KAIT MAURO

Field Notes on Healing: One

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I bought a book, “Calming the Emotional Storm,” way back in early 2015 after my suicide attempt when I was determined to put my life back together. My life is built on a solid foundation right now - there’s a path for Edward & I, we have amazing fur babies, we have a roof over our heads & the luxury of not having to worry about where our next meal is coming from (which, when you were once homeless with an overdrafted bank account, is not something you take for granted). Because of all of this, because of where I am in my life right now, I have the time, energy, motivation & resources to work on some of my ghosts. These ghosts are the narratives I tell myself about my life & myself that are old, hardwired in, but don’t serve me anymore and aren’t even purely factual (let alone compassionate). These ghosts are difficult to challenge & exorcise. I started reading this book many times in many different homes during many different phases of my life since 2015 but never got past the first chapter & a half or so. The subtitle is “Using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills To Manage Your Emotions & Balance Your Life,” which sounds about right for me right now. Yeah, I’m reading a self-help book on how to manage emotions when you live with emotional dysregulation issues. Judge all you want - it’s helping.

A quote from the book just explaining what emotional dysregulation is:

“Emotional dysregulation means you react emotionally to things that most people wouldn’t typically react to, your reaction is more intense than the situation warrants & it takes you longer than the average person to recover from it or get back to feeling like your usual self.”

I am trying to recover from this, to become more emotionally regulated & to relearn how to be a human, almost - one with healthier thought patterns & emotional responses to any given stimuli. I am growing up all over again. I am learning how to cope. People mention “coping skills” or “tools” or “strategies” a lot in therapy & mental health situations… but they’re extremely vague terms to a person who was taught unhealthy or zero coping skills when they were growing up. Like, yes, I would love to have coping skills - what the fuck is a coping skill? This is the level we are working on, people. Like, tell me what your coping skills are or what other people do to cope because it just feels like an abstract concept to me (or at least it did when I started this healing journey a short while ago) and I have no idea how to actually enact a “coping skill.”

“In addition, your relationships or self-esteem may suffer […] all because you didn’t learn certain skills to help you deal with your emotions as you were growing up. […] Our environment also plays a large role in the development of emotional dysregulation, and trauma is a common factor for people who have problems managing their emotions: having been physically or sexually abused or having been neglected as a child, for example.”

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The introduction of the book is just kind of an overview but the first chapter is about mindfulness. I will admit that, even though I’ve had the Headspace app on my phone for years, I have barely used it & am a total newbie when it comes to mindfulness. I’ve spent so much of my life, my adult life at least, living in the past or the future. I worry about the past even though it’s already done. I feel shame, guilt, anger & fear when I am stuck in the past.I fret about situations that might repeat themselves & cause me pain all over again. Through this kind of anxious rumination, I cause myself the pain all over again - it’s a stupid cycle. I worry about the future, I imagine all kinds of horrible things that could go drastically wrong. I also worry about things not going drastically wrong, about things just continuing as they are with me feeling as broken, empty, alone, bored, directionless & pointless as I do a lot of the time so far.

“Mindfulness is about intentionally being aware of the present moment and, rather than judging whatever you find in that moment, allowing yourself to turn toward your experience.”

Not judging does not come naturally for me & is something I need to work on. See the post about “Splitting.” People & experiences are usually either great or terrible in my book - I need to write my stories with a bit more nuance.

“By focusing on the present moment, mindfulness helps you train your mind to control where your attention goes rather than let your mind control you. It’s about paying attention to what is happening now - and taking an attitude of friendly curiosity, acceptance & openness towards the experience. […] Often we have enough pain to deal with in the present moment; being stuck in the past and the future only multiplies the amount of emotional pain we have and makes our pain that much harder to bear. […] Focusing on the present moment, or being mindful, helps to prevent painful emotions from coming up by helping you be aware of when you’re living in the past or the future.”

Friendly curiosity, acceptance & openness towards the present experience sound wonderful to me. I want that. I am posting these excerpts from the book a) in the hope that they will help you if you are struggling with painful emotions b) to help myself remember what I am learning. Mindfulness, as I mentioned earlier, is both a new skill & one that does not come naturally to me. I am an expert worrier. But I’d like to change that.

About the "Winter Narratives" Project

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I am working on rewriting (both in my mind & in text) the narratives I tell myself about my life, who I am & my experiences. It’s a very emotional but creative process. It’s forcing me to grow & to stretch myself to remember painful emotions & experiences - to find a more compassionate way of viewing others & myself, to understand things in a new light, to create new stories to tell myself so I feel stronger & more whole. These new narratives are just as real/true/factual as the old narratives - they are just coming from a place of healing & moving on/forward instead of a place of toxicity.

Winter Narratives: Splitting

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When I was a child, I learned to think of my parents as good or bad. I learned that sometimes they were a source of nurture, comfort & love & other times I needed to separate myself from them for my own safety & well-being. I learned to split people in this way. I developed these borderline ways of thinking as a way to adapt to my little environment. I did not get to choose my environment. I had a strange childhood due to a number of factors including my parents’ marital issues, my mother’s cancer & my own physical health problems - all at a very young age. I remember once sleeping in the basement while my parents screamed at each other upstairs. I remember asking my older sister if they were going to get divorced. I thought she would know since our mother & her father were already divorced. I was afraid of them getting divorced. But at the age of 27, I realized how & why I had developed this type of black & white thinking - why almost everyone was generally all good or all bad in my mind & how a single person could move between these categories. When I felt safe, they were good. When I felt endangered, they were bad. I recognized that this way of thinking no longer served me, that it actually got in the way of my humanity & the way in which I wanted to live.

I made a promise to myself to try to be conscious of it - to remember that people are one person, not several, & complex - like me, some good & some bad all mixed in together. This fact scared me. I made a promise to myself to try to change this way of thinking. The promise felt heavy in my chest, made it difficult to breath. It was scary to set out to change something that felt so engrained into my own wiring, in my ability to survive & cope in the world. It was a coping skill, that much I had to admit to myself, but one from long ago that no longer helped me as I was no longer a child in the dysfunctional environment in which I’d grown up. I was now trying to have a functional marriage & life of my own. Still, it was a relief to finally see its roots & how they had come to be so embedded in me. It was scary to think that maybe everyone but me already knew these things - it made me feel self-conscious & slow. It was scary to let go of something that used to keep my emotions safe & that had been with me for as long as I could remember. But the realization also felt like growth.

This Weekend

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This weekend was a bit rough emotionally. On Friday night we were driving home from dinner on Atlanta Highway & we saw a dog that had been hit by a car limping frantically on the side of the road. We pulled over & drove to an emergency vet but the dog passed away in the backseat of Edward’s car en route to the veterinarian. I don’t know if I’ve seen an animal die before, my memory is too lost to remember various childhood pets deaths & if I witnessed the moment the soul left the body or not. I felt strangely numb afterwards. I experienced some thoughts about how I probably deserved to die more than that poor dog, whose name tag said he was called Tuscan, did. I didn’t cry much - which made me feel uncomfortable about myself, wondering if I was heartless. I held Lena very close to my body under a blanket for a long time when we got home that evening.

A lot of the weekend was spent discussing some problems with Edward. Not a lot of progress was made, but it could have gone much worse than it did. Still, it feels shitty to spend so much time discussing an issue & reach no sense of resolution about it. We’ll get there though.

I finished a scarf I’d been knitting for Edward & he wore it when we went to the Montgomery Zoo on Sunday morning. I love the zoo, it’s so much fun. We had a great time. All couples have problem areas & we are still crazy about each other & going strong, just trying to figure out some of the acrobatics of being married still, even though our 2 year anniversary is coming up in December. I don’t think a person ever finishing learning & growing in a marriage though, learning new things about themselves & their partner & love & how to share a life with another person - new acrobatics.

Now it’s Tuesday morning and I am a zombie from getting too much sleep. Monday was a good day & I am optimistic that today will be too. I got a lot of creative work done with photographs (selects, edits, backing up & sharing) & my new camera bag arrived in the post! I shared a photo of my camera gear with my new bag on Instagram. I got a lot of life stuff done too - finalized my gear’s insurance policy, paid bills, made appointments. Adult-ing still feels strange to me somedays, but yesterday wasn’t one of those days. I’m still doing this 365 project - I’m on day 140-something (need to check that) and I am proud that I’m still going even if I occasionally miss a day or need to play catch-up - c’est la vie.

Grid Project

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I created a grid of memories on our bedroom wall. It was a more involved project than I thought it would be. I sat for hours by the photo printer in my studio making sure the photographs came out as they appeared on my laptop’s screen. I spent the better part of a day arranging them and hanging them, trying to make the best use of the little space I’d created. It’s a reminder of, if not our roots, the adventures we’ve had together & all the adventures we have still to come.

Air Plants Project

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I made a display of air plants on my studio wall. It took over 40 air plants to create the finished (for now) piece. It was something I’d been imaging doing for a while. And a cool thing about it is that I’ll have to regularly take the plants out to bathe them - so it will continually be changing as the plants are put back in differently & grow.

Having a fellow photographer as a friend is a goldmine.

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My wonderful friend, Jessica Colyer, took these photos of Edward & I on my birthday a few weeks back. I’d been wanting to do a little couples shoot with Edward but the idea of doing it myself with my tripod & remote felt intimidating. We did this little shoot in a vacant plot of land I’d noticed when we’d driven by it a week or so earlier because of it’s beautiful yellow flowers. I didn’t exactly remember where it was, so it turned into a bit of an adventure trying to find it again, but we did & the light was pure magic that afternoon.

"To Keep / To Make"

Art, Life, HealingKait Mauro1 Comment

To keep my body strong / possibly snake oil

To make up for not getting enough sun / help the others / possibly snake oil

To keep the panic at bay / It does the best it can.

To keep the depression at bay / It does the best it can.

To keep the panic at bay / It does the best it can.

To keep me from getting too depressed or too manic / an old friend

To keep the panic further at bay / It does the best it can.

To keep the panic at bay / to make slipping off into nightmares again easier

To make slipping off into nightmares again easier / to keep me from rising at 2:30am

Eros & Thanatos - First Attempt

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(watercolor brush pen, watercolor pencil, black ink pen, pencil, & glue on paper)

I’m not sure exactly how pleased I am with this finished piece. I think it’s missing some of the simplicity my original vision for it had. I thought the colors might be a fun idea but now I am regretting them a little bit. Oh well, I can always try again for another version that’s more in line with my aesthetic & sense of style another day. I think I will. This is only the 2nd drawing I’ve ever really made.

I wish a little bit that I still had the first one I made but I sold it to an acquaintance when I was rather skint. I hope it’s happy in it’s new home. Still, on a positive note, I have more playing around (or less, one might say) to do with this concept of Eros & Thanatos. They’re concepts from psychology, I think maybe Freud’s, that represent the “life” & “death” drives we all supposedly have simultaneously within us.

"Tentative Vow"

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I am beginning to remember

the purpose I claimed

as my own long ago. 

Yesterday: a reminder of how alive

I feel when I am creating things

& what that entails - aiming

for eyes wide open, being

witnessed, an outstretched hand.

Mary Oliver tells me what I need to do:

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

"Not This Way, Not Like It Has Been"

Art, Life, HealingKait Mauro1 Comment
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I’m getting back into writing poetry. This is my first in far more than a year I believe. Maybe that’s why it’s so much longer than mine have been in the past. I’ve remembered the power it once had to help me understand & cope & make sense of things & how I feel about them. I wrote this poem this morning - the emotions were strong this morning - thank goodness for three therapy appointments this week even though that sounds daunting & ridiculous & exhausting to me right now. I did the first draft of this poem on my computer, printing it again & again & editing it with grey black pen until I was out of printer paper. Then, when it felt finished enough (poems never feel entirely finished), I recorded this video of myself reading it, tripping over my words a bit, nervous to be in front of a filming camera, even my own. I’ve included the text of the poem here because poems are different things when they are heard than when they are read. I feel much more at peace now that I’ve written this & shared it. I need to remember this about myself: creating brings me back to myself, whether I am proud of what I make or not it is the closest thing to meaning & purpose I have right now. I must create everyday. Edward has his career &, right now at least, this is mine.

It's Surreal To Feel Heartbroken Surrounded By Party Decorations

Life, ArtKait Mauro2 Comments

The day before my actual birthday was wonderful - decorations were put up, some old & new friends came over, Edward cooked us delicious food, we had afternoon tea, we managed to find a field of yellow flowers I’d seen a few days before near Wetumpka, AL but couldn’t quite remember where & did a little photoshoot with fancy clothes there. The atmosphere was festive.

My actual birthday was not wonderful or festive.

27 got off to a very rough start.

I woke up as a 27 year old on Monday and only now on Thursday morning, am I beginning to feel any amount of hope or peace again. I feel a slight vibration in my blood, a bluesy hum, as I listen to “Free Yourself Up” by Lake Street Dive that maybe things are not 100% fucked. Maybe there is room to grow & change, Maybe I’ll be able to come up with some dreams for myself. Maybe things are only 75% fucked. Maybe this nearly constant crushing loneliness that is being married to a 3rd year medical student won’t last forever. Maybe I’ll find some ounce of passion within myself to feel again soon that won’t be in the form of anger. Maybe things are only 50% fucked. Maybe the new therapist will help things. Maybe it’ll all work out okay. Maybe this is being human. Maybe I’m not as good at it, as graceful about it, as I could be - but maybe this will be a year of, I don’t know, something like improving & growing in that way. Maybe 27 will be the year of learning how to be.

Where I Create

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I’m lucky enough to have my first designated artist studio room in our current rented house. I spend a lot of my time in there. Lena has a little dog bed near my desk & I’ll often drag Sam’s giant bed in there so we can all hang out while I am doing things on the floor or at my desk. Sometimes when I’m not feeling motivated to do artist work I’ll lay on Sam’s bed with him.