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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss Warmland.

Posts tagged radical acceptance

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I’ve been learning a lot about friendships and how I conduct myself in friendships. I had a conversation with my therapist recently that shed some light on this: I told my therapist I have a hard time maintaining most friendships. She asked why, and I said, “I’m just too intense, so people bail”. She asked what was so scary about me that people would have to bail, and I explained that I am a very supportive, actively caring friend in a very big way. I will always sacrifice myself and my well-being for other people. For my most part, the friend typically encourages me to allow them to support and actively care for me as well, at which point I spill my guts and make myself vulnerable. My guts happen to be comprised of some pretty intense extremes, which is difficult for other people to deal with because I’m often REALLY violently depressed, but my baseline (if I even have one…) is very…high. High energy/racing thoughts/impulses/obsession/compulsion/passionate/disorganized. This gives me the appearance of being extremely high functioning while simultaneously feeling as though I’m being tortured . Not surprisingly, any glimpse at this authentic reality is terrifying for anyone, whether they, themselves, lives with mental illness or not. These friends then interpret my intensity as dependency and set boundaries in their own way (generally by bailing). I genuinely care way too much about literally everything. I have absolutely no chill. 
That’s the way I am. The way I want to be would look more like me caring for myself and designating appropriate amounts of time to care for other people. Not only would this probably be more comfortable for my friends, but this would obviously also benefit me and give me more energy to control the times I choose to make myself vulnerable. Figuring this stuff out has been painful and has required taking a good, hard look at myself and who I want to be. It’s forced me to straddle the line between my rational and emotional minds and also between radically accepting who I am and the things I struggle with and fighting for who I want to be. 
I’ve always considered myself someone who is not an addict. Sure, I’m addicted to cigarettes and caffeine, but who isn’t? I smoke a lot of pot, but I live with a lot of physical pain and don’t like taking pain pills. I very rarely drink at all, and when I do, I have one or two gluten-free beers and cry for the next week straight. None of the usual culprits are a huge issue, but in a way, I do consider myself an addict. I am addicted my my extreme moods. Because I experience extremes, I’ve experienced the BEST things. The BEST sex. The BEST love. The BEST highs. The BEST, most intimate friendships. I’ve also experienced some really violent, intense low feelings and have done some things that no one should ever do because I wanted the lows to stop. Believe it or not, these extremes are equally addictive. I am THE MOST either way. And that feels….intense. Intense is my default. 
I had developed one of those BEST, most intimate friendships in the not-very-distant-at-all past. She made herself so vulnerable to me, and she was intense too. I loved her, and she loved me. And then I got too intense. And then she got too intense. And she bailed, in the name of self-preservation. I still don’t fully understand the situation, but I’m trying to let go of the feeling that I need to understand. 
I was stuck in more ways than one. For one thing, do you respect the wishes of the person when they were stable, even if it means ignoring their wishes now? How do you respect someone’s autonomy in that situation? Do I get to be hurt that she bailed on me when I needed support? Is she sicker than me, and does it matter? Do I get to be angry that she bailed on me when I needed support? Does she have any means of control over her behaviour? Any more control over her behaviour than I have over mine? Does it matter? Can I admit that I am not a good friend sometimes because I’m too obsessed with being SO MUCH without feeling worthless? How accountable do I hold her for her actions when she was unstable? How accountable should I hold myself while I was unstable? Is it different for each of us? Does it matter?

It’s been hard, and it’s required me to take a good, hard look at myself. I want to feel more balanced, to be okay with “good” instead of AMAZING. I want to be able to allot time to give to other people, and time to explore myself.I want to be able to give someone space without it being a huge battle because I’m worried about them. I want to be able to not feel absolutely devastated when I find out people don’t like me (for any reason).

Now, I feel like I try so hard and put in so much effort to everything that I am owed a small percentage of that effort back into the friendship. I feel like it’s taken me time to get to a place where I don’t feel as though I don’t deserve any effort. But I want to feel as though I don’t need validation to feel okay with myself. That’s the other thing I’m addicted to: validation. But I don’t want to feel reliant on that, because it’s unrealistic. It is unrealistic to have expectations, because it’s unreasonable to project those expectations on to someone else. I want to be okay with accepting people for who they are, even if that means that the context of our relationship is either one where I do not get much (or anything) back, or simply a relationship that didn’t turn out to be permanent. 
I am grateful to my best bitch for bailing on me. It was so intense that it forced me to face my addictions and to address them. It also forced me to turn (back) to writing to help me process my thoughts, since I didn’t have someone to bounce my thoughts off of in the same way anymore. I’m finding that this is a lot more productive since it allows me to more fully form my thoughts, rather than having outside input before I’ve had a chance to finish processing myself (because, obviously, i’m so hyperactive?/hypomanic?/high? that there’s a lot to process).

It’s amazing that I can separate these kinds of thought patterns in my personal and professional lives. Call me the queen of low-key, functional dissociation. Maybe it’s okay if I still think a lot, as long as I learn to be more radically okay with it. 

Okay, I don’t really know what the revolution will look like. To me, it’s already happening. It looks like: community gardens/ community meetings/ learning to take care of ourselves (whatever that means)/ community dinners/ debriefs/ sober spaces/ systemic institutions that are honestly willing to accept feedback/ spaces that aren’t sober/ art groups/engaging in discussion about what caring for one another looks like. The reason those things feel revolutionary to me is the focus on simultaneously taking care of myself and also actively caring for the people (and other non-human beings) in my life. 
Standpoint theory is a postmodern feminist assertion that day to day experience is what shapes a person’s knowledge of the world, which informs the way they experience the world and shapes their identity. Scholars such as Sandra Harding, Nancy Heartsick, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Smith have written about it, and a lot of modern-day feminism is approached according to it. You and I went to a theatre to see a play and I sat front and centre and you sat on the back, stage right. After the play, we sit down for coffee and discuss. You saw things that I didn’t see and I noticed things you didn’t notice because we had different perspectives of the performance. Similarly, if you are a straight, masculine person of colour, you are going to experience things differently than I, a queer, femme, white person. Intersectionality is the concept that identity is comprised of multiple standpoints, all of which work together to inform the experiences and identity of a person. Identity informs experience because the world we live in is one comprised of thousands of years worth of historically informed power dynamics which are embedded in defining concepts that construct social and legal systems. Comprehending identity according to standpoint theory and intersectionality can be difficult, because once you think about yourself in relation to these concepts, you’re faced with the realty that you’re privileged in some ways, and likely being systemically oppressed (oppression = systemic power + prejudice) in some ways as well. This is a complex reality to be faced with. But when you start to explore it, beautiful things happen.
Finding your “authentic self” is, simply, a never ending process. It’s a process full of checking in with yourself about what qualities and subject positions make up your identity, and how you perform your identity in relation to the social world. To me, finding for my authentic self means analyzing my subject positions, and it also means being honest about my capacity to actively care for both myself and others. As with many things, it comes down to balance. Being honest with myself about my capacity. This requires me to make myself vulnerable enough to be authentic with myself. It’s been a far from linear journey towards recognizing my capacity in this sense. I am a person who gives until I am depleted. This may sound like a positive quality, and in some ways, it is. But in other ways, it’s rooted in selfishness. I get off on caring or other people. Call it mommy issues, call it a saviour complex, either way, caring for others makes me feel good. But this can be problematic in that not only does it deplete myself, but it leads me to inserting myself into peoples’ lives because I identify them as needing to be cared for. 
This is where the concept of capacity comes in. When I get that urge to care, I ask myself: What is my capacity to engage in the situation? Sometimes, the answer is that I am feeling relatively emotionally well, relatively physically well, and I have the time to allow to providing care for someone. Sometimes, I am struggling with pain or mental health shit that lessens my capacity. Sometimes, I don’t have time. Sometimes, I weigh the amount of emotional labour the other person has contributed outward when they had the capacity and the balance is off for me. 
The next question I ask myself is: why do I feel that someone may benefit from my emotional labour? Sometimes, the answer is that I have skills or knowledge that may be useful. Sometimes, it’s that the person has explicitly asked for support, advice, counselling, or another form of active caring. Sometimes, the answer is that I feel compelled to do something that I think may make someone else’s life easier or happier, whether they agree or not. 
As always, consent is key when caring, and it’s a much more complicated concept than someone asking for emotional labour or not. Ideally, we would live in a society where consent is always given verbally and explicitly. “I need support/advice/help/validation, is it within your capacity too engage in this kind of emotional labour”. I actually have groups of friends where we do this and people will actually reflect and acknowledge whether or not they have the capacity to engage, and in what way. I feel that moving towards this kind of mutual, consensual exchange of emotional labour is absolutely revolutionary. Of course, there are situations where people (ie. me) assume predetermined consent, or where people are physically and emotionally unable to take care of themselves in a way that puts themselves or others in danger. This is where this concept gets really complicated, and I can’t even begin to think of answers. But this is where discussions come into play. The almighty exchange of knowledge based in lived experience.
So, now you’re thinking about authenticity, capacity, and emotional labour, but what next? I think that with this process, there eventually comes a sense of assertiveness. I understand my Self, my capacity, my needs, and I am comfortable asking for them and receiving them. There also comes a time and place where you find a sense of “okayness”. I am okay with my Self and what is happening in this moment because I am in it, and it will pass one way or another in a way that will contribute to my process and my experience of the world. Sometimes this is simple, other times, it may challenge the very essence of your sense of Self, and it feels like you’re back where you began. This concept of “okayness” is often referring to as “radical acceptance”.
How are these concepts revolutionary? By actively caring for both your Self and the people around you, it alters the workings of our social world. First on a personal level, and then an interpersonal one. It shifts focus from productivity, to an ethic of care, which is arguably far more complicated, but also more sustainable. This shift toward an ethic of care then expands:
Self -> interpersonal ->  social systems -> physical environment.
When we learn to prioritize an ethic of care in accordance to the capacity of each of our authentic selves, that is absolutely revolutionary.