Keeping Perspective, Staying Open

Previously, I wrote about the economic strain the COVID-19 virus is and will be causing across the U.S.A. For me, as a psychotherapist in private practice, I’ve had to stop seeing people in person, per the need for social distancing to remain uninfected, towards “flattening the curve” of overall infection rate. This week, I’ve just started to feel the economic effects of doing this. Even with the remote/teletherapy option I’m offering to everyone on my caseload, more of my clients than usual are canceling their appointments. This is to be expected, given how the pandemic is upending people’s lives. In response to this precipitous drop in revenue, I’ve already started to tighten my budget where I can. I’m not a big spender, so there hasn’t been a lot to trim back. Fortunately, I’ll be able to pay a smaller amount for my next quarterly tax installment, due in June, since I’ll be making less money. Still, anxiety about my financial future lurks around the edges inside me, reinforced by the knowledge that my retirement savings in the stock market have been shrinking of late. I know these money worries are arising for many people.

Others have it a heck of a lot harder than I do. There is still so much I have to be grateful for.

This new normal is bound to go on for months. What is already quite challenging is the restriction in movement to which I’m having to adjust. My husband and I would probably still be out to dinner somewhere on our Tuesday date night. Of course, this can’t happen anymore, except at home. Just watching Petula Clark sing “Downtown” on PBS a short while ago felt oddly sad.

I’m curious to see how I evolve in response to these big changes in life and routines. I think a key plan here is to do all I can to live from that place of open curiosity as much as possible. And I need to remember to treasure the small and large expressions of beauty to be found everywhere, including what the advent of spring offers. I just need to keep my eyes and heart open to readily notice it all.

Brief Thoughts on Love

I’m glad I waited until later in life (early 40s) to meet and marry the right companion. My husband and I grew up seeing so many people around us either stay in bad marriages (such as his parents’ fate) or go through a series of toxic to so-so unions before finally finding a harmonious match (as has been my father’s path).

And for those who are single, which I was for most of my life, may they be happy, enjoying love in all the many ways it exists in relationships.

It intrigues and sometimes amazes me how we all start out as children so naturally understanding of and living from love only to then grow up and work on having to find our way back to that same perspective and way of being in the world.

On Healing From My Past

As a person, I am many roles and attributes– husband, brother, son, friend, psychotherapist, gay man, eclectic Pagan, movie lover, writer, sensitive, empathetic, introspective, caring, imaginative, sometimes overly-critical, and many more things. What I also am, though it is not a central identity for me, is someone who survived a relatively/moderately traumatic childhood. (So many people have survived their childhoods, which is nothing to necessarily brag about– though one can if they wish– or be ashamed of. Probably each and every one of us can say we survived at least something during childhood.) This included divorce of my parents before I was five and much uncertainty thereafter, due, in part, to frequent moves and having to adjust to several new schools and living situations.

Shortly after my parents’ divorce, my birth mother gave me up to my father and his second wife, having found herself, through no real fault of her own, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to be a single parent. I’m also convinced she was hoping I would be a duplicate of her older brother, who she idealized while watching him fill in as surrogate spouse to their mother, my grandfather largely away from home as a career Marine during much of her childhood. What my mother got with me, however, was something very different than my stoic yet caring uncle. She didn’t quite know what to make of me when I left toddlerhood. My emotional sensitivity and fascination with her high heeled shoes, long hair, and makeup made her uncomfortable.

Other unpleasant to even very painful difficulties arose after this initial trauma of divorce and later what I experienced as abandonment by my birth mother. However, simultaneously, I was also thrilled to finally go live with my father and the woman I would soon call “Mom.” Being a sensitive gay child on the non-binary spectrum (in my case, identification with feeling partially, but significantly female in a physically male body) became an added challenge. Most of the community I grew up around was quite intolerant of such differences. I was bullied throughout much of school, especially during sixth through eighth grades. I inherited a propensity for an anxious, highly reactive temperament. This, combined with my early personal history, resulted in some pretty serious anxiety (both generalized and OCD) and long bouts of depression throughout adolescence and much of my adulthood. Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered from PTSD as a child and adolescent as I lived through deep relational disruptions and repeatedly perceived threats to my safety, with a good share of these perceptions based on actual reality.

After many years of effective psychotherapy, particularly a combination of Internal Family Systems work and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and increasingly mindful living, I’m glad to say that I haven’t experienced any clinical depression for almost nine years. I have been fortunate to not require sustained use of prescribed medication, although I did go through some short trials of assorted antidepressants (with misery-inducing side effects resulting each and every time) and long-term use of a benzodiazapine (Klonopin) for the anxiety. However, I was even able to give that drug up completely about seven years ago. Being free of the need for any prescriptions has been a relief, yet I also honor and understand those who find help in maintaining a regimen of psychopharmacological meds. We all must try and do whatever is necessary for our well-being.

The chronic, generalized anxiety and OCD will always be what I contend with to some degree. They are part of my body’s lot in life right along with some other health vulnerabilities, such as high cholesterol and skin that occasionally produces melanomas (only two thus far in twenty-seven years, both in situ/stage one, thank the gods) requiring prompt medical attention. But, my OCD has lessened in intensity enormously, having last been seriously bad for an extended period when I was fifteen years of age. I realize now that the OCD was intensified at the time by assorted stressors, including a reaction to an accumulation of traumas. Now, it’s something I chuckle about and bond with others over as they describe to me the unique little quirks of their own OCD. As for the generalized anxiety, I think it’s debatable whether I actually clinically suffer from it any longer. My day-to-day intense, chronic worrying has largely decreased. Ten years ago, I wasn’t certain I’d ever reach this level of inner peace I feel today. Mind you, I still have quite a ways to go on that front. Finding and living within inner peace most or all of the time is a lifelong effort for so many of us, perhaps even for most save for a very few (like the Dalai Lama, among others). My nature being what it is, I’m still to a certain extent what others would call “high strung.” That and growing up with having to cope with frequent disruptions to my sense of security as a child, I’ll likely always tend towards initially catastrophizing in the face of change or new difficulties. But, I am able to more quickly step away from such negative thinking and feeling, instead of getting stuck and bogged down in it so often like I used to do. I’m confident I function within the average range of the general population when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and life changes, with me being somewhere in “normal range” on the broad bell curve, for what that’s worth. For certain, I’ll never be fully “normal,” whatever the hell that even actually means. Mentally healthy and adjusted, on the other hand, well, I am definitely more that than not and it’s wonderful.

These days, it’s been about maintaining all the healing I’ve done for my psyche/inner system of parts while continuing to release some remaining deep-down pain from my past as I live more and more freely in the present. I’ve manifested most of my life dreams I started having as a young teenager, namely that of having a psychotherapy career, owning my own home in a pleasant neighborhood, and being married to a fabulous, loving man. I continue to live them each day, for however long I’m meant to do so. All I, and we, really have is now. I enjoy building from the wondrous now.

I’m starting to live into another big dream of mine. This simply is to commit to writing more often than not and see wherever that takes me next in this incredible journey called life. If I publish anything I produce, that will be a cherry on the sundae at this point. At least I’m writing and some people are reading it here on my blog, which I’ll do my best to have exist long after I’m gone.

A fact is, we all had, and have, our unique challenges in life, including, for a lot of us, mental health challenges, and often very serious ones. These are nothing to be ashamed of any more than the plethora of medical problems people live with and can finally freely admit to having more often than not– at least compared to when I was younger and when my parents were children. Being human is to be born into a body and mind with so many vulnerabilities and difficulties, arising from enduring tough environments, genetics, the inevitability of aging or some combination thereof. It’s our resiliency, including deep capacity to heal, that gets us through and never ever ceases to amaze me, both that of others and in myself. And it’s in mindfully sharing who we are, how far we’ve come, and whatever we are going through– good, bad, indifferent– that affirms what being alive is all about: connection. Connection– bit by bit– in ourselves to who we are and trusting that is enough. Connection with others and their wonderful, good enough selves, no matter how wounded in body or mind, so long as one’s wounds allow for genuine connection to come through, however limited initially. And, of course, connection with the rest of the world around us, nature, the All.

I used to think I was basically just my wounds and was worthy of so little, anxiously, shamefully, and sadly hiding away from a lot of life. But, I see now how we need not be defined by our wounds or imperfections, none of us. (And those who seem to intractably, pervasively live and act out from just their pain are, well, ultimately the most challenged, but I refuse to give up all hope on even them.) However, out of our efforts to heal from these injuries and foibles, we can find opportunities to derive wisdom and access to more compassion and other virtues, both for ourselves and others. This healing includes releasing shame, particularly the shame of assorted false beliefs that boil down to the thought we somehow only are our wounds or perceived flaws, victims of our worst experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. As psychologist Richard Schwartz has written extensively about, what we actually are at our core essence, or Self, consists of calmness, courage, creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, and connectedness. And that makes it all the worthwhile to share in this journey called life, finding out, while doing so, that we are all– not just us, alone– imperfect in body and mind but uniquely wonderful, lovable Selves anyway, and always were.

Hot Showers, My Self Care

I have made it a point to a take long, hot shower for my overall well-being on an almost daily basis since I was a young teenager. I do my best to conserve water and energy in every other respect, but decreasing the frequency of or shortening my showers is not going to happen, not if I can help it. I’m convinced that I can attribute maintaining much of my mental and physical health to standing under hot running water on a regular basis. It’s also a spiritual, cleansing act for me, my (almost) daily ablution.

Science Fiction Story Development Musings: K. AND THE HOMO CEPHALOPODS

The homo cephalopods, or whatever they actually call themselves, are a long-existing species inhabiting a world somewhere far from earth by millions of light years. A land-based civilization, their actual population is unknown, but it is probably somewhere in the billions. They have progressed in technological advancement in seemingly subtle ways. The outside human observer would find it difficult to discern what is actual technology versus extremely efficient evolutionary adaptation of the h. cephalopods to their natural environment. They make use of some created tools with their eight appendages, with just one tool having multiple purposes. In short, they are materially very efficient.

An earlier evolved subspecies of h. cephalopods resides deep under the oceans of this planet of concern. Their population is comparatively smaller than their land dwelling descendants. Contact between these two societies is rare and considered particularly taboo among the above-water kind. However, on occasion, intermingling between them has occurred, leading to many episodes of recorded lore by each set of beings and a small population of half-breed homo cephalopods arising from some of these encounters. These comprise a rare and often especially adaptive and gifted group.

Homo cephalopods, as I shall keep referring to them out of convenience and sheer ignorance (until one or more of them conveys their true nomenclature to a human being), shall be encountered through inner space, namely via shamanic journeying by a very attuned person traveling to the Upper World. It is there that a certain non-binary individual will come upon these sophisticated, mysterious beings. I shall refer to this shamanic journeyer as K., though their name may change during future writings. K. will mentally-astrally ascend to the world of the h. cephalopods and witness an incredible sight.

It will be instantly deduced that the human is in astral form, so the h. cephalopods will reciprocate in kind, journeying mentally so as to properly attend to this out of body visitor. Through K.’s eyes, we will be introduced to what appear as human-sized, and larger, octopus-like entities. These hermaphroditic creatures will likely allow a particularly precocious one of them to approach K. Rapidly gathering information from each brain within every one of hier suction cup-filled tentacles while touching the earthling, s-he will then process it in hier larger central brain. Hier leathery skin and dark, almond-shaped eyes will surely at first be frightening to behold for K.

K. will wonder at the combination of exoskeleton and strong, pliant tissue that comprise the outer body of a homo cephalopod. Since evolving from the ocean over millions of star revolutions of their world, h. cephalopods developed extremely hard shells over their heads and sections of their tentacles. Their marine counterparts do not have these, rendering them comparatively more vulnerable to injury, though they are far better at maneuvering their bodies through small passages and camouflaging themselves to blend in wherever they happen to be.

Sections of this exoskeleton are shed from time to time, to accommodate growth of the h. cephalopod. This aspect of anatomy used to act as armor for the race during their now ancient history of warfare and small scale territorial disputes. Homo cephalopods eventually achieved homeostasis for their kind via peaceful means. A critical mass of them realized large-scale cooperation would save their population and result in more innovations for the overall betterment of the civilization. K. will unknowingly come upon a flourishing society ready to welcome contact with other beings.

Within the same solar system as the planet of the homo cephalopods is another world inhabited by a large mantid peoples, with three particularly dominant species roughly about as tall as human beings. There are green mantids, tan ones, and then those more mixed in coloration, with shades of red, blue, and purple being the predominant hues on those belonging to this third species. There are a range of much smaller, less advanced mantid genera, probably in the hundreds, residing across this primarily arboreal jungle of a world, though there also exist large swaths of savannah land. The tan-colored species of enormous mantids reside in this latter habitat.

All of these insectoid beings have always been war-like. They comprise a beautiful but cruel and hazardous network of societies battling for dominance over the entire land and resources of their verdant planet. The homo cephalopods have been aware of this neighboring world and its comparatively less advanced populations for a while. They have felt reticent to try and assist them with changing their destructive way of life. However, it is possible that the three dominant mantid groups will finally confederate and battle to the death against the underground dwelling tarantula-like creatures, a recently-discovered culture of giant, deadly venomed spider beings inhabiting the vast tundra of the planet’s north pole region. Interestingly, h. cephalopods have been in telepathic contact with these other eight-legged entities. This offers a sliver of nascent hope for peace to possibly occur between the mantids and these advanced arachnids. The h. cephalopods continue to discuss among themselves the best ways to approach helping the neighboring races of their shared solar system.

K. will journey several times to the world of the homo cephalopods. They will show them many places and things on their lands, including clutches of h. cephalopod eggs. These are cooperatively laid and attended to by several adults, with babies hatching and already familiar with each other within a wide radius, having telepathically communicated while still embryos with their fellow hatchlings. All tentacles of each creature pick up sound and tactile vibration signals at the start of gestation, the central brain then storing and slowly translating them throughout the cycle of development. A basic language is then already known by each new h. cephalopod upon hatching.

The knowledge K. takes with them from each shamanic journey back into their physical waking life on earth will be dense and take time to understand and carefully, selectively disseminate to their fellow humans. Fortunately, they belong to a circle of open-minded journeyers, led by a particularly wise and astute shaman and healer, with whom K. can slowly begin to impart some of this wisdom. It is possible that others within this close-knit group will each then also journey to the planet of the homo cephalopods when they next choose to go to the Upper World. Maybe the group leader will ultimately have all members simultaneously journey to this mysterious place K. initially came upon. From there, this small delegation of sensitive humans can begin to share select information of peaceful higher consciousness to others around them. In turn, perhaps even more people will then shamanically travel directly to the h. cephalopods and pass on their deep learning– occurring during these inter-species astral exchanges– far and wide across America and the world.

(This all comprises the framework of a story, or set of stories, waiting for me to write.)