KAIT MAURO

Healing

Sea of Anxiety

Life, HealingKait MauroComment

Right now I am feeling anxious. I’ve been battling anxiety for a long time now. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

What I mean to say is: I can’t imagine myself in any life, any possible life I could lead, where I wouldn’t feel some undercurrent of this anxiety.

As hard as it fights me to be given a reason, an excuse - money or car crashes or relationships or mortality or productivity or falling behind or my weight or the dark or being alone or my health - it doesn’t have one. It’s just something my brain does. It’s part of my wiring, my chemistry. There is no why, there is just how do I learn to ride these waves, how do I learn to exist with this more gracefully, how to stop it from controlling me.

Which is part of the problem - the urge to change things, the wish things were different than they are/the wish I was different than I am - but still, it would help to get better at this thing.

There is so much pressure to be improving, to keep all of the plates spinning, to continually add more plates, to be constantly more productive, more efficient, to create or get rid of this habit or that habit, to be constantly making progress, to consume, to upgrade… it’s exhausting.

I’m afraid.

I’m afraid if I stop moving for a bit everything will come to an ugly halt.

I’m afraid all the plates will come crashing down & my life will be left in ruin.

I’m afraid something will be permanently damaged.

Fellow anxious people, what helps? How do you ride out the waves? What excuses does your anxiety want to take? How have you learned to challenge it - to live more gracefully despite it?

Homo Sapien

Art, Healing, LifeKait MauroComment

I am an animal on display

in an old fashioned zoo -

trapped & violent,

violent,

violent,

violent,

going slowly insane.

I entertain the guests.

I try to please them.

This does not come naturally to me.

I don a sweater, purple pants. I reach

for this & that. I rattle

the bars but the bars don't budge,

they tell me the bars won't budge,

so I decide to play dead.

Curiosity Says

Healing, ArtKait MauroComment
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Pettiness says, “I’m jealous.”

Jealousy says “I’ve been made to feel other, unwanted, unwelcomed.”

Otherness says, “They wouldn’t have done this for you. They didn’t want you. They only tolerate you.”

Self-loathing says, “You really must be tolerated. You’re difficult to like.”

Broken trust says, “He broke the agreement.”

Love says, “He’s conflicted. Don’t make him choose.”

Fear says, “It’ll be just the same as it was.”

Fear says, “You’ll always be other.”

Wisdom says, “Maybe you can live with that - maybe it’s just a few you need to love.”

Fear says, “We’re coming up on next summer.”

Fear says, “There isn’t enough money left.”

Fear says, “We won’t be able to find a house as good as this one - you’ll lose your studio.”

The little girl says, “He’ll neglect you, abandon you, choose everything over you.”

Grief says, “You will always be lonely - there is no other path for you”

Curiosity says, “We’ll just see how things turn out.”

Winter Narratives: Marriage & Medical School

HealingKait MauroComment

There is a story I’ve been telling myself about when this photograph was taken.

“Edward, Lena & I traveled to Mobile, AL from our home in Saint Louis, MO so he could do an interview for a medical school there. It was a miserable trip. He was anxious & stressed the entire time & I was too. He was worried he would not get into medical school. I was worried about what it would mean for us if he did. I stayed in the motel room by myself all day while he was at the interview, lonely & waiting for him to come back for me so we could head home. He got accepted to multiple medical schools & it was clear to me that I could either move to his hometown of Birmingham with him (we were already engaged when he got accepted into UAB’s school of medicine) so he could go to medical school or we could go our separate ways. I resented the time medical school took away from our relationship & felt, on a regular basis, that he would choose medical school over our marriage if he had to choose. I often wondered about which came first in his loyalties: me or medicine, which was very painful for me.”

Here’s another story I could tell myself, with the benefits of hindsight & several years distance:

“Years ago, Edward, Lena & I traveled to Mobile, AL from our home in Saint Louis, MO so he could do an interview for a medical school there. I had Lena, my furry companion/baby/shadow since December of 2012, with me. Edward has always loved Lena - his big heart took her in the second she became a part of my previously party-of-one family - even when she peed in one of the AC vents in his new car on this very trip. She’s an amazing dog who has provided me with so much love, affection & companionship over the years. Edward, too, though we were still a fairly new couple when this photograph of Lena on the motel bed was taken, had already proven he would be someone who would provide me with love, affection & companionship under the best & the worst of circumstances - first as a friend, then as a partner.

It was an emotionally difficult trip for both of us. He was, understandably, quite worried he wouldn’t get the chance to become a psychiatrist - which had been a dream of his for a long time & he was tightly wound because medical school interviews are incredibly stressful. I was worried that, if/when he was accepted into medical school, our lives would change drastically. I assumed they would change for the worse. I assumed every adjustment would be a loss. I barely thought of his happiness or needs at all because I was so caught up in worrying about the future. It wasn’t my best self, my “wise self” (as they call it in DBT). I wasn’t a “Kait” that I can look back on proudly. I tried to pretend to be supportive of his dream at least some of the time, inside I was really, really terrified.

I can, however, look back with some understanding & compassion for this lost & frightened previous Kait. I did the best I could do with scary unknowns, a major life transition, an insecure attachment style, a future mother-in-law who made it very clear she did not approve of my engagement to her son, anxiety & depression dogging me & where I was emotionally at the time. I wish I could have done better. I wish there had been more of an “us” conversation in his decision to go to medical school. I hope to do better in the future when we are faced with more inevitable unknowns. I stayed terrified inside for a long time but then I started to write my way out of it, shortly after my 27th birthday, when Edward had been in medical school for almost 2.5 years and we would soon arrive at our 2nd wedding anniversary. I began to learn about mindfulness & set out on a journey to better understand & control my own mind & emotions. That day in the motel room wasn’t so bad. I was lonely & scared, yes, but I ordered Jimmy John’s delivery (including two large fountain diet cokes because treat yourself) & watched a tragic but mesmerizing movie, Factory Girl, about Edie Sedgwick & Andy Warhol.

Edward did get into medical school in Mobile, but also in Birmingham - which is where we ended up moving to from Saint Louis. Things did change. Some of the changes were easy, positive-even & some of the changes were hard. Some of the changes were really hard - especially on someone who struggled (sometimes still struggles) with being in her own company for long periods of time. Only recently have I decided that comparing Edward’s priorities in my mind (i.e. is med school more important to him than I am?) is an exercise in wasting time & emotional energy with no answer that will soothe or satisfy me. Only recently have I realized that I get to choose how I interpret experiences & events & circumstances & I am responsible for my own life. I am going to write myself into a meaning.”

Field Notes on Healing: One

HealingKait MauroComment

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

HealingKait Mauro2 Comments

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

HealingKait Mauro1 Comment
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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.

"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

"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.