©e, our plans and when we would see each other again didn't hurt, that it didn't serve as a reminder that she wasn't with me, a reminder of how much I missed her.  I pretended that the events of the last six months hadn't brought me to a point where I was already struggling.  I guess they couldn't see that I was already wounded and that, though it would normally be taken as a sign that they cared enough to ask, and be appreciated, every enquiry about the woman I love felt like a dagger between my ribs.

I smiled through the pain.  I didn't know how to tell anyone that I was hurting, in a way that wouldn't lead to them feeling hurt too, so I said nothing.  Eventually, I could no longer hold my shield, and felt exposed, vulnerable.  I started to talk about how I was feeling and even - horror of horrors - became visibly upset.

I watched someone who had once been a close friend as she danced, and reflected on how things had fallen apart between us.  What had once been a good, solid friendship had steadily deteriorated to the point where, should either of us dare to lower our shield, we would invariably find the other had inserted a blade between our ribs.  For a time, I was only aware of how badly I'd been wounded.  Now, as much as it's her habit to cover her wounds, to admit no weakness in her defence, I see that my blade struck a number of times.

Empathy is a terrible burden, when we realise we have hurt someone.

I need to find the strength to hold my shield again, and maybe repair some of the holes that have started to appear in it.  The alternative is that people see how vulnerable I am without it, that I'm wearing no armour behind my shield, so to speak.  Needless to say, I'm currently limiting myself, as much as possible, to spending time with people I trust completely, or whose ability to hurt me is limited.

Right now, I'm sat on the side of the hill I spoke about earlier, metaphorically speaking.  It's a warm day, and a breeze is blowing.  Every so often, a trusted friend will come to sit next to me, and ask if I'm okay.  My reply is that I've just retreated for a while because, as much as I've tried to dress my wounds, they're still bleeding, and I need to rest.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Offering our support

Our friends, family and other loved ones may need our help at times.  If we're decent people, and especially if we're able to empathise with those we love, we offer our support without question.  As much as we want to care for others, however, we must also care for ourselves.

If we have a history of wanting to appear tough, strong, capable and generally in control, it's hard for us to seek help from others.  In families, there is often one individual who takes on the role of being calm in a crisis, of being a strong, safe pair of hands.  They provide emotional, and sometimes more practical, support to other members of the family.

Some people just have it in their nature to care for others, and that's fine.  Where it stops being fine is when that habit of wanting to appear tough, strong and capable reaches the point where we feel we can never, ever ask for support ourselves.  Rather than feeling tough, strong and capable, we have reached a point where we are trying to be invincible, and the sad truth is that we aren't invincible.

We will almost automatically offer our assistance to those we care about, so it can seem that we're doomed to just keep giving our support and receiving little to none in return.  The reality is that we need to stop trying to be invincible, and recognise that the help we need may have already been offered.  At least one of the people you care about - your partner, spouse, a friend or, more rarely, a family member - cares enough about you in return to want to help you.  Your relationship with that person is what all relationships would be in an ideal world: mutually supportive.

If you have a lot of people who want to offer their support in your time of need, then you are very lucky.  It's human nature, unfortunately, for some to advise, tell you what to do, or even go as far as suggesting that they're the only one who can effectively be there for you.  That's not a mutually supportive relationship: that's a relationship that's bordering on being dictatorial.  In truth, you are the one who is best placed to recognise the person, or persons, you want to turn to for assistance, and maybe that will change depending on the particular challenges you are facing at the time.  If they do offer advice, it's your right to either accept or reject that advice.

The important thing is not to take everything on yourself.  As much as you wish it were true, you're not invincible.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Please, do continue...

Some months ago, one of the ladies at a dance class I attend came to a startling realisation.  She turned to face me, said that she'd told me a lot about herself, and that she'd done so because I didn't say much, so she'd had to fill the silences.

Soon after the above incident, another lady, from the same class, said that she had noticed how I sat and listened to a number of the ladies in the class, and that I didn't say much.  She said that, when a man sits and listens so patiently to a woman, it could be interpreted as meaning that he felt a sexual attraction towards the woman in question.  Later, when I was alone, I thought about what she'd said.  It seemed to be a very cynical interpretation of male behaviour, and I hoped, while it was obviously not my reason for listening, that it wasn't true more generally.

More recently, I was out with a friend, and a woman I don't know so well joined us at the table.  Within a few seconds, this relatively new acquaintace started to laugh, and said that she found the conversation between my friend and I to be strange.  What she saw, apparently, was that my friend would talk, and I would often simply nod in reply.  My friend replied that she often has to fill silences, because I talk even less than she does (she's generally thought to be quiet).

Later in the evening, the woman who had found the earlier conversation so strange found herself sat alone with me.  As she talked, I nodded and used other continuation messages to show that I had heard and understood what she had said.  I got to know her better.  She asked questions about me, and I answered, showing her that the conversation wasn't just going one way.  She sat next to me when she next saw me with my friend, and talked to me again.

I don't talk much, but I'm a good listener.  I'm genuinely engaged and interested in listening to what others say, and it seems to show.  Whether it's right or wrong, it's who I am.