Crossroads

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Summer weather has arrived in the south. Many people deal with seasonal depression during colder seasons but mine crop up with warmer weather and linger until October.

See, I hate heat. I hate humidity. I hate crowds and school children on vacation who scream constantly. Trying to enjoy a breeze from your open window is nearly impossible. I hate how fast everything starts to feel. I hate the increased energy of go, go, go, and do, do, do.

I don’t like shorts or tank tops. I despise shaving anything. Summer is when I feel pressured the most to conform to societal and gender expectations. I feel insecure due to all the shoulds.

I enjoy colder months. Wearing pants and sweatshirts and sweaters. I like taking brisk walks in brisk weather. I enjoy how most other people stay inside and I can go somewhere and it feels as if I have the place all to myself.

I like the feeling of calm. The hush. Having adequate time to reflect.

I chose a job at a state park. It was nice at first, surrounded by nature. Taking my hour long lunch break to go hike the trails. I don’t have to sit in bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic. There are some perks. The pay isn’t great but at the time I accepted the job, it wasn’t much of an issue.

But now, I’m not so sure what to do. The long and short of it is, I don’t want to be there. I don’t want this job and I certainly don’t want it full-time. I’ve been handed more and more responsibilities. Some of my duties were vague at first but I brushed it off. Administration for state government is ridiculously bureaucratic and convoluted. The procedures and systems the state uses turns simple admin tasks into a labyrinth of frustration.

I put out a lot of fires. I clean up messes of co-workers. I know I don’t have to but I’m the type that gets tired of asking and then does it myself.

The constant barrage of customers (in person and over the phone) depletes my energy. By 2 PM, I’m so zapped I don’t know whether to cry or fall asleep or run off screaming.

I have a natural clock. I get sleepy at 10:30 or 11 PM and wake without an alarm, usually at 7:30 AM. I have to take something to force myself to go to bed earlier and I often wake up throughout the night. Since I have to wake up at 7 AM (sometimes earlier) there is this tiredness in me that I can’t shake even after a cup of coffee or a good walk.

And I’m tired all the time. My body aches relentlessly. I already have scar tissue on my muscles from a lifetime of anxiety and stress. I wear down easily. I’m still working in the sector of customer service and after 15 years of it, I’m beyond being through. I go home exhausted.

My anxiety is crippling. It affects my sleep. It affects my emotions.

I practice Stoicism and it helps to a point. I am a few years into recovering from a traumatic childhood and adolescents. I still suffer from toxic stress.

Sure I have good benefits but the amount of money that gets hacked out of my paycheck each pay period leaves me enough to barely squeak by. At first, the pay wasn’t an important factor. But as I acquire more and more responsibilities, the pay doesn’t increase and therefore the monetary compensation isn’t enough for the stress endured.

How do I go on doing this? I have a lot of obligations which require money. I could get a part time job to pay for those but I will never be able to save money.

To look at my future and see myself here indefinitely, fills me with dread.

So, how much is this costing me? How much is my sanity worth? My physical well being? I’m in the midst of making difficult decisions; decisions which won’t just affect me.

My body has been rebelling from the sheer state of panic and distress it’s processing. It is tough to calm my body and mind when I’m at a crossroads where I don’t know which way to take yet.

For any readers, have you ever left a job for your emotional and mental health? Have you been at a crossroads and were unable to decide for weeks, months, or even years? How did you finally make that decision, if you did? How much value to you place on your overall wellbeing?

 

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My Path to Stoicism

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While embracing minimalism, I came across the term Stoic. I had heard the term before and had the perception that probably many others have. I saw a Stoic as a rigid, unfeeling person, indifferent to all matter of events and emotions.

So, I did some digging. The Internet led me to Daily Stoic. It’s the brainchild of Ryan Holiday.  It is a great beginners guide and through the site I went back to the foundation of the teachings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.

There was an immediate connection with Stoicism and I soon learned what a practical and all encompassing philosophy it really is. Stoicism doesn’t teach one to become unfeeling and cold but to be in control of the only things you can control in this life: your emotions, your attitude, your execution, your reaction, your perception. Anything that has a you/your attached is something to examine, strengthen, reign in and practice.

The teachings and practices of Stoicism are things I  naturally gravitated to and striving for. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is like an offshoot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is rooted in Stoicism. I had already used DBT for years in therapy.

Stoicism exemplifies humility, modesty, acceptance, compassion, accountability, and rational thought. All of which is sorely lacking in today’s world. These are all virtues I have been striving for and now I had a nice, neat road map to lead the way.

Many of the great thinkers, innovators, and leaders studied and practiced Stoicism such as Thomas Jefferson, James Stockdale, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, Frederick the Great, Montaigne, and many others. Coincidentally, these are people I have admired a majority of my life.

Life may deal you a shitty hand. But we mustn’t wallow and blame and do nothing about it. We mustn’t accept being a victim or a martyr or an asshole as our fate. But we must acknowledge it and heal from it. We learn and we go on. We change our perception. We take responsibility for what we do have control over. We cultivate an indifference to what we cannot control. We stay accountable. We take action. And we develop an inner citadel of peace, contentment, and strength.

Most of all, we accept our fate as mortal beings. We do not fear death but accept it and do the best we can with the time allotted to us. This is all we really can do. And isn’t that enough?

I say, it’s more than enough.

 

What’s My Niche?

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Most of the time, I feel motivated to write. Sometimes, the thought of writing doesn’t thrill me in the least. I created this blog to have some sort of outlet for those everyday, in between topics I want to write about and share.

This blog has been about life in general, but with something so vague and broad, I find it tough to know what to write about. I find it tough to muster up the energy to pour into a piece of writing.

A lot of things I do write about stays as a draft because honestly, I may as well make it an Instagram post or a tweet since it’s about something of only a passing interest. Where’s the meat in it? Where’s the meaning?

I would say the majority of blogs are basically public diaries. There’s nothing wrong with that but if one is wanting to build an audience, I don’t think talking at people about mundane things is a way to do it. (Which is what I feel I do.)

I often build a personal post around a period of my life to say, hey this is what I went through, maybe you can identify with it. Yet, I don’t invite the reader to interact with my words. I’m not asking questions. I’m not offering much advice.

Blog writers who gain a large audience are writing about a certain topic. They may have personal stories to share but they largely address a wider problem which affects thousands or millions of people. They are interactive. They ask questions and/or provide answers. They write in a way which makes the post about others and not only about themselves.

I have brainstormed over topics that interests me. Topics that I have direct experience with, I’ve read about, and researched. Topics I theorize and of course, write about.

The obstacle is, what do I focus on? I have a variety of topics and not all of them line up with one another. My experience and/or interests are childhood development, child abuse, psychology, boundaries, toxic relationships, divorce, relationships, education, social issues, mental and personality disorders, therapy, minimalism, stoicism, anthropology, evolution, early human history, general history, road trips/travel, poverty, writing, and even down to pop culture. Phew!

So, how do I find a cohesive theme among all that debris? How do I unite this blog and make it something people will find value in? I don’t want to only talk at people but I want to foster communication. What is a great need among society? What suggestions can I offer to fulfill that need? Out of those interests listed above, which is most imperative I need to write about?

My next task to tackle (concerning this blog) is figuring out what I want to write about the most. What topic of interest am I more likely to stick with, focus on, and thereby create a niche and build an audience of engaged readers?

Readers, have you had this dilemma before? If you have a blog, what’s your main objective when you sit down and write?

 

The Magic of Minimalism

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I have never been one to hold onto things especially due to sentimentality. Or so I believed. See, most of my family are hoarders to varying degrees and I’ve always strove to not be anything like them.

During my separation and divorce, there was a lot of dividing going on and, in the process, I got rid of a lot of stuff.

The majority stayed in boxes and totes while I lived with my sister. When I moved in with Ian, however, I was overwhelmed by the number of things I still owned.

It took me an exhausting week straight to put everything away. I felt frustrated to have so much stuff and nowhere to put it. I reasoned that the apartment was just too small.

In January of 2017, I watched the documentary, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things”, by The Minimalists. It inspired me to do a general sweep of my things and get rid of what I no longer needed. I ended up with a bag full and felt pretty proud of myself but shortly after, I still felt I had too much clutter.

The following month I came across this blog post. The writer had read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo and documented her journey following the KonMari Method.

The KonMari Method groups all of one’s belongings by category. Then the person touches each item, keeping only those that spark joy and then designating a home for those items.

After learning about this book, I checked it out from my local library. I devoured it in less than a week. (You’re supposed to follow the KonMari method while reading it, but it is in such high demand that I couldn’t keep it for very long.)

The book stoked a fire in me and I decided to try her method. I wrote down the cliff notes, returned the book, and started with the first category which is clothing and worked my way through the rest over the course of a month and a half. Ian joined me in the categories he owned things in which were only clothing, old school related papers, and DVDs.

Most of it was easy to do, a lot of it were things I wanted to get rid of for a long time. I went through photos surprisingly well. I saved cards and letters for later which when it came time for them, was easy as well. The more I got rid of (especially so-called sentimental items) the easier it was to get rid of other things that invoked a stronger emotional response.

I found it especially liberating while ridding myself of things I was holding onto due to fear, guilt, and obligation. It’s as if the book gave me permission to let go of things.
While I was on my KonMari journey, I told Ian stories behind objects. Some inspired tears and anger.

There were so many “gifts” I had gotten over the years that weren’t gifts at all. They all came with some sort of clause attached. Some demand. Some form of control. Gifts that should have been given freely and with love and no demand to have them back if I didn’t want them or instructions on how I use them or feel about them.

I had so many things, that when I touched them and waited, there was no spark of joy. Only a deep well of anger, repression, and resentment.

What awakened a visceral emotional response the most was going through all of my Hanson memorabilia.

It wasn’t because of the band but everything that happened during my 20 years of being a fan. All those memories behind the posters, magazines, albums, concert souvenirs, and t-shirts released a torrent of tears.

My sisters were Hanson fans too, so it was something we could share. My sister, Melissa, (who is closer in age) and I weren’t always close, and this helped us slowly to do so. We also travelled to a lot of other states to attend concerts.

Growing up, I had stayed within a 200-mile radius of southeast Kentucky, only going into Virginia and Tennessee, which isn’t hard to do since those two states border the county I lived in. Traveling as a teenager helped open my eyes to life outside of my small Appalachian town.

When Hanson broke onto the music scene in 1997, I was only 13. It was such a pivotal time in my life. It was my coming of age. I was a teenager getting to know myself. And I thought of the girl I was, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. Wondering if any part of me was still that girl. Wondering if I had ever wanted to be that girl.

But now I was at another pivotal point in my life. I was somewhere in life where I was truly moving on. All those old things had only weighed me down. For too long, I was surrounded by things which sparked many painful memories. Even the ones which reminded me of happy, fun moments still had painful ones interwoven into them.

I was more than ready to let go. I was starting anew with a clean slate. Without all the stuff, it was just me, stripped down and bare boned. It’s freeing but boy is it terrifying.

It leaves a wide-open space to ask the really important questions: Who do I want to be? What kind of life do I want to have? What are my values and priorities now that I don’t have to focus only on making money to buy things I think I need?

I was able to take a job I really wanted even though it paid less. Both Ian and I realized we didn’t want to be so close to Nashville. I took a job in Gallatin and that’s where we moved to. It’s calmer and quieter. There are still rolling hills and some farmland left.

The biggest impact for me was realizing how long I had bought into consumerism. Always pining for the latest and greatest. Envying those who seem to always have the perfect home, the perfect wardrobe, seemingly the perfect life.

But in reality, at my core, I didn’t even want all those things, yet I had allowed myself to believe that I needed them. Either as a badge of success and happiness or to solidify my position as what we’re told an adult is supposed to be and look like.

I don’t give a shit if I don’t have the latest iPhone or those boots that everyone else is wearing or having my home look as if Joanna Gaines decorated it.

For me, having a lot of things is meaningless. There are so many gadgets and gizmos and knick-knacks in homes right now that we do not need. It’s only getting in the way. And it’s this idea that if we have less than our neighbor, we are somehow less than, less rich, less popular, less happy, and therefore less worthy.

I only have to live by my own standards and those can be anything I choose. Whether I’m bucking trends or choose to follow some, what really matters is if I’m happy, not going into debt or tying my worth to empty objects, and I don’t feel like I’m only trying to impress others.

Starting in February and into early April 2017, I donated and sold about 80% of my things. After moving into a new apartment and over the course of an additional 6 months or so, I got rid of even more things.

Eliminating clutter gave me room to focus on what is important and narrowed down how I want to spend my time. Now, when I purchase something, I do so mindfully. I choose quality of quantity and things which will make my life easier. Ridding my life of so much stuff is freeing in a way I have never encountered before. Not only do I have more physical space but mental, emotional, and spiritual space as well.

I recommend others to take a look around. Are there things which do not bring you joy? Are you better off without them? Tune out the rest of the world and ask yourself: What do I like? What do I want? What do I need? And then ask yourself if all the stuff in your home is helping or hindering you in finding out.

 

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I have been working on a post for weeks now. I have the rough draft and have printed it off several times, marked through it with red ink. But it still seems so…blah. I don’t think it’s the article, though, it’s me.

So, I had to take a little break from that article and rant a little today. *Ahem*

I love my job. It’s the best one I’ve had yet. But our in season is starting and people are crawling out of their caves and sweaters to come here. A park is for people. I get it. But it’s usually those people who only step out into nature when the conditions are just right that are literally the worst.

They do and say things which remind me of how stupid people really are. People who try to tell you how to do your job when you know the ins and outs of it. Such as what your park policies are. What discounts you give.

Everything in me is screaming, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to work another summer here.

I don’t like people. People are stupid. People are rude. Sure it gives me plenty of opportunity to practice Stoicism but I am not a people person. I would be more than happy to live in seclusion.

This is my daily struggle. Pushing myself to be around people. To be in a relationship. To try and socialize. To live among people and eventually make people of my own.

All of that versus wanting to be completely and totally alone. Living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.

It’s tough for me to stay present in order to experience the every day in between. The 8-4. The traffic. The bills. Saving for a house. Planning marriage and kids. Trying to fit my writing in there somewhere. Feeling drained and exhausted almost every day.

Being an introvert with a heavy contempt for other humans is a frustrating life to navigate through. I hold on because I know the day or days will come where the contempt slackens, the frustration eases, I will marginally enjoy other people’s company, and I’ll get excited about a perceived stable future. But I also know the yearning of wanting to isolate myself will never fully go away either.

This is a tight rope walked daily. But taking a breath and taking one day at a time is the only thing which keeps me walking it.

 

 

To All The Kristins I Have Been: Thank You

light-sign-typography-lighting.jpgIn this special birthday post, I need to acknowledge a few people.
This post is to all the Kristins that I have been.
To the 4-year-old girl that climbed up on the bathroom sink to look at herself in the mirror and was disappointed in what she saw.
To the 7-year-old who had her first suicidal thoughts and was shamed for it after expressing them.
To the little girl in elementary school who was a bully because she was so angry.
To the chubby 10-year-old.
To the bulimic 14-year-old.
To the 17-year-old with the awkward haircut and who felt ugly inside and out.
To the 19-year-old who felt achingly alone.
To the 22-year-old who settled and mostly got married because she was shamed by family and religion.
To the 27-year-old alcoholic with crippling depression and body dysmorphia.
To the 28-year-old who took anti-depressants and struggled retaining her short-term memory for two years.
To the newly divorced and complete train wreck 31-year-old.
And now to the 34-year-old today who has grieved and forgave. To the me who accepts that I am worthy and won’t settle and have learned to love again and most importantly, learned to love herself.
To all the Kristins I have been: I love you and thank you for being you.

Limits

freeimage-2252862-webIf you read my last post, you’d know that from April to October of 2017, I struggled with depression.

In addition to what I talked about in that post, I had also started a new job at a state park, Ian and I moved further away from Nashville, and Kill Me Now, a web series I made with my older sister had wrapped and was being edited by Ian. 

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed with all those changes. My life didn’t really feel like mine for awhile. My time and energy was being dedicated to my relationships and filming. I felt stuck in my path and by wanting and trying to do everything, I wasn’t doing much of anything.

Everything I was feeling, manifested in physically debilitating ways. I had been on high alert, on edge, and on guard for 30 some odd years anyway, but my body was going into overload and rebelling. I was so tense at times that it was difficult to turn my head to the side.  I started seeing a chiropractor. I read a lot about toxic stress and how to subdue it. I was relearning how to breathe correctly. I started paying attention to my triggers and responses. I still have to tell myself to put my shoulders down every two minutes.

I made the decision to focus solely on healing myself emotionally and physically. So, I gave up everything I had been wanting, wishing for, doing, and suppose to be doing. I didn’t write except when I needed to journal to clear my head. My sister took over promoting Kill Me Now.  I donated the majority of my art supplies. I wasn’t looking into submission deadlines or upcoming writing classes or acting workshops.

For a few months, I was fine, but having no goals or to-do lists, the question of my self-worth gnawed at my psyche and will to live.  This caused a lot of second guessing. I didn’t know what I believed in, what I wanted to do with my life, or who I wanted to be with.

I was overwhelmed with maybes and what ifs and it left me searching for answers.

In October, needing space, I went camping alone. I had to challenge my attachment to Ian and all of my fears. I laid awake in my tent for a long time. I cried. I wrote in my journal. I wrestled.  I knew I had to start being fully accountable for myself. I had to grow up and let go.

A lot of my misery was due to me chasing too many damn things. I’ve always had an interest in a variety of things. I would passionately pursue an interest but then lose focus it. Then I would turn to another interest, only to do the same. Having too many “choices” left me with an inability to choose something and actually do it. I couldn’t commit to anything since I was chasing twenty different things.

Out of all the shit I thought I was suppose to do and wanted to do and felt obligated to do, what did I really want and need to do?

I knew I had to cut back on interests and passions and whittle it down until I didn’t feel overwhelmed anymore. So, I focused on three major areas in my life (Relationship, Career, Personal Philosophy) and narrowed it down until I only had one choice in each area.

So, what did I decide?

Relationship: Ian

I want to marry Ian. He is a great partner and wonderful companion. He has challenged me in so many ways. Ian stays accountable and keeps me accountable, as well. He is always willing to try, to change, and work on issues.

No one is going to be perfect. Anyone I date will have flaws. But Ian is someone I can trust to have children with. He is someone I can share my life with, growing along the way.

Career: Writer

Writing is the only thing I’ve done consistently throughout my life. I know I’m good at it. I know it’s a craft that must be practiced everyday. It is the only thing that gives me hope, excites me, and creates contentment.

I had to say goodbye to becoming an actress, a director, an archaeologist, a counselor, painter, graphic novel artist, travel guide, park ranger, whatever. I can’t live all those lives, but I can create characters who do.

Personal Philosophy: Stoicism

In August, I stumbled across the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and it just clicked. Stoicism is practical wisdom. Stoicism is about self responsibility, accountability, reflection, maintaining emotions, and taking action. It is a tangible philosophy to practice every day of one’s life.

I came away from that camping trip and long battle with depression a changed person. Of course, things didn’t magically fall into place right away but over time, I have flourished all areas.

A person can’t just make a decision or write a list or make a resolution and then do nothing. What matters to you and what you want for the rest of your life must become a life long practice. You must cultivate it every day before it will grow.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many options, focus only on the major areas of your life. Be honest with yourself and cut the shit. By this process of elimination, you will be free to choose what truly matters to you. And you’ll be a hell of  a lot happier and content when you do.