“I love that this morning’s sunrise does not define itself by last night’s sunset.” 

— Steve Maraboli

Ah, Sunday. Good morning to you, you overcast, chilly day. 

Sundays have become a favourite day of the week for me. Duder is usually away with his dad until the early afternoon, so Jo and I occasionally get the chance to sleep in a little bit and the normally bustling, busy street that our house sits on is actually… quiet?

This is an unusual occurrence in a typical week for our family; somebody usually has something on-the-go, somewhere to be, something to do… So we’ll sometimes try and pack a few things into our Sunday afternoon, considering it’s the only real “free” day we have to do anything fun with Broski. Most of the time though, he’s pretty wiped from his weekend away, Jo and I are feeling like we, too, need a break after a busy week — so Sundays usually result in a quiet, relaxed afternoon and evening at home.

This weekend has obviously been a bit different. As Jo mentioned briefly in Go back?, we had their mother staying with us for a couple of days so we could make the day trip to Stratford to house-hunt. Overall, I suppose it went well; Duder was great, as patient as an eight year old can be, and tackled what would normally be a “hang out with dad day” turned “5 hours of driving and boring meetings day” with the maturity of a teenager — still having blips of boredom but, in the end, being a relatively respectful, polite and well-behaved kid. For that alone, I am eternally grateful.

I think that the adults that were involved in the day, believe it or not, had more of a struggle than the bored kid. I have had a hard time all weekend; the driving, walking, getting up and sitting down, attempting to tackle stairs in potential homes to see whether or not I can realistically manage them — and, as much as I hate to admit it, it takes me a long time to adjust my living to newcomers. It’s a fault of mine that isn’t often an issue; Jo and I don’t have people stay with us much and I’ve had nearly the last two years to adjust my habits to mesh with theirs, and truthfully, when I have to stay with other people, I have no problem doing things “their way”. When it’s my home, however, and my routine — sometimes I can get a little sticky about it. It’s not even that I’m unwilling to adjust! I just need longer than four days to do so. 

So, in recognizing this as a major flaw of mine, as well as taking the time to reflect on the weekend; I was kind of a miserable cow. I got short with Duder on more than one occasion, my patience was practically non-existent, and I ended up doing some things I probably shouldn’t have (ie: climb a 14-step staircase, twice) out of the desire for some space. I’m really not entirely sure what the issue even was, guys — I usually try to be far more agreeable than I was this weekend, but something about it was just… hard. I am the first to admit that, frankly, I have a bit of a short fuse. Not in regards to my temper — I’m usually pretty even keeled and don’t get angry at much, but to put it in layman’s terms: I have a shit ton more pet peeves than most. It makes me think of the recent surge of people admitting to their utter disgust and aggravation at the sound of people chewing (also a pet peeve of mine); but I have the same reaction to a lot of things; actions, habits and behaviours, that even I’m unaware of until I’m almost vibrating I’m so annoyed.

I don’t need to tell you that this obviously causes problems in my interactions and relationships with people. I am particularly sympathetic towards Jo in this regard; the amount of patience I have for them and their habits, tics, quirks, etc. is infinite. Additionally, they hold the unique position of seeing me in a parenting role and observing the areas where I struggle with Duderroo, but also the instances where I can dig deep and find an immeasurable capacity for tolerance towards him, regardless of how many times he and I have had to have the exact same conversation (pet peeve two). I realize that, from the outside, this ability to self-evaluate can look relatively effortless, and I concede to the bias that I have towards the two most important people in my life. Why can’t I find even a portion of that for people outside of my immediate familial unit?

I ask myself this question a lot, especially on days when I’m feeling particularly snappy. My irritation and annoyance are emotions that I find very difficult to disguise and this disadvantage has a propensity to manifest in the tone of my voice — I, admittedly, have a proclivity for sarcasm. Jo approached me with this earlier in the week, having noticed a change in my demeanour and attitude and I have since recalled that I had to address the same issue when I was last prescribed medication for my ADHD (as covered in my last blog). Jo mentioned that they think I have just become more assertive, which, in my opinion, is entirely uncharacteristic of me, and that it was just going to be a matter of them adjusting to the shift in my personality. While this may be true — I don’t suspect that the things I’ve had to accomplish and the list of potentially uncomfortable situations I’ve had to put myself in to do so would have been as successful had I not found this… “tenacity”, if you will — I tend to forget that sarcasm is a life-long defence mechanism that I have been tirelessly perfecting for twenty-six years. 

When I’m feeling insecure, my normally light-hearted, playful, humorous, though sometimes backhanded satire can quickly become caustic and hostile. Though I never have the intention of offending anyone or legitimately hurting their feelings, I notice the blatant similarities between my behaviour and that of the quintessential bully of my childhood. I have vivid memories of my mother sitting me down, quickly mopping up the puddle of tears I’d turned into; quieted my uncontrollable sobbing after the mean kid that lived across the street had angrily bulldozed me into a rose bush. “People who bully others; people who put others down are only doing it to boost themselves up”, she’d said; and I think she was right. I mean, it’s been proven time and time again that the majority of people who pick on others suffer from low self-esteem, or have negative feelings about themselves for one reason or another.

I don’t consider myself a bully and I know that my sarcasm and the defences I put up are not malicious. I used to be the type of person that would insult my “friends” as a means of “showing my affection”… I know this practice seems to be today’s norm, with a new “Roast Of…” premiering on a regular basis, inflicting physical pain on others being a recurring theme even in “kid’s shows”, and, one that really grinds my gears: prank videos — and the terrifyingly high number of adults creating said videos who are now involved in child abuse/neglect/exploitation lawsuits, all for the “enjoyment” of their subscribers. 

[ side note / random facts: apparently, over five million youtube videos are watched each day. I’ll save you the math and just throw out this number: one trillion eight hundred twenty-five billion — which is a very loose estimate, but is the rough number of views youtube receives in a single year. In 2015, prank videos alone accounted for 17.7 billion of those views. ]

I think the normalization of abusive language, obscene and abrasive behaviour as a show of friendship and/or endearment as well as our desensitization to it, and acceptance of it as appropriate interaction within our society overflows into countless other areas — the doofus that is in charge of running our province, and the other doofus in charge of our neighbouring country are both perfect examples of what happens when we, as a society, laugh off offensive and inappropriate behaviour. In saying that; on a smaller scale, I realize that I have also been desensitized to the level and intensity of sarcasm that I use when I’m feeling threatened, overlooked, unheard, etc. and that those feelings lead me to behave in a way that doesn’t necessarily speak for who I am otherwise. And I have to admit, moments are coming up more and more often that make me wish I could find some way to teach this capacity for self-reflection on a broad scale. Imagine what the world would be like if we could eradicate the concept of ego and, instead, people weren’t as resistant to acknowledging their flaws. When we aren’t feeling self-conscious and defensive of traits that we perceive to be “less appealing”, we are less likely to project that onto the people we interact with — and when the feeling of being “lesser than” no longer exists; the covetous emotions like jealousy, envy, greed, etc. are also quickly disqualified. In my case, I get my knickers in a knot when I believe that someone else is perceiving me as less than. Whether this means not including me in discussion, interrupting me (pet peeve three), brushing off my input, etc, etc. 

It’s ridiculous, right? I get antagonistic because I’m not feeling confident in my position, opinion, physicality, whatever… Then project that onto the people I think are most likely to feel the same way; this weekend, for instance, that included Jo’s mother, the realtor we worked with and even Duderroo, at times. It’s a lot easier to be sharp and terse with others, blanketed under this predetermined (though inaccurate) belief that those people are opposed to you for some reason, than to take a moment to sit back and recognize that the only person responsible for your feelings of inadequacy is you. It takes some serious mindfulness to be able to notice these things in the moment, but I’m trying to at least recognize my trip ups after the fact — like having negative feelings towards Jo’s mom, literally with no cause other than that she gets nearly all of Jo’s focus when she visits and we spend the majority of our days together; so I was jealous. Still had nothing to do with her, but I twisted it around in my mind to look like she was being too demanding, or whatever. Or, when we spent the entire day walking around, getting in and out of cars, etc. and the only person who checked in specifically on my back was the realtor so, irrationally perceiving that my pain levels just “weren’t a priority”, I proceeded to trek up and down as many flights of stairs as possible, it seemed. I wish you could see me rolling my eyes at myself right now. What a cry baby, hey? 

(I also want to add in here that this previous statement is more than likely false; I guarantee that Jo checked in on how I was doing physically on more than one occasion, but there was a lot going on and when I fall back into old tendencies — specifically, dissociating when I sense tension, get overwhelmed, feel anxious, etc. — I almost “black out”, per se, and my memory and awareness of what is happening in the moment gets convoluted. So; I wanted to express what I was feeling at the time to give you an accurate and honest image of my perception of the situation, but also nip any criticism in the bud.)

There was a lot of tension swirled into the super-exciting-but-overwhelming combo of flavours we had going on. Having had a schedule mapped out a couple of weeks in advance (Jo’s doing; no surprise there), we felt reasonably prepared. This plan was kind of unexpectedly kiboshed at the last minute when an exciting part of our day was axed, which was disappointing, to say the least. I’m still trying to figure out how to sum up my thoughts on the delivery of that particular information, but it’s bubbling around in my brain the way an idea does just before the proverbial light bulb illuminates. The elusive Eureka! moment is coming, friends, I can feel it — when it does, you’ll be the first to know.

The new plan supposedly meant that we were going to be able to zip through some houses quickly, break for lunch and be home hours before we’d originally expected, but also meant we were starting the day sooner and, therefore, needed to hit the road a bit earlier. Waking up at six thirty in the morning is really only ideal for one person in our house — me — and even then, I have to be the one choosing to wake up at that time. I used to have a habit of throwing alarm clocks; hence why I no longer have one. The house we had set our sights on ended up accepting an offer a few days before we were due to drive up, which was a bit of a downer, we were quite ahead of our new schedule nearly the entire day, so there was a lot of idle, sit-around-and-wait-for-the-next-one time (though I will say, our realtor took us out for coffee and lunch, which was very generous and left the four of us feeling well taken care of). The first house we walked through was adorable (and, based on photos, our number two pick), but tiny for the four of us; the second house we saw, Jo and I had to walk through alone because the smell of smoke was so overwhelming we didn’t feel comfortable having the young or elderly members of our unit in the house at all. 

The third house, however… Guys. Just wow. The owner is an incredibly talented artist, so her design style, though a bit old-fashioned for my taste, was so warm and welcoming — we walked in and it immediately felt like home. There’s some work to be done; we’ll have to renovate the basement a little bit to add in an extra bedroom, but I’m looking forward to doing that work possibly more than I am to move, period. After some awkward and snippy banter back and forth, a(n adult) tantrum or two, a bit of visualizing and then some carefully strategized persuasion, the four of us came to the conclusion that this little home was a near-perfect fit for us. Jo and I are moderately superstitious, so that’s all of the details I’ll reveal for now as I don’t want to jinx it for us, but my fingers and toes are so crossed for this to have a positive outcome that I’m worried I may not be able to uncross them again. 

In conclusion, the last few days have made me reevaluate my ideas and interpretations of family, if I’m to be honest. Familial relations are these ambiguous concepts that I can no longer comprehend and I don’t know how to build a place for myself within them. I have now been left out of more than one family get together without explanation, the people I had perceived as my “unit”, however spaced out they were, no longer take me into consideration unless they need me to facilitate their contact with Duder, Jo’s family is threatening to evaporate — but, on the other side of the coin, our little unit of three has been steadily fortifying and toughening, the progress in making this relocation happen has helped Duderroo and Jo reestablish their awesome step-parent/kid relationship and overall, the three of us inherently know that our lives are about to get so much better. 

Getting my shit together was the start. Getting my mental health under control allowed me to talk to my ex, inform the other members of my “family”, get myself semi-organized and manage a stressful weekend full of information, emotions, scheduling changes and the like, without having a full-blown meltdown. I’m proud of myself for that and grateful that I didn’t flare up while Jo was also experiencing the same, if not worse, agitation. But part of what I love about becoming more motivated to write for this project, and writing for this blog in general, is that I try to commit to authentically and honestly contemplating my behaviour and actions, because I feel like it helps me become a better person. I love that writing about our four day foray into the world of first-time (for me, anyway) house purchasing also brought my shortcomings into focus as far as my temperament and my approach to uncomfortable situations are concerned. Addressing these flaws and picking them apart, piece by piece, is what helps me identify my triggers retrospectively and recognize the moments when I’m at risk of going off the deep end. Maybe it’s years of therapy coming back to me in the moments I need it most, because this tactic doesn’t feel alien to me, but regardless, I appreciate having the insight, as well as the patience with myself to peel back the layers upon layers of learned self-preservation to just be comfortable with experiencing this life for what it has to offer.

Yowza; before I get caught up in getting philosophical, I’ll wrap this one up. I’m constantly learning about the many ways we, as people, function and relate to each other and how quickly that unity can turn to disconnect, even if only caused by something as subjective as our perception of the situation or the people involved. I, too, am guilty of this — obviously — but refuse to reject my potential for improvement. I think the excuse of “this is just who I am, deal with it” is a cop out; everyone has the capacity to be a good person, so rationalizing and excusing the fact that you’re an asshole only because you’re uninspired to do anything about it is no longer grounds for bad behaviour. The desire to stagnate needs to be made obsolete, not turned into an art form. We must strive to be better, whether or not the people we surround ourselves with are on board — because when you become better, the people who gravitate to you will be better; better friends, better lovers, better coworkers… Better people. End of story.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

— Albert Einstein  

To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.

– Criss Jami

Jo has written about boundaries before, and I think it’s so cool that since there are two of us writing posts for this blog, you often get two different perspectives (though not necessarily different opinions) on a variety of subjects. We share similar moral values and our opinions are generally the same, but aside from the obvious differences (age, upbringing, hometown, etc) we also have each had our own myriad of life experiences that have given us our views on things now. Boundaries are something we’ve spoken about at lengths, even before we started this blog because, well, frankly — I didn’t have any. Boundaries are generally described as brick walls or barbed wire fences, almost impenetrable save for a certain special someone / something, if they have the will, curiosity and charm behind them to climb the wall, or cut a hole in the fence. My boundaries fall more into the “badly made sandcastle moat” category; you dig for a while and try to carve out a line (or body of water) to separate you from the rest of the world, with the aim of allowing a very select few into your castle, only when you feel like lowering the bridge.

But then something happens; the tide rolls in. You get excited because your moat is full of water! Nobody can get through to you unless you let them in! You’ve created this boundary and the idea seems solid and it feels so good; you’re determined to share yourself and your castle (think of your castle however you please — your body, your time, your heart) only with the people you selectively pick, the people who are worthy. 

Your boundary holds for a while. You have to fill up the moat occasionally as the water sinks into the sand, but a bucket at a time isn’t a big deal. You can refill that bucket every 15 minutes or so, no problem. 

But the sand underneath starts to soften. The water seeps in so deep that it turns that solid sand moat wall into a wet, soft, muddy pile. You don’t notice at first, you can’t see it happening, but eventually, the sides of your moat start to droop, and chunks of sand begin to fall off the walls and into the water and before you know it your moat is dry, and you see there’s a path leading straight to your castle’s front door. Do you start digging and refill your moat? Do you come up with a different plan? Do you give up?

My moat was never full. It didn’t matter how often I went and refilled my bucket, the minute I came back, the water was already soaking into the sand. This is how my boundaries worked. I would (shakily) develop one and tell myself that no one was going to cross it unless they were worthy of my time, effort, space, heart. The problem was, few of the people I had to instate these boundaries with, were worth it, and, regardless, my determination to following through on those boundaries was non-existent. These boundaries were flexible, unsupported and, worst of all, up for discussion. I have been trying to change that. 

I had a lot of my boundaries challenged this weekend, my buttons pushed. It was Broseidon’s 8th birthday party on Sunday and I’d been anxious about it for about a week. His party was priced a little high, but it was exactly what he wanted to do and had been trying to plan it on his own (to the best of his ability) for about a month. We invited his group of 10 friends (have I mentioned I have a really hard time being around children?), my mother and his grandparents from my ex’s side. His dad was away this week, so wasn’t around, and we thought it would be nice to have J-dog’s grandparents there, even if only to represent that side. I have had my fair share of quarrels with this family (as have most separated parents, I imagine) but for the most part, we get along pretty well. Things are amicable as long as I don’t rock the boat, which I don’t like to do anyway, and they are relatively decent towards Jo. 

Where do you draw the line on boundaries with your ex-family (if you have one)? My mother and step-father often had my dad over for dinner when I was younger — an unusual occurrence, I know — so I had a bit of a unique view of what blended families could look like. It was baffling to me that people had separated parents who didn’t get along. I found out as I got older that it turns out my mom and dad were just much better friends than partners, but being able to have the three of them under one roof was both awesome and confusing. 

I don’t necessarily want this for Duder. His father and I made an effort for a little while to try and take him out, the three of us, to do something fun on occasion after his dad and I split up. I wanted to teach him that adults could be amicable regardless of the situation, and that his dad and I both loved him endlessly and even if we weren’t in love with each other any more, we could still be civil enough to do things with him that he enjoyed. Granted, I think his dad and I were both also incredibly lonely and bored at the time, but our intentions in the end were nothing but good. These were organized, civilized outings that were planned in advance; and if I got the slightest impression things may go south, I cancelled.

So how do you feel when people insist on taking more than you’re offering? Duder’s birthday party was our day to celebrate him and give him a couple of hours outside of school to really hang out with his pals; he also had a birthday dinner planned on the day with some family (and friends that had been like family) that kind of decided, very quickly, that they had no interest in me — so, for his sake, we gave up keeping him home for his birthday Monday night, sent him off to a “family” dinner that didn’t include his mother or step parent; so the Sunday party was all we got. He ended up having a lot of fun, but the day and the decisions made by the adults in his life turned it into a very stressful endeavour, for him especially.

I am generally the “stop by any time!” type of friend. If I have a space in my heart for you (which I almost always do), my door is open to you 24/7. Need a couch to sleep on? We’ve got two pull outs. Need to vent about something? Call or come over, I’ll be here. If it’s something as simple as you not having had a home-cooked meal in two weeks — I’ve got you covered. I love taking care of the people I care about, but there is a very fine line you have to cross to get into the “stop by any time” group of folks. 

When people invade my space, I don’t know what to do. Don’t get me wrong — anybody who aggressively and violently invades my space gets a few choice words and a swift smackaroo, if that doesn’t work, but with people I have to deal with regularly, people I love, people I respect; I’m an absolute disaster when it comes to standing up for myself and saying no. Physical boundaries (people helping themselves into my house when I haven’t asked them to come in, for example) are the worst for me to enforce. Emotional and mental ones (dropping news on me, or asking me to have major conversations without any time to plan), are a close second. I’m getting better at saying “no, I can’t talk about this right now”, while “no, you can’t be here, you need to leave” still feels alien to me. When I invite you somewhere, I expect you to show up — unless you’ve asked, like a considerate human being, if I would be comfortable with extra guests. Especially on special days. 

So, when my son spends his birthday party worrying about his infant family member getting hurt by his growth-spurting friends, there’s a problem. Especially when it happens. When it didn’t have to. Because this young child (that I have absolutely 0 problem with, believe me, he’s an adorable little guy and Duder adores him) was brought to an event by parents who invited themselves (this is an exaggeration — they were told they were invited and didn’t question it, or confirm) there was no preparation, and it put a lot of people in super uncomfortable positions. Including the little guy! He got (mildly) hurt!

I have had to consider my boundaries a lot more now. When it was just Broski and I, things were different — people still didn’t respect me or my decisions as his mother, but didn’t exactly question things either. I almost felt like I didn’t need to have them because the second anything  or anyone threatened to do harm to him, I knew I could turn into a mama bear in a heartbeat. Little did I know, the boundaries weren’t so much for him as they were for me, and I accepted a shit ton of bad behaviour as a result of not having them. As I’m discovering how to create them for myself, I am trying, with tons of help and guidance from Jo, to encourage him to create his own, while he’s young and has the bold attitude to do so with conviction — he has had great conversations with his school-age friends about being uncomfortable with them touching his bum, for example, and now they don’t. It’s incredible to watch. 

So for me, being someone in a pretty openly queer relationship (I don’t mean we have an open relationship, but we are both openly gay / queer) as well as the only one in our partnership that conforms to society’s standards of what female-bodied people “should” look like, I have to throw a lot of dark glances at people who sometimes aren’t kind in the way they look at / mumble about Jo. I sometimes play bodyguard in the women’s washroom (see The Bathroom Mirror). I corrected 7 and 8 year old kids on their pronouns. I was also willing to witness the start of WW3, and battle to the death (not really) if anything even slightly derogatory or offensive was directed at them, and I can say that with confidence now. 

Do you have a harder time maintaining your boundaries or holding your ground with those close to you, or total strangers? I have been conditioned and trained to be overly assertive in my boundaries with strangers, especially, unfortunately, cisgender, heterosexual men. You know the ones — 

I did a self-defence course in high school specifically geared towards young women. We did a variety of exercises, from mixed martial arts to simple holds, and got a lot of really awesome knowledge and experience from a man whose only goal was to teach us to protect ourselves. At the beginning of the course, he stood at the front of the room and told us the main reason most women who get hurt, get abducted, get mugged, etc. don’t make it — we’re scared as HELL to hurt people!! It’s literally wired into us. We have to specifically train our brains to use force and do damage when we’re in danger (specifically at the hands of another person) because if we don’t, our natural instinct is to nurture and prevent pain. I remember thinking to myself, “If this guy thinks I’m gonna sit there like a dead fish when somebody’s trying to haul me off into the back of their van, he’s got a whole other thing coming.” But when we did our final exercise — they staged an “abduction” where you would get pulled into a cube van and had 3 minutes (I believe, this was a long time ago) to do whatever it took to get out; biting, scratching, kicking, punching, you name it — only 3 of us made it out “alive”, because we were the only ones willing to actually hurt our “attacker” (instructor) in order to survive. 

Note: This program was obviously all carried out with our consent / the consent of our parents, and really an AMAZING experience that I learned a lot from. It’s designed to teach us to be more assertive in our self defence as women in order to protect us in any potentially dangerous situations — and something that way more teen girls need to see. 

I wasn’t friends with my instructor. We spent some time together, he taught our little group of 8 things that I will carry for a long time and that may save my life someday if I ever need it (hopefully not!). But I wasn’t worried about my boundaries with him. Yes, he helped develop some specific ones: don’t ever let somebody you don’t know get close enough to grab you, don’t let someone keep you quiet if you’re in danger, don’t ever be afraid to hurt someone if their sole intention is to hurt you, if someone tries to grab your purse, throw it to them and run as fast and as far as you can in the opposite direction. Well — I’d like to let me partner touch me, or grab me, so when is too much… is there too much? What about if I’m not in danger, but somebody is trying to keep me quiet, even if that just means not allowing me to speak my truth when I’m with them? What if someone’s sole intention is to hurt me, but it won’t damage me physically? What if what they’re taking from me isn’t in my purse — what if it’s my love, patience, generosity, time? I’m not going to bite and kick and scream at my ex’s family when they cross the line, or when Jo maybe says something that hits me in a sensitive spot; so what do you do when it’s your friend, sibling, parent, partner? 

Like I said, I, admittedly, am terrible at standing up for myself to the people I hold close to my heart. I attribute this to low self-worth (emotional view of self), which is something that’s slowly improving now that I don’t struggle as much with low self-esteem (physical view of self). I’ve let a lot of people, who were not ever supposed to, treat me badly. I’ve been in abusive friendships, relationships, partnerships and have let those continue for far longer than they should have. People who said they loved me. People who let me continue loving them in the way that I do; wholly, endlessly and without expectations, while having expectations of how that should feel, how I should express it, or how deeply I should immerse myself into it — with no consideration of how it feels to simply be tossed aside when someone has gotten all the benefit they can from you. I’m still trying to figure out how to do it, day-by-day; how to heal from the people who have hurt me, how to stand my ground so it doesn’t happen again — and I’ve been practicing by taking a stronger position for the people that I love, regardless of whether or not they return the favour. Jo and I are each others’ biggest and loudest cheerleaders, and even we have had moments where each of us felt like they could have been more present for the other. 

So I’ll end this with a vulnerable story, because sharing my mistakes may help someone else avoid a similar situation and this particular occurrence had a huge effect on Jo and I as a couple, as well as on my views of who my “friends” were and whether or not they were people I wanted to be calling my friends to begin with. 

I had a super close friend, we’ll call them K. K and I had a pretty complex history — I was kind of crazy about them for 2 years — but for the most part we were beer drinking, cigarette smoking, stayin’ up late kind of buddies; we got together a few times each week, even after I left the job we both worked at, and I thought the world of them for a long time. They are an incredibly, incredibly intelligent person with a world of experience, wisdom and a shit ton to offer, but it would be like speaking with the Dalai Lama and finding out that, even with all of his wisdom, knowledge and experience, he’s a member of the KKK, or supports a Nazi agenda. How? How can you be an intelligent and thoughtful individual, but still have such close-minded, misogynistic, racist, supremacist views? This was a thought that came to mind more and more often with K as we neared the end of our friendship and, one evening, they finally showed their true colours. This is going to be extremely hard for me to write about, so please be gentle with me.

I invited K over to the apartment soon after we moved in. They and Jo had met once already, I had been super excited for them to get to know each other because, of course, I loved them both dearly and would have loved to have had another pal we both enjoyed spending time with (K being an alcoholic and Jo being pretty much sober by then, seriously I don’t know what I was thinking). K brought a few cans of beer to share, forgetting that both Jo and I are sensitive to wheat, so then proceeded to polish them off of their own. Not a big deal, maybe a little inconsiderate, but fine, right?

Now, remember the boundaries we’ve been chatting about. Because K and I were very close, spent a lot of time together, and discussed some pretty heavy shit, we would inevitably disagree. Usually, we’d cheers to our difference of opinion, and move on. The only thing we could not talk about, though, no matter how many times it came up in discussion, was politics. K is a Rob Ford boosting, Stephen Harper worshipping, Conservative. Where I generally vote for the candidate I think will do the most effective job over the party they lead, based on principle alone I lean more towards the ideals of the Liberal party. I boast an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude most of the time, and believe things should be equal and that we just need to be decent f-ing human beings. I support the forward thinkers in their legalization of cannabis, our attempts to end the stigma around mental illness and our acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities, gender neutral washrooms and the like (for obvious reasons).

K sat up and wanted to tell us all about the “great” things Rob Ford was going to do for Ontario when I got the feeling that things were about to go downhill, really fast. Reversing the plan of allowing “do not wish to disclose” and “unknown” options for Trans and GNC people on medical and official documents was one of said great things. Eliminating any possibility of public gender neutral washrooms was another. We didn’t even touch on his plan for schools, healthcare, sex-ed — K wanted to get right to the stuff that would hit a nerve, because that’s just who they are. Before I even really had a minute to figure out what was going on, K had moved into pronouns and how pointless and idiotic they thought picking your pronouns was, and…

I said nothing. 

This is where I feel vulnerable, though. I just told you that I would’ve gone to war for Jo this past weekend, but that wasn’t always the case. I didn’t always feel like I could, like I was strong / brave / big / bold enough. So I let them down, hard — and they let me know, in front of K. Embarrassing, sure, but nothing compared to the dissociation that comes with being an agender person, being constantly misgendered, or having their gender choices / preferences / identifications ridiculed by someone that I had spoken so highly of. They trusted me and my judgement of K and thus, welcomed them into our home without much question — and was, essentially, shit on. I asked K to leave, noting that things had started to feel a little tense and awkward (still such a pushover, eh?) and let them leave without really saying what I thought I should have, but couldn’t find words for until later on.

Jo and I had a long, very difficult discussion about where I fell flat and what I could have said, and I obsessed about my mistakes and what I should have done differently for days. In the spirit of being vulnerable, I will be honest and tell you that I kept in touch with K for a while after that. I think we went for coffee once and I tried to explain to them what had happened, that they’d obviously hit a soft spot and probably shouldn’t speak about gender or sexual identification / orientation if they were going to continue to be in my life, and even then, my dear readers; I look back on it now and see that even that hadn’t been enough. It wasn’t about soft spots, or opinions, or language — their morals and perspectives are so. completely. different. from mine and I was discovering that that difference, unfortunately, wasn’t something I could ignore. I could dive deeper into it and talk about the fundamentals of human rights and how that includes people of all races, denominations, genders, identities, ages, abilities etc etc etc, but I trust that you, dear readers, are good people, and we agree on these things — I still think K is a good person, but their good is exclusive and I needed friends that were inclusive; not only of my partner but of my child, my lifestyle and the fact that we are a queer as f*ck family. 

I deleted K’s number the last time we were in Stratford. Actually, I went through a deleted a lot of people’s numbers. If I hadn’t talked to them in 3 months, they were gone (with a few exceptions). It didn’t feel “good”, perse, because they were a reliable friend and I’d hoped we’d be able to stay that way, but boundaries are something I’m trying to work on, and one of them is treating my family and I with respect. If you can’t manage that — you don’t get to see my castle. 

Perhaps, the problem is not the intensity of your love, but the quality of the people you are loving.” 

– Warsan Shire

This was a long one, guys — thanks for sticking through it with me.

— Aisha

“I must be a mermaid…I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”

– Anais Nin

I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting lately. There’s a lot of upcoming change in our life that has kind of…halted. I will take most of the blame for this (the rest just being in need of time, honestly) because I am, amongst those that know me and some that don’t, a notorious procrastinator. This is something my parents’ had a habit of pointing out almost daily — I think more as a way to bring it to my attention in order to help me address it than a means of being hurtful — and something I am working really hard on, especially now that I have a partner that takes deadlines, schedules and organization very seriously. Not to say that Jo is the only reason I considered putting an effort into dealing with things and getting things done in a more timely manner (ie: when I have the opportunity and not when there is no other option), but there are certain concessions you make to make your partner happier and, realistically, one of the many things I love about Jo is the fact that they constantly make me want to be a better person, so… Self-reflection!

Part of what is feeding this post is that I’ve been doing a lot of looking into adult ADHD. I was diagnosed about 5 years ago after a really cool conversation with my doctor — I went in suspecting I had it, he listened, and I was right. I was medicated for a little while, but Ritalin (Concerta, specifically) made me lose weight at an alarming rate and was quite expensive, so I’ve been (sort of) coping with it daily for about 3 years. I’ve found a cool group on facebook that I’ve only just joined, but am finding easy to relate to so far. 

Procrastination is a huge, and frustrating side effect of being someone blessed with the chemical imbalance that is ADHD. Blame it on time blindness, inability to focus (or a moment of hyperfocus), to that impulsive decision to go see a movie, or just the fact that it’s virtually impossible to start a task and finish it in one sitting. Even as I attempt to type this, I find my thoughts jumping through hoops I can’t even see, to the point where I’ve erased and retyped this one sentence about twelve times now. 

Though I’m not typically one to resort to labels and classifications, I do enjoy being able to put a word to my experience, even if it only helps me to find others who are feeling the same. I have a few categories that I loosely fit into, that I check in with semi-regularly to help me figure out what’s going on in my brain when I might not see it at face value. 

So I’m a Pisces INFP adult with ADHD. Mouthful, maybe, but it really helps me see where I stand in relation to events and, especially recently, in relation to the people I interact with. Being a Pisces means that I’m super intuitive, and knowing this means making decisions based on a “gut feeling” doesn’t feel as irrational as it may have felt years ago, when I spent more time second guessing the decisions I was making rather than actually making them. It also means that I’m extremely sensitive towards the feelings of others (also applies to the INFP side) and am heavily affected by the people around me. The negative side of my Pisces nature is that I am also easily discouraged and have a hard time committing to things I’m not invested in (hello ADHD). 

So, as you can see — my multitude of “types” fit me relatively well, and coexist, somewhat intertwined with one another. Certain traits cross over into other categorizations and when you shake it up and mix it together…you get me!

How does this relate to how I deal with others? Well, I’m finding more and more now that people are just…different. I love how diverse our world is, and I love the people I decide to keep around not only for our similarities but for our obvious differences. I am also incredibly grateful for my super short and sweet (or not so sweet) interactions with strangers — for the same reason. I am the first person to love and appreciate differences; in opinion, in experience. But what happens when the very core of your functioning differs completely from someone else? 

I feel like the example everyone starts with is their parents. To make a super long history short, my parents separated when I was 4, my step dad came into the picture shortly after, and I found out that my “dad” wasn’t my birth father when I was 8. My mother and I are very similar in a lot of ways but have become very different people as I’ve grown up. My dad and I look very much alike, despite having no genetic relation, and I see a lot of my younger behaviour in him. My biological father and I look nothing alike, but I have inherited a lot of his traits — a fact that was particularly mind-blowing when I finally figured out where my anxiety/depression/addictive personality came from. I only mention the realization in that way because my mother was only ever really forthright with me about her depression, and my father and I have spoke at lengths about the similarities in our negative traits. I spent a lot of my youth being unsure of where I fit — blended family, troubled child, super smart but not challenged enough — and not feeling like I really looked like, or took after any of my parental figures was confusing. My mother and step father were incredibly athletic — I was fat as a child. They tried to encourage me by signing me up for cross-country (I hated it), and bribing me with a cruise — as long as I agreed to run a 5k in Barbados (also hated it). My father worked on video games and did trades work — I was an artistically inclined, musically gifted kid. I remember him telling me my Hallowe’en costume wasn’t “scary enough”, the look of sheer confusion on his face when he came to my one ballet recital. How we blend with the people around us is so important, as is being accepted by those people, so I spent a lot of time trying to act like everyone else. 

Comprising just 4% of the population, the risk of feeling misunderstood is unfortunately high for the INFP personality type – but when they find like-minded people to spend their time with, the harmony they feel will be a fountain of joy and inspiration.

16Personalities

As I’ve gown up I’ve been able to have more and more great conversations with all of my parents about my upbringing and their influences in my life. My dad has found his spot in the music hobby category by learning to play guitar, quite well, and using that to bond with me. My mother and step father have since separated (long story), but I ran a 5k the year after that cruise, and my step father ran it with me. I’d also planned to run a 30k race with my mother a couple of years ago, before I hurt myself and now, running is one of the things I miss most about my life pre-injury. I can now specifically pinpoint traits that I’ve adopted from each one of these people; some of them good, some of them not. I have less trouble calling them out when they say things that aren’t true, and I’m having an easier time asking for what I need. I’m trying to carry this over into other relationships, including my partnership with Jo, and even into day to day interactions.

Jo and I have great chats about how we can encourage our brains to meet in the middle — a feat that can be insurmountable for a hyper organized individual matched with the messiest of the messy brained folk. Sometimes our cortexes collide and we clash, though not often, and I have to fight my ADHD’s tendency to get completely discouraged as well as my Piscean habit of tucking myself away as deeply and as quickly as possible. Mix a panic / anxiety disorder into this mix and things get very hairy, very quickly. 

For Jo, being someone who deals with things as soon as they possibly can, me hiding out until I’m “comfortable enough” (which sometimes never happens) was becoming a problem. During confrontation I am a wide-eyed, frozen statue who, I imagine, is impossible to talk to and/or reason with. Trust me, my head isn’t a very nice place to be in these moments but the quickest getaway I have the habit of using. Granted, the last time I really “retreated” was after a conversation addressing this exact issue — so I’ve been consistently working on it since. 

This leads me to what initially triggered this post in the first place. I have a hard time feeling discouraged with Jo because I love them endlessly. I could feel as beat up, knocked down, useless as I have ever felt (they never make me feel any of these things, mind you) and I would never, ever give up on them. My patience, love and flexibility for them knows no bounds; the same extends to Duder. Though there are days I feel tired, maybe a little run down, I never get the “fuuuuuck THIS” feeling I do whenever anything else has a negative outcome. 

Today I had an interesting interaction with someone I have been doing business with for about 2 years. They have been a great support of my businesses, and I really enjoy the things I get to do for them. We had a bit of a disagreement today on a previous transaction where they weren’t satisfied with the quality of work I did. Without going into too much detail, this person then brought in a personal matter (my back injury) as a way of asking if I felt I was capable enough to do business with them in the future. 

Remember the “fuck this” reaction I mentioned before? That happened today, swiftly and without mercy. I dislike the fact that it can rear its head so quickly and I am immediately underwater, with my feet tied and the only thing I can do is doggy paddle. There were many levels to this reaction: I hadn’t had a negative outcome from this business yet, so that was a shot to my ego; I honestly felt I had done good work for this person, despite having taken some creative liberties, so the reaction was 100% unexpected, I do great work for significantly less money than any comparable business AND, realistically, I thought that questioning the future quality of my work based on my (literally life-changing) injury was quite provocative. 

INFPs often take challenges and criticisms personally, rather than as inspiration to reassess their positions. Avoiding conflict as much as possible, INFPs will put a great deal of time and energy into trying to align their principles and the criticisms into a middle ground that satisfies everybody.

16Personalities

This is absolutely true for me. I have an incredibly hard time separating criticism from personal offence, which was the main challenge in dealing with this customer today. Doing the aforementioned self-reflection, though, meant that I could sit for 10 minutes, plan out my response, and feel good suggesting they take their business elsewhere — as I wasn’t prepared to handle the extra stress wondering if it was going to be “good enough” and, honestly, I didn’t want to risk them being disappointed again either. I’m learning to walk away and turn down offers that don’t inspire me and encourage me to do my best work — but not even just work; my best friendships, relationships, parenting — and trust me, sometimes it’s hard to say no. 

What about you? Have you looked into your personality type and contemplated how that affects the way you function day to day? Are there certain people you just clash with, regardless of how hard you try and get along? Do you have labels, and do you use them as a monicker or just a way to categorize? 

I love psychology and the way our brains work. My own is frustrating more often than not, but I’m having a helluva time trying to decode it and figure it out. The ways other people behave fascinates me, and I find I do a lot of self-discovery when I really sit and pick apart somebody else’s actions. I also sometimes find myself wondering if there is anyone else that does this kind of self-reflection (because honestly it’s hard to believe sometimes, haha!) or whether people float through life, not wondering how their actions affect others. It’s amazing how much better our interactions get when we start to understand and become more sure of ourselves, when we’re so confident in our skin that the actions of others have only the affect we allow. Today was proof that I’m not quite there yet, because if I’m going to be genuine I don’t know when I’m going to feel like filling a cake order next, but I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m sure next week I’ll be making enough cupcakes and cookies to feed the city’s homeless, because I really do love it — but for today, I’m giving myself permission to say “fuuuuuck THIS”.

“Every life is a canvas and every interaction is a brush, therefore we’d be wise to consider how we handle the paint.”

– Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for reading, friends. 🙂
— Aisha

Three Weeks Ago

Hello music.

Hello you.

Today the world is iced over yet nothing seems to be paused because of it, except us. Are you? Has your world stopped because of this ice storm? Honestly, I’m trying to laugh about it. I’m reading about people who are craving a pause, a moment to themselves, desperate for time and right now we have that in spades, the three of us all in our own heads, pregnant pauses of quiet time.  But I think I want something loud. I want to yell, I want Aisha to scream. I want noise and music and an unsteady floor. I want to be in a Fun House at a carnival, tilting and laughing, the laugh tinged with panic. 

I feel too big right now, which is something I have had to work on my whole life. Feeling like my feelings, my need to talk and my inability to know when to stop are things that I have seen five therapists and lost many girlfriends about. I am tempering it and learning when to take space and when what I need to say is actually valid. There are so many things that need to be addressed, that need a plan and structure, things that can not free flow or ‘fall where they may.’ What scares me is that for the first time, I want to free flow. I want to just give it up – but I don’t know how! I watch Aisha, and bear with me, but watching her is like sitting by a lazy river. What comes, passes, you can toss a stone in and hope to help a leaf rushing by a rock; or you can watch and see what happens. It is calming, watching her, even when the river’s contents are not as innocuous as a ‘leaf.’

I woke up wondering about the blog today. Which is natural, wondering about the success or viability of a fledgling project when your mind is spread eagled by other thoughts. My natural character is to focus through the dark and find the pinpoint of light. Reach for the positive because when I don’t, I become a darkness that is not pleasant to know, like Quirrell and Voldemort. So, faced with what’s happening to my partner right now, I have to focus on the fact that she is somewhat competently mobile, not in pain and headed in for surgery number two. Monday she’s back on the table. Who knows for what at this point? Duderroo is figuring this out and is being great. I have had a lot of people stick by me and be around for amazing support, despite their physical distance and/or own medical journey. But what about us, readers? Honestly, I think this is mostly for me but that is probably only a shock to me, eh?

I am working on a giant piece about gender and alcohol. It will probably not even be a combination of what a few of you may think once it is finished. It is fun though, because I love the history and knowledge of wine. I am missing the industry these days as well. This polar vortex has me wondering about the grapes and their health, which of course makes me think about the industry that is relying on their vitality. 

I am becoming quietly obsessed with cooperative housing. A friend I have a lot of respect for brings it up a lot, has lived the experience and is better for it. I have looked into it a few times in the last few years. Tiny home communities, cooperative communities throughout St. Catharines, communal living – you name it. Moving into the apartment was my ‘toe-in’ attempt and to be fair, I don’t think it is something you can test out in a ‘model’ setting. The apartment was dirty, loud, intrusive, and I loved it. Co-ops would be different, because it would be the good of living in a shared space without the feeling of helplessness and disjunct with your neighbors (believe me, the neighbors I was uncomfortable with were not whom you’d expect). If I had the money, I would love to start a co-op. I have no idea how that would pan out, but its forming in my mind and my heart is pulling towards something. 

I am also missing the country. I would love to be in my memory of a hot, dusty run in Digby on top of the mountain. I need something warm, my fingers and nose are in a constant state of cold. I want my lungs to be excited to expand, ocean air rushing in. I want to be in a new place, like St. Lucia or Martinique in a house on the beach, waking up to the ocean and fresh juice. I miss that feeling. 

I am loving music in a way I have never experienced before. I am feeling grateful for Spotify, the app that I can honestly say enhances my life in ways I would never have been able to achieve solo. My high school bestie can attest to the fact that my brain does not absorb musical information, and Aisha can definitely attest to this. Thankfully, I forget the major screw up details from earlier in the week, but I’m fairly certain I missed the mark on a Rhianna moment. 

I am also feeling a lot in my ‘social zone’ lately. Having to talk to Doctors, nurses, medical staff, and family and being lucky for the number of people turning into dear friends during this event. I do feel my introvert draining, but the rare ambivert is stretching, happy to be out. Thank you, everyone who has connected with me closely over the past week. I have appreciated it so much.

I just read an awesome piece by Kristine Levine about giving…? It was a very moving story, and while there was a brief interruption for a surprisingly long list of raw cookie dough treats, I was thankful for the read and finding it on Facebook (thankful for the dessert info too!). Perspective is maybe a better suggested topic for the piece and how experience determines how widely you view a situation in order to absorb the nuances. I am grateful for my scope; I know there are times I am staggeringly shortsighted, but I believe I have a relatively fair and far reaching social/emotional sight when needed.

I have been thinking a lot about my Jungian personality type (The Logistician) and wonder what I would have been twenty years ago had I taken the test. I am so much milder than I was then. Sometimes I laugh because my family would say I am still a little extra, Aisha knows me well but says I am somewhat hard to read, though forthright and I feel like I’m just a quiet combination of the two. I had a show tune day yesterday to help express relief and today is a little more like Bagheera meets Eeyore. I like this new acceptance of personal fluidity, I will say that. I am finding a surprising release in not needing to be so rigid. I’m not sure how this trait developed, but I’m hoping it stays forever and always. I should say I call it surprising because I became rigid as a means of self-protection and organization, on top of OCD tendencies. So, it is really great to be able to be gentle maybe 75% of the time? Now I just need to balance the 25% that is better represented by a mental image of a duck that doesn’t land properly on water. 

Beyond that, I suppose today has helped me realize that there is so much more. In general, just so much more than what is happening day to day. I can also embrace this (writing) as something solely for myself. Which is cool, especially because I had kind of thought I had realized that when we started this ol’beast up. 

To finish off, I’ll say that Letterkenny’s Valentine Special was amazing. Heartbeats is still my only playlist on Spotify, and the Non-toxic FB group is going really well and giving me lots to think about. 

But I think for now, I will shut the computer and go hang out with Abomb. Hope you are all well, and not involved in this ice. Take care.

— Jo

The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.

– H.L. Mencken

Morning folks!

We were chatting with a reader last week, who also happens to be a close friend, and they were kind enough to tell us that our blog is making them consider… more. Forgetting how it came up, in particular, we came to the question of age, and that we (A and I) should talk about it. Age is a very prevalent topic for us right now – neither of us have ever suited “our age” (although I have more than Aisha I think), Aisha has just gone through a month of being told that “for her age…” in relation to her injuries/physical reality, and well, there are ten years between us – which means that even when we try and reminisce together about things as simple as our childhoods, we usually have more differences than similarities (80’s baby vs. 90’s baby, if you can imagine). 

Socially, age is fair game for being questioned or policed at any given moment. The elderly are infantilized and not as readily given their independence, children are expected to grow up way too fast and experience stimuli that we as adults find overwhelming. In many of these instances, we accept or understand this policing because it is usually done in a “top down” way: your clothes as an adolescent are policed by adults, your body choices aren’t yours to make until you reach an age society deems appropriate (tattoos, piercings, hair dye and sex), and there is stigma in obtaining education when you are ‘older’ (25+, which is not old) because you should have already done it. 

Dove and RoC are using their powers as marketing gurus by using age discourse to redefine us as shoppers (RoC video), taking the phrase “you look great — for your age” and turning it on its head. Culturally, we seem to be moving away from rigorous policing because socially we are slowly distinguishing (or embodying?) a difference between age and maturity. Age, as I’m sure we can all agree, is the numerical amount of time you have existed. Maturity, on the other hand, apparently refers to your state of ripeness. Not sure what ripeness has to do with life experience, but we’ll go with it.

In comparison, a simple definition of emotional maturity is:

Emotional maturity is the ability to handle situations without unnecessarily escalating them. Instead of seeking to blame someone else for their problems or behaviour, emotionally mature people seek to fix the problem or behaviour.

This is what I believe most people mean when they say someone is mature. How has your age influenced people’s beliefs of your maturity? Are you in a generation that has a good rep? I accept the Xennial definition of my generation when I have to think about it (basically that I grew up in a time before computers and was nearly an adult when technology really hit its’ peak). Aisha is absolutely a Millennial (she was born when technology was peaking and has been on a steady ride with it since). I think Baby Boomers were the last generation to have any respect given to them as a demographic, but how does this come down to age and maturity?

Are you an age conscious person? Have you ever ended a friendship, or defined boundaries of a friendship based on age? What about a romantic/sexual interest? Have you misinterpreted someone’s age and had that change your interest in them? Do you find that you tend to get along better with people who are older/younger than you? Less obvious examples range from whether you are someone that gives your public seat up for an elderly person (good manners) or holds your purse closer if a teen with facial piercings comes close (bad bad bad). Do you look to hang out with children or studiously avoid them – not all of this is overarching. I wasn’t a “kid” person, per se, until Duderroo, because I didn’t know any. Had you asked me to spend a day surrounded by them pre-Duder I would have laughed at you. Now that I know how amazing they are, I want to be with them all the time. Aisha, on the other hand, finds most kids other than duder exhausting and sometimes hard to handle, but is more of an ‘old dog’ with ‘young puppies’ than a miserable, grouchy Scrooge. If we happen to run into an ‘older’ (read: more mature) young child that Aisha can teach something to, she has the utmost patience for them regardless of age, mess, attention span, etc. 

What about your friends? Aisha has always gravitated towards people older than herself (though not necessarily mature) and has few friends close in age, but those who are, are very mature or have had a lot of life experience. This also means that she has had a lot of friends who, by logic of age, would be more mature but display more childish behaviour than some children (namely, duderroo). I, on the other hand, seem to gravitate to whatever age group I “need” at the time, and I have equally as much respect for people younger and older than me. I have had a very fluid friend base, age wise, and find I am drawn more to someone’s depth of connection so long as the other person is an equal contributor. Why are people different, drawn or repulsed by age-specific groups and is this determined by maturity? Is maturity only determined by experience? 

So… What’s your sign, baby? *wink*

Have you investigated what your sign says about you? Not necessarily the sun and moon birth charts, etc. but just any innocent meandering into whether there are factors outside of your age, experience and culture that determine your traits. I have always enjoyed referencing what Taurus means. I feel very attached to my sign, but only for fun. For instance, my traits are usually said to be stubborn, loyal, hard to change, tied to orderliness, love ‘the good life’ and nice things, can be lazy but ultimately can be a focused, forward moving individual who is good to have around. I absolutely accept that! When going deeper though, I find out that Taurus is the third sign and so I am essentially an infant!! That, well that is hard for me to wrap my head around. I have always felt a little older, wiser, maybe more challenged than my peers and my peers have often come to me for direction! So how am I “young”?? 

Aisha, being the more spiritually inclined and a ‘mystic’ type has helped me figure this astrological ‘age’ thing out. She is a Pisces, which is the twelfth, and final, sign. This means that because she has taken on characteristics of the eleven previous signs, she is technically referenced as ‘older’ than me. Pisces tend to be regarded as the wisest, though most ‘unpredictable’, because they have successfully passed through the previous signs and adopt whatever traits appeal to them. When looking at it like this (combined with her awesome explanation) we get to see what may be different between us. Keep in mind, she is 26 and I am 35:

  1. I forgive, and forget, almost instantly – I do not enjoy holding on to negative things because it weighs me down. Aisha, while incredibly forgiving, does not forget, holds onto her lessons, and does not repeat ‘emotional’ mistakes. 
  2. I am awed by simple or what others may see as mundane, things. Everything moves me, awes me, and a lot still surprises me. Aisha, while she loves nature and the world, rarely seems childlike in our explorations, and is rarely genuinely surprised by the actions of people or trains of events.
  3. I have an intense motivation for almost everything: figuring out issues, making plans, finding the right path. Aisha is the most chill person ever, she embodies “go with the flow” and trusts the universe to come through. I help her get / stay motivated, she helps me find solid ground without having to dig my roots in.
  4. Finally, my curiosity towards all people and interest in ‘bringing’ them in is in sharp contrast to Aisha’s ability to be with whomever is here, she does not actively search for ‘more’. I strive to make my relationships and interactions as pleasant, or at least as productive, as possible, whereas Aisha just accepts whoever is around, whatever state they may be in. 

But really, does this have so much weight? I am sure you know people who share your sign and you are like, “whoa, astrology does NOT have any merit”. But have you ever said someone is an old soul? Been told you are ‘wiser than your years’? Do you feel world weary? Age and maturity, as I’ve said, are wrapped up in a complicated web of experience, self-confidence, intelligence, access to opportunity, etc. This is merely fun banter about what other determinants may be present, and so, we’ll go ever further…

Reincarnation! I am on the fence with this philosophy and not because I don’t think it is possible, but because it seems so friggin’ amazing I can’t wrap my head around it. 

So, what did I learn? Well, I’ll point you to the Five Stages of Reincarnation that we looked at. I am, decidedly, a baby soul:

“the focus of human life is no longer on day-to-day physical survival but on participating in a social structure that provides ordersecurity and a sense of belonging.”

This is so true and if you have been following along with our posts, or you know us personally, you are probably chuckling as we did. With Aisha dispelling the idea that ‘young’ (baby soul, Taurus as a toddler, etc.) means incompetent or not worth considering (think of how children are left out of ‘adult’ conversations), I was able to really look at this with an open mind. While I feel a disjunct between thinking I am older or assuming an ‘old soul’ description fits me, I am actually feeling a sense of relief that I have time! I feel relieved that my weariness is because I am learning, not because I am finished. It also helps me try and foster the traits I felt were ‘immature’ before; my sense of play and imagination, my trusting side, and I no longer try and hide my awe or my feelings.  

Aisha has always been told she is an old soul, that she is older and wiser than her years (Aisha: Yeah, I had a psychic tell me when I was 9 that I had had at least 100 lives before this one – imagine trying to figure that one out as a young kid). Her mother was very spiritually and ‘mystically’ inclined, so fostered astrological interests early and, coupled with Aisha’s other abilities (clairsentience and clairvoyance), she never really struggled with this assumption. In reading through the five stages, though, she has found a different possibility, she may be a mature soul:

“the mature soul focuses on being sensitive, cooperative and authentic
the mature soul recognizes that other perspectives are equally valid
the mature soul is more concerned with the self-other relationship

Aisha and I both like to investigate socio-psychological tests/quizzes just to do self check-in’s: the 16 Personality types, horoscopes, tarot, stuff like that. Honestly, it is a fun way to try and navigate things – is Mercury on my side this month, OR NO?!?!! What does retrograde even MEAN?! We adopt these explanations as just another interesting layer of ourselves to help understand why we are so different sometimes.

Therefore, we will end with this thought. It is not just your age, sign, possible reincarnation that defines you. We are ultimately all individuals who experience a myriad of determining moments that shape us. I like to use these ‘fluffy’ concepts. I like to look at the Soul Types because not every Taurus I know is hell-bent on service and providing like I am (I am the server soul, Aisha doesn’t seem to suit any of the types listed). This way, when I get a little lost and can’t find ‘someone like me’ I can look at this compilation: my impulsiveness and sense of confusion is valid and I have the strengths to work past it; my need to provide and ensure others happiness isn’t bad, but yeah, I absolutely need to know how to balance it if I want to be in charge of it. 

At the end of the day, I would say that my younger soul that is focused on others, but also achieving the best for me, is kind of awesome. I don’t get weary, per se, I get overwhelmed because I try and do it alone but am too ‘young’, so I stumble. I had a friend ask me yesterday, after their first real update of Aisha, when do I get time to breathe. My only honest response was, I don’t stop. I think I don’t stop breathing because I am in a stage of strength – vulnerable strength because I am learning and hopefully following the right path – but I can keep going, just like kids with their faces burning red, sweat dripping down their bodies as they play in the summer sun. 

Aisha needs breaks – she goes into silent retreats in her head to organize the amount she is sorting through. She needs time to process, to think, to compartmentalize… and then she reacts. Big decisions can’t be made without ample time to weigh out every reasonable option (and sometimes unreasonable ones too). She has a depth of natural resources that when tapped into, are absolutely staggering — that she, at this age, can be that aware. But, remember, just because you may be a mature or old soul, does not mean that your numerical age has any advantages. She is a weary 26 whose inner child has to emerge to play with us. The confusion of feeling like you “should” know or be able to tackle a certain task – while literally not having the life experience to have found the resources to do so – can be draining and lead into thoughts of not being good, smart, or just simply, enough. But she tries to approach things in a “slow and steady” way; not to win the race, but to reach the finish line in one piece – if feeling out of sorts or overwhelmed, her numerical age rears it’s head and usually has her skidding in at high speed with a bloody knee or elbow to show for it. It is hard to completely balance age and maturity.  

Age defines a lot: how we view ourselves, how others view us, what knowledge we have, and our confidence. Maturity comes, in part from age, but you can’t discredit mature young people, or immature older people. Read Maura Vananzo’s piece about maturity and you will see what I mean. 

So, the question comes back to you, friends. What are your thoughts on age? Could you use a refresher on what expectations are laid out for you, because of your age? Can you take a step back from things because maybe you are trying to bite off more than you can chew? Stepping back in order to accept the load you are literally able to handle is not weakness. Taking a step back from your perceived responsibilities at work, is not weakness. If we honestly come at our situations with a true understanding of what we are working with – we only get better. 

That, is a promise.

— Jo & Aisha

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.”

Ellen DeGeneres

“If its and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no work for thinkers.”

I’d like to start with a bit of honesty – there is no chronological order to my posts. I am truly owning the flexibility and “selfish” drive of a blog for this reason. I am always going to share what I write, but I can determine ‘the when’. I have a lot of cool things I am working on, and they will come to you eventually, but I wanted to let you know this is real-time. This will be posted during week five of spinal-drama. Things are ‘fine’ all around, but fine like standing at the edge of an ocean during a moderate hurricane is ‘fine’. A lot of side drama and low spinning swords, but we are here, stronger together and working on lots of big ideas. 

These five weeks have made me confront not only fears and new potential realities, but mostly how I interact with people and the sum of my relationships. This is obviously a big thought and I do not want to lose, offend, misguide or bore anyone so I am going to infuse some dusty tools to structure this post so that you can see this is a query into relationships, from my lens only. We are going to look at some sociological theories that discuss the evolution of the concept of social contract – a guide to interacting with our world that has innately been accepted by most of us. You may be giving your screen a skeptical side eye, questioning where we’re going and if you want to come with. Let me assure you that by starting here things will make more sense. By establishing my observation (my user guide) of social contracts we can explore how, by extension our sense of self evolves from our interpretation of our social interaction, and further how ‘the looking-glass self’ works with or against us in our search for stable footing. 

These theories have impacted my approach to self identification in a very healthy way. I was able to sort through a messy social life during university because I studied sociology. Now, almost ten years after graduating UofT with my double B.A in Sociology and Sexual Diversity Studies, I am thinking about these theories again during a calmer but still somewhat messy transition phase. 

Social Contract Theory

I was drawn to sociology because of a class I took during my time at Ryerson. This class looked only at how pop culture subconsciously influences us. 

Quick back story, my mother took our television away when I was six or so. This was because my sister and I would start world wars over the remote. My mother noticed our family was divided because of the TV schedule; I was alone in the basement until my shows were over, then my sister. When we were in bed, my parents spent their time divided, because of the TV. So, this concept of pop culture (TV media specifically) shaping us was very foreign to me. Remember, I did not grow up wanting to scream “D’OH!” or know who Bart was – Sesame Street was my last reference. So, the simplicity in the vastness of this discipline appealed to every fibre of my being. I left Ryerson and moved on to UofT, where I was handed the privilege of studying how our culture impacts our society and our society our mores; how an individual can impact socio-political trajectory, and how bigger institutions work to mould individuals. But you must understand, the fact that our only focus was the functional operation of the interaction of people with each other and the world at large was incredible to me. No psychology, no biology, physics, or Latin – just the observations of how individuals’ function in society and how society, in turn, affects that functionality.   

Socrates and Plato were two of the first to begin thinking of how and why we interact with society and culture in the way we do. Hobbes and Locke came along, developing these theories and speak to the socio-political evolution of our society. Personally, Rousseau’s naturalized versus normalized (idealized theory) account seems to allow a forgiveness for our current state, while remaining critical. As you will see, his simple foundation allows my brain to spider into the crevices we need to go. The idealized theory acknowledges that:

“Man began in a State of Nature and over time ‘progressed’ into civil society … the State of Nature was a peaceful and quixotic time. People lived solitary, uncomplicated lives. Their few needs were easily satisfied by nature. Because of the abundance of nature and the small size of the population, competition was non-existent … [with no] reason for conflict or fear. Moreover, these simple, morally pure persons were naturally endowed with the capacity for pity, and therefore were not inclined to bring harm to one another.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau goes on to explain that as we domesticated, everything changed and had to become stratified in order to ‘work’. It was our need to segregate labour, privilege and status that resulted in:

“discoveries and inventions [that] made life easier, giving rise to leisure time. Such leisure time inevitably led people to make comparisons between themselves and others, resulting in public values, leading to shame and envy, pride and contempt. Most importantly however … was the invention of private property, which constituted the pivotal moment in humanity’s evolution out of a simple, pure state into one characterized by greed, competition, vanity, inequality, and vice”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Many of you probably accept this as a potentially valid concept. We can acknowledge how those who have more than us make us feel lesser. (broad statement) We do not consider those with less than us our responsibility because we are ‘less than’ someone else too. If this is the case, then our scope and commitment to our social contract begins from a point determined by where we start in life, clarifying why some are more motivated than others. 

For clarity, I acknowledge Rousseau is talking about socio-economic dis/advantages and how society has changed as a result of civilization and the industrial revolution. I would just like you to also consider whether we can adopt this theory to consider mental, physical and emotional status as well? Does a subconscious struggle develop because we know there is a way that is peaceful, quixotic, uncomplicated? How does where we begin impact our starting capacity for anything? Consider how these stratifications impact the development of your social contract capacity. We are not ignorant to where we start – I, by all accounts, should have a solid, good paying job and be in a middle to upper class bracket if my parents are any indication. My sister succeeded, and arguably, we have very similar capacities. Therefore, we can not attribute our success or failure, inclusion or exclusion on macro-concepts alone. Before we delve into the ‘individual’ concepts, I would like to give you my idea of what our (macro) social contract is:

The world can be difficult to navigate when you are alone or without guidance from someone with knowledge. By adhering to commonly practised etiquette (good manners, not lying or cheating) and following a (relatively?) innate moral code (don’t kill, maim, violate trust, mislead others for gain) then you should by all accounts receive the breadth of society’s knowledge, support and guidance.  

I believe in the Golden Rule. I believe that if everyone followed it, truly treating others as they wished they were treated, then we should all get along. I suppose I have a false belief that people would, in this world, be their actual ‘best self’ and not have an ego – though I am not slagging egos per se, because mine’s quite healthy. I mean the ego that puts ‘you first and nothing else … just in case” – that ego I do not have.

Before we move on, consider Rousseau’s consideration of freedom in our social contract:

“Humans are essentially free, and were free in the State of Nature, but the ‘progress’ of civilization has substituted subservience to others for that freedom, through dependence, economic and social inequalities, and the extent to which we judge ourselves through comparisons with others.” 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Social Theories of Understanding Self

Freud explored the sexual self, ego/id and all those fun mental hang ups we all wonder if we have. While I love him dearly, he is the psychologist and so we are going to look instead at George Herbert Mead. Symbolic Interactionism (foundations in Weber’s theories) states that people build and develop a symbolic meaning about something, and that meaning persists and becomes ‘true’ to that collective. Specifically:

“Society is thought to be socially constructed through human interpretation. People interpret one another’s behavior, and it is these interpretations that form the social bond.”

George Herbert Mead

I would think this also makes sense to many of you. What you learn during your primary years is what you accept as the way things are. From minor examples like, we all use utensils to eat and drive on the right-hand side of the road in Canada, to challenging examples: people smoking despite medical evidence it kills you, having a Big Truck but live in a city and work at an office, your perception of flannel or someone of another race. I feel comfortable arguing that this makes extreme sense. We grow into our understanding of the world around us by interpreting the subjective meanings placed on everything by those who raise us. We are thereby attached to, and excited for, the rituals laid out for us throughout our life stages. 

Mead goes on to explain the self is developed in four ways:
1. The self develops solely through social experience
2. Social experience consists of the exchange of symbols (language, etc.)
3. Knowing others’ intentions requires imagining the situation from their perspective
4. Understanding the role of the other results in self-awareness

Point four will come up again later but, pausing for a second, let’s look back at social contract theory. Rousseau is saying people exist within ‘a status’ that determines their freedom. Your freedom is gauged by the amount of obedience you are expected to offer (because remember, we live in 2019 – so we are born with the generational knowledge of our status). Put these together and we have this: your breadth of self is predetermined (in part) by where your social contract begins (Rousseau), but your sense of self arises from your social experience (how hard did your parents work, did you grow up in a house or apartment) which is reliant on your ability to interpret the subjective social symbols of your ‘class’. This is the beginning of whether you perform well in society based on your performance of the basic/starter symbols. 

We wonder why there are so many lost people. We are asked to begin to understand these symbols from the moment we open our eyes, with no guarantee that the people guiding us are a success! And now, we live in a world where those above and below you no longer have the patience to (#3) see where you are coming from. If you widen this statement, you can see why race, gender, and intelligence are such contested spaces. Our world got really big, and we no longer know how to connect with the world at large in a meaningful way.    

I think I have spent my life focused on point three. I was saying to Aisha the other day that it’s like I have lived without an innate sense of self-preservation or an insatiable need to understand others implicitly. The few times I have erected a boundary it has been after a ‘cost’ tally almost too great to pay. I have explored so many different types of people, situations, addictions, and predilections, in part, because my path got a little jarred (read: A Trouble Shared) but also because of my inherent empathy and curiosity. I believe I have a wider conceptualization of what a social contract should be, because of this. I would not give this trait up for the world, but I had to realize (a while ago) that I had an unacknowledged ‘expectation’ of others. It went something like, I’ll take amazing care of you, so you will of course take amazing care of me, which was a set up for failure.

My sister said the other day, “Your level of care for others is exhausting.” I quickly replied, “Yup, but I’ve managed to pare down who I care about to a smaller number,” because I used to care about everyone with this level of commitment. It really was exhausting, but this trait is something I have always valued having, so I needed to find a way for it to work. 

When I consider why people seem reticent or unable to adopt a wide perspective (natural ability to consider another’s point of view from the outset), I come to one assumption. The fear of acknowledging the worldview of another means you could lose something valuable. Which is fair, because we usually do lose something, be it a misconception or bias. But sometimes that feels unsafe, so I get it. No judgement.    

I will just bring up point four again here, for … two seconds.  

So, our capacity for establishing our social contract may be predetermined by our kin and we either un/successfully enact or abandon our social contract based on our ability to appropriately interpret the social symbols of our community. Cooley can help me drive home why this has any weight. He explains that our sense of self not only arises from the exchange of social symbols and the understanding of the symbolic meanings but also from one significant other “we imagine perceives us in a certain way.” A Judge (this person is fluid through time (maybe); parent, lover, friend) is then established and we assume we are appraised by these perceptions, thereby subconsciously adjusting our actions and behaviour. Our innate need to feel validated results in our value being determined by how we think that ‘other’ perceives us. 

A) Our success is based on our ability to interpret social symbols as everyone else does
B) We can not independently choose how we navigate this interpretation unless we are self aware enough to find the resources to change our ‘status’
C) And our lens of interpretation is (potentially) focused by one person only and breaking that lens is the most important part of self awareness

Until recently I had a dependence on others that was insidious and shocking. Toxic relationships were my jam – my life was riddled with personal conflict and drama, but theoretically, my primary world should have prevented this from occurring. I had great role models, my family was economically secure, and I had my health. But I needed, and love, validation so I sought my sense of self-worth in the eyes of others for years; I made decisions with too many extra people in mind. Why?

Well, before we go off and inspect this question referencing my user guide for social contracts, let me make sure I have you completely on board. From a young age I was acutely aware of social contracts. My parents were popular, we lived in a small (class divided) town, my sibling is six years older than me, and I have an inherent sense of others. I over value my part of the social contract (be kind, trust people, be yourself, be gentle and you will succeed; people will treat you well if you fulfill your social duties) but realized that from puberty on, I subconsciously chose to enter disproportionately unequal relationships. I got lost somewhere and have ended up leading a very interesting and socially educational life because of that; I can’t help but question whether there hadn’t been an easier path? 

I hope you understanding why I bring these theories up – I have confidence you do, which is why we are now moving onto my mental meanderings. 

An Independent Example of a Social Contract: Jo’s Covenant

Going forward I would like you to pick a person in your life you are close with who you need a refreshed view of. Going back to Mead, we are about to focus in on points three and four, so pick someone that you can casually think about and be ok thinking about – if you have an intense, shaky relationship with your partner/parent/child – do NOT pick them. 

At any point in my life, I focus on tangible, concrete things I can accomplish in order to make sure I remain dynamic, not static. In my case, static equals Depression in a really crappy, debilitating way. The second habit I have is to connect with the people I know how to connect with, to make sure they are good and steady. I have had to adapt both constantly as my energy and ability have adjusted over the years. Adaptation has encouraged me to really work on my social contracts, which we’ll get to below. But when life hits the ‘uh oh’ level for stress or uncertainty, such as now (the situation with Aisha’s leg, housing and job markets, friends/family/community) these two ‘aspects’ become beasts I have to constantly wrangle, or I would probably end up completely micromanaging duderroo (which is dangerous and not cool). I’ll be honest, this is the first time in my life where I am aware of that and absolutely DO NOT want to do that, and so, I almost broke last week. I almost broke because suddenly, I was standing in a very dusty, vast space in my mental-emotional plane with only one clear tether when I thought I had had at least six strong ones. I felt so utterly and desolately alone, with the rug so completely pulled out that my entire world flickered away for a whole minute. And now I’m here … reworking/adapting my covenants again and have decided to invite you along. What happened? My interpretations of where things were, were off; my Judge had a different view of me/of things than I had thought, and so I literally lost my perspective.  

I think a unique trait of mine, that I have successfully adapted over decades, is that even though I don’t have an actual clue of WTF I am doing, I get bigger, I organize more, I talk more, I get more vulnerable and if you matter enough to me, I will open my chest and brain so you can dive in and take whatever you need. Because I can – and I want to help you. That is my covenant. 

With my family 1.0 (mother, sister), my covenant to them is that I am always here for them. I may never have what they have to offer, but I love them and will champion them to the end. It took me a long time to realize that their expectations of my role/contract/status changed when my sib got her F2.0 and mum lost her mate. I wanted everyone close, not realizing this was supposed to catapult me into some version of “Eat. Pray. Love.” I kind of did (NS) but I left too soon (considered others more) to come back, and my attempts at establishing F2.0 were becoming nuclear disasters. I think I wore my F1.0 out. No, I know I did. I also know that my mum and I became dependent on certain rituals that are still in the process of silently being reworked because they are not sustainable and are exclusive. I am working on trying not to wear my sis out but still being honest and present with her. I do know that they know, no matter what, how much I love them. It may drive them bonkers, but hey … I yam what I yam. 

With my family 2.0 (A-bomb and Duderonomy) my covenant is completely new to me. I think my series of unfortunate events had to happen they way they did because I was going to meet these two. I have a labyrinth of mirrors for Aisha (#3 Mead) that surprises even me. Meaning, when I get out of sorts (insert whatever negative emotion here) I can just sit with it and allow myself to acknowledge it. I literally have almost no reaction to things that two years ago would have had me in a silent rampage, which means we can quickly work on what is causing such a crappy situation. Because you see, I realize that my covenant with her started with my acceptance that we are literally, completely and wholly opposite people. We have the same beliefs, morals, etc. but who we are is fundamentally different. She flows, I dig in; She wonders, I plan; I confront, she waits; She is cluttered, I am germophobic minimalist. It is amazing for my mind to analyze because it makes no sense; I just love her. Duderroo is a different story, and this is where I can say I now get the parent thing. My only covenant to him is I will always model (or try!) my best self and make sure he is ok; all he must do is continue to grow selfishly but respectfully. I want nothing back.

In a recent post, Winter reminds us of the human condition, I say at one point “people are cruel”. When working out my social contract with ‘the rest of you’, I realize that this sentiment does not fit with my heart-view, and my heart is what drives my social contract. So, why do I say it? Part of me wants to say that it’s because I do not take enough responsibility for explaining my ‘part’, how I’m here to help and thereby putting everyone at ease, allowing the good to flow. But that isn’t very social, that is ‘selfish’. So, I’m going to share the responsibility with you. 

If people are not kind, they have forgotten Mead #3. If people are cruel, their Judge may not be kind and their self image is probably not great. It is incredibly hard to identify and then assess whether your judge is a good judge. Sometimes this person is your only parent and, well, you don’t want to lose them. It helps me to think about my past relationships when I try and sort through this. Not because my exes were cruel, but we all go from loving someone to … not. Breakups can be messy, cruel things said, friends lost – you know how it goes. In my case, I have had to work through a lot of guilt that my exes lost their vibrancy and seemed to shrink because of me somehow. Was it me? Or was it the inevitable result of a mismatched relationship? I’ll go ahead and suggest that a) we just didn’t have the same social basis for our contracts and b) they had unconscious expectations of me that they could not communicate (and me, them, don’t worry). I believe that your fundamental values need to be exact, or else these subconscious expectations gain permanence you would NOT believe. Relationships are the perfect microcosm of social relations: we meet, get interested, chemistry matches, fire ignites – then either a viable partnership is established, or the deal falls. Relationships end because we forgot what we were willing to “compromise” in the beginning.

One great example of this is bedtime. My guiltiest pleasure is going to bed at 7:30 if I am inclined. This rarely happens now, but given the opportunity, I’d take it. I tried dating someone who would gladly NEVER sleep. Ever. At first it was exciting and really ego-boosting that someone never wanted me to sleep because they wanted to be with me that much. I tried to be a non-sleeper, and it did not work. At all, but a good lesson for me to learn. Another, more pervasive example is that I hate confrontation, I’d rather agree to sit with you for hours or days to calmly explore why we’ve come to where we are. The minute voices rise I fall apart, either cry or get super-scary-angry and I don’t like either. This has obviously been a hard one to casually throw out to prospective partners and many breakups have happened because of my communication style. Knowing your communication style is hard because honestly there are so many landmines for each of us that creating a map takes awhile and a lot of trust. Aisha takes time to process, but knows she doesn’t like to argue, manipulate or put me down so she can get the upper hand. While she doesn’t love my level of deep explorative discourse, the fact that we both hate confrontation means we inherently have an easier time coming together to talk about the hard stuff.

So, friends, start your social covenant with a pure and selfish understanding of what you need, and need in the way as if you were alone. These needs are the foundation of how you operate on a base level – are you a coffee or tea person? Do you like morning beverages? Do you drink alcohol? Is it important for you to be able to have a glass of something whenever you want? Do you need Sundays to be lazy? Because these small details, if we don’t honor them, create the cracks that do the most damage. These are what we start judging others on not ‘giving’ us when things get rough and we have no right to expect another to take care of these for us, even if we have given them a heads up.      

Mead #4: Understanding the role of the other results in self-awareness. 

I feel privileged to say that I think I have figured out how continue with a big heart, but in a healthy way because I am now fully aware of what ‘needs’ I can not compromise on. Aisha is my first truly kind, non-judgemental judge; I am perfect to her. While I laugh at that, it has helped me have a more lenient view of things I thought I was immoveable on that were socially isolating. She (and a lot of self reflection) has helped me figure out why these ‘things’ derail me, (alcohol, humor, politics, self-presentation, character in general) and this flexibility is extending to how I am manifesting my new social life. If you don’t want a wholesome covenant with me (which I can now identify within a healthy time period), that doesn’t mean you can’t be in my life. I can just drop my common or primary covenant I’d typically offer and extend to you the secondary or backup one I am currently drafting. The only revision to that is I will make more of an effort to understand where we differ in our foundation so that I don’t exhaust myself. 

So, here is where we look at you. Think about the person I described before. What is going on? Are you feeling unvalidated or overlooked? Are you unhappy with this person, so you are creating a situation to force change? Here’s a personal example. An amazing friend (let’s call them Bronson) who was super present in my life and helped me do a lot of growing isn’t really in my life anymore. Something changed when I met Aisha (namely, I got an insta-family which changed my availability for what Bronson and I usually did). But no conversation happened to address this, and over time the relationship changed in my heart. Duderroo loved Bronson so much and looked forward to their visits, but when those visits became months apart, and other details changed, I realized that I felt more like a … client (it felt formal/transactional) when I viewed them like a family member. So, I thought about it. What was my part and had I owned it before turning my reflection on Bronson? I believe yes, as much as I am comfortable doing. It can be incredibly impactful to look at someone and say, “I acknowledge my part, and I am sorry. I need to say that when you do X, I feel like Y and we need to work together to change that.”

But my continued frustration and anger made me realize that it was because I was not picking up on whatever had implicitly changed, so I was creating a situation where Bronson could now, never do right. That is what I mean about taking responsibility. Bronson did not want a friend who now had a young family whose lives got real fucking messy. While that sucks for me and I wish they had made that clear before I introduced them, it is totally fair. So, the last thing I must decide is whether I can be a friend to someone that isn’t that invested in the people I am most invested in. Sadly, and historically, my answer to this is no. Now, there is no situation and I am at peace with Bronson. I am here for them should they ever need me. I will love them always and have so much appreciation for what we shared. And I hope to meet them again when they want to be close with my unit. But most importantly, the interactions we have now I can just accept for what they are: a lovely connection. 

Back to you. Retracting/isolating to care for yourself or getting bigger and organizing more, either one, I don’t think it matters. I think, regarding covenants, it is about making sure you are the one to identify and then address the problem, if there is one. This may be exhausting for awhile, but you’ll see you don’t have to continue for long. You really will attract people more like you who naturally line up with your needs.  

When you are meandering along and suddenly it is not as smooth and you or your person happen to shrink or change instead of growing, well, then you must do the work to find out why. Do you need to be let go? Do you need to let go? It is not fair to expect people to continue growing with you if they’ve come up against their Judge and they aren’t prepared to hurdle this challenge yet. You can try asking them how they are doing in the big picture. But be prepared to invest in this; you’ll need to listen, actively, and respond appropriately.   

I’ve realized that not being able to talk about what you are thinking about in this self reflection, I kind of have no where to go haha. I suppose that I have addressed what I wanted to. There are reasons why some of us can more easily move through this world socially speaking – and I don’t mean popularity. I mean those people who seem able to mould and direct their trajectory. There are reasons why even when you should have the world (or should be ‘nothing’ and be stuck in a minority class) you defy the odds and end up as the opposite. There are things you need to think about regarding who your lens to your ‘self’ is so that you can grow. For me, my social contracts are like a blueprint. I can build and adjust now, because I have taken my work on being empathetic and used it to foster self awareness. 

I won’t lie. This has taken me fifteen years to figure out. It was hard, and at times felt like I was going to burst. But in the end, I believe I am a solid person for it. I have been able to work through grief, loss, happiness and anger. I have quelled my ego and calmed my brain. I don’t expect anyone to do this work, and I hope I haven’t made anyone uncomfortable. I just love being certain, I guess, and I love to share. So, here is how I found certainty in myself, despite years of feeling worthless and wrong. 

Thank you, for reading through. I appreciate it more than you know.

Jo

“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself.

Boundaries. What do they mean to you? Do you think your boundaries help you reflect your best self? Are your boundaries food or shopping related, exercise or financial? Do you extend your boundaries to others? Are you a boundary-building partner? Does any of this even make sense to you? If not, you may be a field bird. I am more of a … mole myself. My natural environment is a network of convoluted thought tunnels that have to exit somewhere, and boundaries help me keep a blueprint.  

Aisha read me Erynn Brook’s twitter thread on what her mother taught her about boundaries the other day. The feeling I’m left with is so incredibly unique, I don’t quite have a word for it yet. But it does seem to keep causing me to stop, place my hands on my hips, squint up at the sky and inhale a “yup,” real slow, like it means something. Her message was so clear: as an adult, she has successful boundaries.

I like it. Most adults I know have trouble instituting boundaries, so her unapologetic reflection on how hers developed is refreshing. She takes the readers through the many times her mother reinforced that calling home and leaving when she needed to, was completely okay. Erynn was able to call, and go home, whenever she wanted. No matter what.

Was that your childhood experience? Did you ever lay awake at a sleepover, wishing you could just be in your room? I don’t know if it was mine, I’m sure my sleepovers ran the gamut of boring to provocative, but I do remember the times I did call home: someone always, always came. No matter what. I’m going to ask Aisha something – hang on.

Aisha: “I think your boundaries are fair, and the ones you have [insert intense, lingering eye contact here] you don’t move on. I think they are more of a strong moral compass….” 

She didn’t answer whether she feels they limit her (being the closest person in my life), and that’s fair.

I’m realizing a lot throughout this essay. The first is, I could probably write a book on boundaries. The second, I think boundaries are really important – for everyone. Additionally, I don’t think boundaries are inherent, and I think it can be daunting to teach boundaries to anyone: your child, friend, coworker, or maybe later in life, your parent. Finally (for now), I think I had an early concept of boundaries and the confidence to enforce them; my late teens and twenties made sure my boundary-building was tested though and I failed. A lot.   

Now, I think boundaries are amazing because they help me to assure myself that I’ve “got this” since I’m a little polar in my reaction to things: I either have a depth of patience ascribed to a saint or I flash freeze with icy attitude. I have had to work on stabilizing a middle ground in order to center my thoughts, remove my feelings, and gauge whether I need more time to respond or if responding is even necessary. Because I have a memory of what they feel like, a standard. So, my newly constructed boundaries are needed and run very deep. 

I have found myself feeling cornered and completely misjudging situations without these boundaries. Combining a naturally sensitive personality (good and bad), a fight-then-flight response pattern, and OCD does not make it easy to accurately gauge impulsive or drawn-out scenarios and I found myself spiralling into a lonely space.

Help began in the form of professional advice I received from my EAP counsellor a few years ago. I was being affected at work by a guy. I don’t want to get into too many details, because I am focusing on the concept of boundaries but, I felt that he was working hard to make my job harder than it needed to be; he felt like I was getting in the way of how he had done his job for over twenty years. I learned that I was actually getting in his way and the stress that that created for him was multi-layered. Being me, I stormed into a session and was like, “But he….”, and she said, “Is that your problem?” I, of course, looked away, angry tears pricking my eyes and asserted, “Yes, it’s my problem,” to which she coolly slid her gaze over me and replied, “Is it? If x actually happened and y was the result, or B to A, whatever situation you come up with — your problem is to make sure you are good, Jo. That is your only problem.” [There was obviously content I ethically cannot provide, but the message is clear.]

So now I go through life assessing whether something can, or should, be my problem and making healthy choices for the first time because she gave me the opportunity to explore boundaries.

It’s liberating. It has helped me say no to things that make me have such a negative, physical reaction I am so uncomfortable considering them. It has allowed me to divest myself of people who I have put a lot of effort into, but who only seem to keep me around because I kept catering to their problems. 

Boundaries are the things you learn about yourself that help you always feel safe and know what direction you are pointing in. I think the only variation is on a) how much direction you need and b) how lost you tend to get. 

I have watched a lot of people learn they don’t have boundaries. Sadly, these realizations have usually dawned as the result of a situation so terrible, I won’t mention it here. I have watched others crumble on my couch, realizing they have tried sustaining friendships and family-ties, even though it was killing them. I have lost people because I have asked them to get some boundaries, if even the dollar store variety. 

I think boundaries are scary because they force you to continue rising to an occasion you determine in order to selflessly assure yourself you are okay. If you are neurotic like me, they are scary because they are hard to put down even when I want to. For real – I make a huge effort to bend the ones I know are a little ridiculous. But I also know that my boundaries have kept me going forward for a while now. They help me categorize unknown feelings, and they help me navigate pretty much every interaction I have. That is not to say that my carefree, fun-loving attitude isn’t true as well. It’s just only possible because of the tunnels underneath. 

I thought about using the adage, ‘good fences make good neighbours’, but in all seriousness, I don’t equate boundaries with walls. I don’t see boundaries as a means to keep something out per se, but instead, as guides. So, ‘don’t keep a dog and bark yourself’. Get the dog guys, build the boundaries if you – as I did – tend to lash out because you are actually hurting. It’s okay to need something so that you hurt less, are heard more and just feel good. Don’t build a wall that constrains any part of you, get the dog that explains itself. Honestly, there is so much I want to expand on in regard to walls; the U.S border wall, the walls in online communities, the ones within our families. But boundaries are best built on a solid foundation and for that, we need to make sure ours are good. 

Think about your boundaries. Are they good? Do they help you be better, or do they keep you hidden?

― Jo

“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off. Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack. As your boundaries get stronger, the wait time gets shorter. You never have justify your intuition.”

Shahida Arabi

(If you like this article, get ready for a deeper look into boundaries and social contracts coming next week!)