Learning the space I fit into, balance, and how to ask for it

As a young child I was very much a loner.  I didn’t often fit in, and often didn’t care to.  I was usually content to play on my own, or have a single close friend.  I spent a lot of time in the woods or fields by myself when we lived in the country, or playing with my stuffed animals alone, or creating tracks for my matchbox cars of sand and pine needles on vacations in Lake Tahoe.  I think when I switched schools five times within four years in my pre-teen and early teen years, that was the first time I tried to fit in, because I did feel a little isolated having absolutely no friends.  It wasn’t even that I minded the solitude all too much, but that I saw everyone around me with a multitude of friends around them and I felt I was doing something wrong.  In my middle and later teenage years I came out of my shell again, I was a constantly hyper and outgoing creature, a whirling ball of energy and charisma among the crowd of oddballs and outcasts I found.  Since identity is more firmly formed around that age, I figured myself to be an extrovert.  I neglected to notice how starved I was for attention and affection at times, and how I was also going through the tumultuous and confusing time period of raging hormones for the first time. I’m sure now those things motivated the intensity of my extroversion.  I would flit from one house to another with my amorphous group of older friends, and thrill myself in the time spent on the astroturf, the unofficial hangout of every misfit teen, making new friends of absolute strangers on a whim.

Time passes, and in recent years I’ve been rediscovering myself.  There was a lot of time in between my early years of discovering my identity and now.  There were years of alcohol induced haze, tumultuous years of abuse, years of dysphoria and confusion, years of heartbreak and loss.  On the other side I began my transition, I began pursuing fulfilling career paths, I began forming healthy relationships and nurturing the few I had through those dark years.  I began to reform my identity and I found it hard to be around people at times.  Often it was just more tense, less easy and comfortable than being alone.  Sometimes it was enjoyable, but exhausting, draining until I hit a point where I’d pushed myself too far to social and felt sick and anxious for days after.  I decided I must be an introvert, I learned to stick up for my space and boundaries and aloneness.  I also battle co-dependency and swung myself far in the opposite direction to break my ties to a toxic style of existence.

This new discovery of introversion culminated in my living on my own for a short while after the folks I lived with chose to leave, or I asked them to do so over a period of time because I knew I needed space.  I was desperate for space really.  I craved being left alone, saw through rose colored glasses some idealized dream of wandering off into the wilderness and becoming a hermit on a mountain.  I looked forward to living in a small household of just myself and Kelev, a person with greater independence then I had ever reached by that point at least.  Then the one I hadn’t asked to leave, Kelev, chose to move out as well for a time.  I had my space, it was terrifying and glorious.  I loved that while I kept in touch with the friends and partners and loves that I cared for dearly, that there were uncountable moments in my day where I was floating unattached to any other person.  There was just myself, my thoughts, and whatever tasks I set before me to complete for the day.

Then time passed, not much time, and other folks moved in, folks I was close to and working on founding an intentional community with.  They are comfortable to live with, and Kelev is comfortable to live with during the half of the time he spends here.  But I still value my alone time greatly and need it on a regular basis.  I also became more active in my local poly community and had sudden bursts of social energy, the like of which I hadn’t experienced since my teenage years.  After years of being so introverted that I never wanted to leave the house and interact outside of my little zone, I wanted to go out and meet new people and have new adventures! I remember the word ambivert, a mixture of introversion and extroversion.  Does it fit?

Sometimes I am very high energy for my introverted partners. I want to constantly be on the go, I feel cooped up when in the house too long.  I want late night runs to all night eateries, the pounding of music at the hookah bar or on a dance floor, the thrill of meeting a new group of strangers.  Sometimes I’m too introverted for my partners as a whole, I fear.  I need space, I sometimes struggle with wanting to take a week of silence from social interaction but knowing it would hurt the people I love not to hear from me for that long.  It may likely drive me a bit up the wall too, after a day or two I’d be reaching out to people left and right.  Or maybe I wouldn’t, I want to experience aloneness, and even loneliness, and bask in isolating and silence for a time.  When I am around the people that I love, the people that thrill me, it’s a high.  After a couple days of constant contact I’m exhausted and anxious.  This feeds self doubt.  Am I good enough for the people I am close to if I get exhausted and edgy from just the company of others?  Is there something wrong with me and does it make me incompatible for partnership or living with people or sharing closeness?  No, I don’t think so.

What I do think is that I still have a lot to learn about standing up for my boundaries.  I need space, every single day I need some measure of space.  I need to be better at defining my needs for space.  With one of my partners, when I ask for space, they leave the room and wander off on some adventure, returning in a few hours and messaging me to ask if I still need space or want company.  With another partner, when I say I need space, he retreats off the bed or couch we are sharing, to a space nearby but not quite as adjacent.  With another partner, when I say I need space, he disentangles his body from mine if we are cuddling, and maintains a nearness on the same bed, but with minimal or no direct contact.  With another partner, if I say I need space, he leaves me be and doesn’t talk to me at all, sometimes for a few days, until I initiate contact again.  These are wide variations.  When some are too little for me to satisfy my need for aloneness, and some are too much and make me feel like I have done something wrong and upset someone because of a complete lack of contact, I need to speak up.  I am a balance, inside me is love of excitement and deep vulnerability, emotional closeness and intimacy, and thrilling terrifying social interactions that are new and push my comfort zones.  Inside me is a love for solitude, for the coldness of an empty bed, the silence of an empty room, and a lonely walk with only my own thoughts for company.  I know that both my exuberant need for extroverted moments or my absolute need for introverted time alone may mean I’m not quite suited to everyone else’s needs or preferences.  That is okay, but I won’t know how comfortable I can get and how much my partners will make space for my needs and allow me to grow into them, until I better learn to express them and find my voice.

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Productivity is my best friend and my worst enemy

I feel good when I’m productive.

Earlier today I was reading an interpretation of my astrological chart.  I’m not sure what my feelings on astrology are.  I have a cousin who is an astrologer, I believe he’s done it professionally for a long time and writes for a few newspapers.  I took an interest in it many years ago and he sent me some things to learn from, and then I read some here and there teaching myself a bit more.  I find it interesting, but like anything I relate to spiritually, I’m always skeptical.  I can believe in something, or in the possibility of something, while at the same time realizing that what I perceive is real in my mind, but not necessarily measurably real in the material world.  As the same time, I love aspects of spirituality as I do perceive them, and astrology is enjoyable to read from time to time.

Anyway, the interpretation I got on my full chart had this section in it.

“The work that you do, and the services that you offer, are very important to your sense of identity. In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of. Focus on finding a suitable and rewarding avenue for expressing this part of you, being extra careful to choose an occupation in which you can express yourself. You are sensitive to criticism about the work you do, and you work best when you can create your own schedule. Positive feedback for the services you render is important to you, but be careful not to over-identify with the appreciation you receive from others, as your work and your health suffers when you feel under-appreciated. Motivation to do a good job should come from within.”

Regardless of the accuracy or lack their of, of the planets and what they say about a person, this happened to be quite accurate to me.  When I came out of my years of alcohol induced haze and inactivity, what I did any given day became very important to me.  Productivity, usually in cleaning and de-cluttering my house, was my measure of success.  Then it was my ability to work.  When I got my first job as a vet tech, I unintentionally based a lot of my self esteem in my ability to handle that job.  I worked fourteen hour days, sometimes longer, with a head vet/owner who was verbally abusive at best some days.  The turn over at that clinic was frightening.  I remember one person who was hired and quit within two days, not because the head vet treated her terribly, she was still in the honeymoon period where our insecure boss was sucking up to her and trying to curry favor.  But the new tech saw how those of us who had been there a while were treated and left, with that as her reason, because she wasn’t willing to tolerate that sort of toxic environment.  I stayed for nearly a year, much longer then I should have.  I was miserable and stressed and almost at my breaking point, and even when I had other job offers at much better clinics with higher pay, I felt guilt for leaving.  Because I had based some of my sense of self in who I was there, in being someone who could stick it out and take the abuse, and in the first career in which I really got that satisfaction of productivity from my workplace.  I left before it fucked me up beyond reasonable repair I think…I’m not sure, it was a close call and it took another six months before I could de-stress to any reasonable degree.

When everyone moved out of my household over the summer and I had the chance to live by myself for a few months, I was the only one to do what had been chores we split between the whole household.  It was a huge boost to my mood each day when I finished all the morning chore list I had made for myself.  I measured my mental health, my self worth, my success, by my productivity.  “In order to feel good about yourself, you need to be busy with daily activities and to produce work you can be proud of.”  That is me to the letter.

These days I’m wondering if that is really a good thing.  It wasn’t really helpful when it kept me at a toxic job for long enough to come close to really damaging my mental health for a good long time, and doing a considerable bit of short term damage.  It hasn’t been helpful recently when I’ve struggled with an increase in the symptoms of my bipolar disorder coupled with a lot of difficultly getting enough sleep.  I’ve been less productive, my morning chore list goes half finished some days.  This last semester I did my best for the place my head was, but it wasn’t the best I could do for me at top shape.  And I really beat myself up for that some. I feel defeated many days because I do what would have been a whole hell of a lot for me a few years ago, but which isn’t close to as much as I did at my most productive times at jobs or when folks first moved it. For someone who gives few fucks about what others think of me despite death threats at times in my life, I’m terribly demoralized by a lack of cleaning the kitchen counter tops for a few days.

It can be a good thing.  It really motivated me when I was trying to stop drinking, it helped me stay sober because of how much joy I got from being a wonderfully functional being.  It pushed me to be better at my jobs, to seek a new career and pursue further knowledge and growth.  It helped me de-clutter and get rid of about 2/3rds of my material possessions when I was nearly drowning in useless crap. My need to keep myself busy and do a measurable amount of useful shit in a day to feel good get things done.  Until I hit a point where I need to relax and de-stress and can’t get things done for a bit because I’m just fucking out of spoons, and then it really isn’t helpful.

So I need a balance.  And I need to find a way to utilize this particular aspect of myself to my advantage without letting it hurt me.  Right now I’m a bit too much of my own worst enemy, and I’d like to be a fabulous rainbow of joy again.  I’m still figuring out quite how to do that, but at least today was a productive day, so hopefully I can start to do that tomorrow from a satisfied confident frame of mind.