Posts in category "Daily Life"

cum dignitate otium, or, les Cent Jours

At some point in my ear­ly adult­hood, I found it far more enjoy­able to par­take in some­thing for the first time when it was in the com­pa­ny of anoth­er – not only as an intro­duc­tion but a time stamp in the rela­tion­ship.

However, this habit even­tu­al­ly became a rein­force­ment (and tes­ta­ment) of a world­view that did­n’t leave room for feel­ings of inher­ent val­ue. I would deny myself any form of plea­sure unless I was with anoth­er per­son1. It’s like I need­ed some­one to val­i­date those expe­ri­ences, and did­n’t know how to give myself per­mis­sion to enjoy them oth­er­wise.

One might have believed that many painful years alone would give me the chance to devel­op a bet­ter sense of self-com­pas­sion, but a career has a way of con­ceal­ing such inad­e­qua­cies. That’s why I had as much grow­ing to do as Heather did, even though I was the one to ini­ti­ate the heal­ing sep­a­ra­tion. Three months would cer­tain­ly be far too long for me to tide myself over with chores or mind­less busy­work. An aver­sion to idle­ness would inevitably lead me to find ways of occu­py­ing my time in a more mean­ing­ful way, and I would be respon­si­ble to no one but myself.

Spending some time in exile also seemed like an effec­tive way for me to learn how to pri­or­i­tize myself, to fig­ure out my wants and needs, to dis­cov­er who I tru­ly am when the mask is down2. Unfortunately, it was­n’t prac­ti­cal for either of us to live apart, even though a com­plete break would have giv­en me a bet­ter chance to heal. As Heather was still work­ing from home3, I spent whole days with the office with the door closed and made it my goal to pass the time in enjoy­able ways.

Continue read­ing “cum dig­ni­tate otium, or, les Cent Jours”…

  1. Another rea­son los­ing L____ was so hard; she was the only oth­er per­son in my life who made it a point not to watch our shows until we were togeth­er. []
  2. How easy this is to for­get after years of cohab­i­ta­tion. []
  3. The pan­dem­ic was in the sec­ond wave. []

conscious uncoupling

I felt aban­doned again last year. Heather was spend­ing less and less time with me, even though she had more time than ever1. I start­ed cook­ing for myself, learned how to cook for her, took on as many chores as I could han­dle, but assum­ing addi­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ties nev­er seemed to trans­late into any mean­ing­ful time togeth­er; it seemed like she was pulling even fur­ther away.

Then she stopped check­ing in entire­ly. Months passed with­out a ques­tion of how I was doing or feel­ing. She would lat­er admit that van­i­ty, per­fec­tion­ism, and inse­cu­ri­ty made her pan­ic and freeze up. Even though she could tell I was unhap­py about our rela­tion­ship, it was eas­i­er to hide from the mon­ster she felt like and avoid fac­ing the pain she caused.

I just wish I was­n’t the one who paid for that cow­ardice, espe­cial­ly when I had already reached my break­ing point a year ear­li­er. There was no desire to com­mu­ni­cate on my end when it felt like she no longer cared, and know­ing that this would make her even more dis­tant — like some kind of neg­a­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion feed­back loop — was ter­ri­fy­ing. I asked my ther­a­pist for advice, and he brought up the idea of a heal­ing sep­a­ra­tion.

This was a great sug­ges­tion. Feeling resent­ful of Heather when she could­n’t meet my needs meant I had fall­en back into the mind­set of think­ing she was respon­si­ble for my hap­pi­ness. Some time apart is exact­ly what I need­ed to gain some per­spec­tive on the rela­tion­ship and reset those expec­ta­tions. Some time alone would also give me a chance to heal, so I could even­tu­al­ly be a sup­port instead of a bur­den dur­ing the times my part­ner is unre­spon­sive or unre­li­able.

I was pleased to know that this would be an oppor­tu­ni­ty for her to do some grow­ing on her own too. The last time she was sin­gle was at 18, and she rarely took the ini­tia­tive to pri­or­i­tize her own inter­ests. The last thing I want­ed was for her to lose her iden­ti­ty to anoth­er rela­tion­ship. And she was so used to hav­ing some­one around that being alone could cause an anx­i­ety attack; exact­ly the kind of thing that she could only work on by her­self.

We agreed to re-eval­u­ate where we were and how we felt at the end of the year; three months seemed like a prop­er length of time to be apart from the most impor­tant per­son in our respec­tive lives. Chores would be divid­ed between us. I agreed not to pur­sue roman­tic inter­ests out­side our rela­tion­ship until until we worked out our issues2, and she agreed to start her own ther­a­py. Despite how dif­fi­cult things had got­ten, I felt some­what secure in the knowl­edge that we still cared about each oth­er and want­ed the same thing — that is, for the rela­tion­ship to work and to even­tu­al­ly re-unite.

  1. When she first start­ed work­ing, not hav­ing a dri­ver’s license meant a four hour com­mute by bus each day. The pan­dem­ic gave her all that time back. []
  2. Not that I was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in dat­ing any­way. []

nothing is something worth doing

When talk of COVID was hit­ting our shores and busi­ness­es were start­ing to shut down as a “tem­po­rary” mea­sure, I expect­ed the sit­u­a­tion to last a great deal longer than a month or two. Gut feel­ings sel­dom grace me, but some­thing told me the Western world was severe­ly under­es­ti­mat­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Maybe it was the mem­o­ries of my last trip to Hong Kong in 2009 — five years after the SARS out­break was declared over — when malls and streets that were once packed to the point of claus­tro­pho­bia were then lucky to see more than a hand­ful of souls each day. The ther­mal cam­eras at each bor­der cross­ing in main­land China cer­tain­ly gave me the impres­sion that a pan­dem­ic was some­thing to be tak­en seri­ous­ly.

cat on tree

A while back, the Humane Society host­ed a cat-tree build­ing work­shop, and we decid­ed to make a date of it. Percy, being a percher, is very pleased with the results (espe­cial­ly when com­bined with an emp­ty box).

It’s already been four months since Heather start­ed work­ing from home. The lit­tle space she has set up at the pub table in the liv­ing room offers her a view of the back­yard while she takes calls and makes quotes. Management has decid­ed to fol­low their own safe­ty pro­to­cols1, which means it’ll remain her office for the fore­see­able future. She com­plains to me about how Byron gets in the way of her video meet­ings every time he walks across her lap for atten­tion, but I know deep down she loves show­ing him off to any co-work­er who’ll lis­ten.

Taking lunch­es togeth­er has been an unex­pect­ed lux­u­ry2 — being avail­able for kiss­es through­out they day even more so. I no longer feel the need to fill the hours with busy­work until she can keep me com­pa­ny again. That’s prob­a­bly why the quar­an­tine has­n’t been as dif­fi­cult as expect­ed; this is noth­ing com­pared to the bouts of unbear­able lone­li­ness I’ve sur­vived with­out a fam­i­ly or part­ner on which to rely. Not that I was going out much before any­way. Depression and trau­ma had already kept me house­bound for years.

freestyle rap cypher

One of the last times I saw Jesse was at the fifth birth­day par­ty for Dominion City Brewing, where he was lead­ing the freestyle cypher.

The biggest change has cer­tain­ly been Jesse’s absence from my life. I’m thank­ful for the fact that he’s not tak­ing any risks (both for his sake and his house­mates’), even if it means I’ve gone months with­out his com­pa­ny. His inten­tions to be in bet­ter con­tact come to him when he’s falling asleep or sucked into work, and I feel strange­ly com­fort­able inhab­it­ing the space between; I know it’s not cause he does­n’t care or I’m not impor­tant, that he’s always strug­gled when it comes to man­ag­ing time and pri­or­i­ties.

Even with a life­long his­to­ry of aban­don­ment issues, I can feel secure in a rela­tion­ship where I have no idea when I’ll see the oth­er per­son again. It’s a sign that I’m not only recov­er­ing from emo­tion­al wounds, but grow­ing too. The fact that I could go this long with­out post­ing some­thing is anoth­er sign. I used to be such a goal-ori­ent­ed per­son with projects lined-up, one after anoth­er. Creativity, work, and self-improve­ment were huge parts of my life. But so much of that moti­va­tion came from the fact that I nev­er felt like a valu­able per­son unless I was mak­ing progress on some­thing, that I nev­er deserved to be hap­py unless I suf­fered a great deal for it.

After strug­gling with men­tal health for so long, I’m start­ing to under­stand that hap­pi­ness itself is a per­fect­ly rea­son­able goal. And now that the deci­sion to iso­late has been tak­en out of my hands, I’m try­ing to indulge the indo­lence. If I was ten years old, it would be a dream come true to be giv­en inter­net access, a com­put­er, and so much free time. Maybe one day I’ll fig­ure out how to live a life between the extremes of indul­gence and mor­ti­fi­ca­tion; for now I’ll stay in, try­ing to be that boy again.

  1. They don’t trust the var­i­ous gov­ern­ments where their offices are locat­ed. []
  2. She gets an hour, so some days I’ll go down for an ear­ly after­noon nap and she’ll pet me to sleep. []

convalescent care

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 your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for anoth­er, who knows you by heart

—Derek Walcott, Love After Love

I’ve start­ed going to appoint­ments on my own. Being stuck in a wait­ing room with sobri­ety on the hori­zon no longer fills me with rage; instead, I take the time as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do breath­ing exer­cis­es and prac­tice mind­ful­ness. When some­thing minor goes wrong I don’t shut down any­more. I can han­dle small amounts of stress with­out being over­whelmed. Leaning into my anx­i­ety and mak­ing peace with it has giv­en me a mod­icum of inner strength I thought was for­ev­er lost. I’m start­ing to feel less help­less, less like a vic­tim.

It’s a sign that I’m on the mend. The trau­ma of the past is start­ing to lose its effect on me. Heather does­n’t have to use a vaca­tion day to accom­pa­ny me on every check-up, and we can spend that time con­nect­ing in a more mean­ing­ful way1.

glass-blown pumpkins

Since Halloween is her favourite time of year, I sur­prised her with a glass­blow­ing work­shop where we made our own pump­kins. She now has these dec­o­rat­ing her desk at work as a reminder of a love­ly date in the Fall.

Developing resources to be self-suf­fi­cient also means learn­ing to be respon­si­ble for my own hap­pi­ness. In the past, I would save songs, shows, and movies so I could expe­ri­ence them for the first time with anoth­er per­son. This was espe­cial­ly true when ____ was still in my life; every moment was bet­ter when I could share it with her. But that meant I would con­stant­ly be deny­ing myself the plea­sure, and total­ly reliant on some­one’s com­pa­ny to be hap­py.

So I’ve start­ed enjoy­ing things on my own as a way of treat­ing myself well. Making sure I do some­thing that gives me joy every day has opened up a world of ways to be com­pas­sion­ate to myself. Poor self-esteem has his­tor­i­cal­ly made it dif­fi­cult for me to feel like I deserved to have fun unless I had done some­thing to earn it, while bad emo­tion­al habits meant I nev­er believed I was doing enough. None of that is an prob­lem when I sim­ply want myself to be hap­py.

That’s not to say I still don’t miss ____ tremen­dous­ly — even after she decid­ed to aban­don me and blame me for it — but I don’t need her like I used to. I know I’m final­ly get­ting over her after so many years when I can fin­ish the shows we start­ed with­out get­ting over­whelmed with emo­tion. Learning that I have the abil­i­ty to heal myself also comes as a huge sur­prise. I’ve been spend­ing so much effort on recov­ery, try­ing to feel like my old self again, that I for­got it’s pos­si­ble to grow in new ways and become an even bet­ter ver­sion of the per­son I used to be.

Rosie's knuckle tattoos

Rosie has the only knuck­le tat­toos I’ve ever been tempt­ed to copy.

Still; I can’t remem­ber the last time a song real­ly hit me, some­thing worth rat­ing five stars in my playlists2. Music does­n’t bring me the same man­ic rush of joy any­more. In the last few years, this was direct­ly relat­ed to the amount of trau­ma I expe­ri­enced. Hardship has a way of bring­ing per­spec­tive to one’s life, and reduc­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of things both good and bad.

Now I can tell it’s the price to pay for sta­bil­i­ty. The highs don’t seem as high any­more when I’m con­tent most of the time, but that’s okay. I’m start­ing to under­stand that the eupho­ria I would seek as relief from my suf­fer­ing isn’t sus­tain­able. That’s a drag­on I no longer need to chase when I can remem­ber that pain is part of life, and let­ting it in is an impor­tant part of heal­ing.

  1. Not that she’s ever resent­ful when look­ing after me. []
  2. A quick check of my library tells me this was Tower Song by Townes Van Zandt back in 2015. []

the beginning of me wanting myself

I had a date around this time last year. She was a teacher-turned-librar­i­an in her mid-40s with two kids, a pix­ie-cut, and thrift store style.

Before we for­mal­ly intro­duced our­selves, I rec­og­nized her from across the room and was imme­di­ate­ly struck by the way she car­ried her­self. There was a con­fi­dence when mov­ing about; clear­ing a table to sit at with­out a momen­t’s hes­i­ta­tion as to whether any­one would mind; inter­act­ing with the staff; bump­ing into an old acquain­tance. Something com­mon among par­ents and peo­ple in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, lest they show weak­ness to a group of chil­dren (and the com­plete oppo­site of Heather, who’s shy and awk­ward and always tries to take up as lit­tle space as pos­si­ble).

We both under­stood how dif­fi­cult it can be to get to know some­one through a screen, and agreed it would be bet­ter to meet soon­er rather than lat­er. That meant I did­n’t know too much about her, aside from the details in her pro­file. I was com­fort­ed by the fact that she men­tioned All About Love by bell hooks under “A book every­one should read”, because Tiana hap­pened to rec­om­mend it to me ear­li­er that year and it became a big influ­ence on the way I approach my rela­tion­ships. Also by the fact that one of her needs was “under­stand­ing of sys­tems of oppres­sion”; as I drift fur­ther to the left on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, I’ve learned that I tend to get along bet­ter with peo­ple who have an aware­ness of social inequal­i­ty.

Continue read­ing “the begin­ning of me want­i­ng myself”…