Leeches and a flat earth

And evidently people are still doing this...
And evidently people are still doing this…

I woke up exhausted this morning. I was alert for a few hours after that and then returned to exhausted. I may or may not be ill in some kind of physical way, but nonetheless have spent the majority of the day in bed—not sleeping, but just wanting to rest my aching, heavy legs.

This has been a week of realizations, and that’s the natural outcome of all of that new stuff in my brain: fatigue.

My realizations were all centered on this fundamental notion: people are wrong a lot. I would guess, when it comes to complex matters, they are wrong about 50 to 60 percent of the time. Even experts are wrong in their field of expertise although perhaps somewhat less than the rest of us. If this weren’t the case, we would still be reading texts from the age of Gutenberg. There would have been no need to write anything new.

We have new knowledge because the old knowledge was wrong. It was incomplete, distorted, misunderstood, or sometimes utterly off-base. The world is not flat, we do not suffer from imbalances in humours, and leeches don’t cure any illnesses. Also, paraffin oil does not suffocate lice, but that’s a topic for another post.

Furthermore, it is not that we used to be wrong and have improved so that we are now right about everything. Being wrong is not a bad habit you mature out of with time and patience. We are less wrong, but still wrong. Wrong is the human condition.

Growing up in a madhouse, there are a lot of things about ordinary human life I did not know. That was one of them.

See, I got confused because so many people seem so convinced they are right about so many things. They know the right diet to eat, the right attitude to take to be happy and successful in life, and what causes other people to behave like jackasses.

I cannot even tell you how much I weighed the last time I went to the doctor. It was 55 kilos, but the scale may not be accurate. I think it isn’t. I think it’s off by about 2 kilos. But I’m not sure about that. That’s a guess. And I can’t remember if there seemed to be a directional trend to this, or it just kind of wobbles, as scales sometimes do.

I have some ideas sometimes. I speculate. There’s not much I’m really sure of.

You could say I have low self-esteem. But that misses the point. In my mind, my conjectures about the world—whether about my real weight or about more profound matters—aren’t about me. They are just ideas. Tomorrow, I will have new ones.

Ideas are like clothes. When they wear out or get holes, you get new ones—hopefully, ones you like. Still, they will all need replacing in the end. Their longevity has nothing to do with your worth and I like myself just the same whether or not my ideas turn out to be correct.

But it did create some confusion for me. I thought other people seem so confident in what they think because they had better evidence than I do. I assumed they were me, and I thought they must have the degree of evidence I would require before arriving at that kind of certainty.

And they don’t.

This is really about me and about my traumatic past. I’m sharing it because of that. Maybe this will mean something to you as well.

As a child, I could not afford to be wrong. Being wrong might kill me. Not just because someone might punish me in a murderous way for making a mistake, but because one of the possible outcomes of most situations was death.

If I misjudged a mood, I might end up dead.

If I miscalculated my response, I might end up dead.

If I mispredicted someone’s next move, I might end up dead.

If I did not correctly handle physical danger, I would most certainly end up dead.

I am alive mainly because a lot of the time I was right. Sometimes I was lucky, but most of the time I was right.

So, I keep coming back to this need to be right—not a need to believe I am right, but a need to really be right, a need to be so careful in the decision I make that I never make mistakes. It worries me that my need to be right is my box. Nandhini has her rules and I have my uncertainty. I worries me that it limits my willingness to take risks and I wonder if I would be more creative and less anxious if I could live with more wrong-ness in my life.

It has certainly led me to misjudge a lot of the rest of the world.

To continue with my meditation on wrongness, but on a somewhat different tack, I was also pondering the choices I’ve made in the past as I lay exhausted in bed today. They haven’t always been great ones. In fact, at some points, it really has seemed that I made a right cracking mess of things.

That’s when I realized we all make mistakes. Big ones. Just like I have. Everyone makes good and bad choices in their lives. Just as I have. My mess is not any bigger or smaller than anyone else’s. In fact, it’s a perfectly average-sized mess of a life. How you want to see that is a matter of perspective.

You could say my traumatic childhood damaged me and consequently I made a series of poor choices based on the poor modeling I received at home, the maladaptive coping strategies I learned, and my low self-esteem. Until I’ve addressed the past and changed these patterns, I’ll most likely continue to repeat them. And that might be true.

You could also say, despite the odds, I turned out to be an empathetic, pro-social individual who has a number of supportive friendships, a caring romantic partner, and a promising career. And that might be true.

But I think those viewpoints are both wrong or at the very least incomplete. I made mistakes as other people do. The mistakes I made were uniquely my own and resulted from a combination of my personality, skills, and the forces in the past that shaped me. Just as other people make mistakes that are uniquely their own.

I am not going to stop making mistakes. As I remarked in an earlier post, most of them probably won’t kill me.

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I have lice: meditations

Yes, I think daily about shaving my head. No, I haven't done it yet. I'll keep you posted.
Yes, I think daily about shaving my head. No, I haven’t done it yet. I’ll keep you posted.

I have lice. I’m sharing this with you partly because I regard my faithful readers as also being among my closest, most supportive friends. And lice are indeed a headache.

If you’ll pardon the pun. (Sort of.)

Sympathy is in order here.

There is also something of a point to my sharing this really rather unnecessary detail. Not too long go, I had what I regarded as a paranoid fear about this. As it turns out, I wasn’t mistaken. I wasn’t over-reacting. I wasn’t being paranoid. I indeed had lice.

I hate when I’m right and think I’m wrong. It reeks of missed opportunities and might-have-beens. It’s worse than when I think I’m right and turn out to be wrong. I expect that. Being wrong is inevitable.

My failure to realize I was right had something to do with conflicting bodies of evidence in my own mind.

On the one hand, I knew the extremely low probability of my coming into contact with lice, given that I don’t have small children or even any contact with small children and I don’t spend time rubbing my head indiscriminately against other people just to see what will happen. And it’s difficult to get lice from inanimate objects.

On the other hand, there was my suspiciously itchy head and a vague visual flash of a lice shampoo seen most recently in the drug store where I had waited a long time in an upholstered chair for a prescription, my head tilted back with fatigue. That image, coupled with the thought, “This is where people come to buy lice treatment.”

Did I see someone holding lice shampoo in their hand at the checkout line ahead of me? Is that why the image flashed into my mind? Hard to know where these small details come from, or what they mean sometimes.

I erred on the side of probability. Fair enough. Except that the consequences for not paying attention to that little inner nudge that maybe I had beaten the odds were unpleasantly high. My head has been itching for two months now. I am now in a place with fewer effective treatments for it, and getting rid of them once and for all will take effort and a great deal of patience.

The lice infestation station. Complete with clean laundry.
The lice infestation station. Complete with clean laundry.

Also, it’s damn cold. Combing out lice is a lot easier with wet hair, which tends to make things seem colder. Especially when you’re sitting wet in the “shower” lathering up your hair in between pours of hot water over your body from a bucket. (Yes, there is an actual shower head. No, I don’t use it.)

My life now revolves around combing lice out of my hair before they can breed and multiply. This, I see as a state well worth having avoided.

On the other hand, what would the consequences have been of taking my paranoia more seriously if I hadn’t had lice? An unnecessary trip back to the drug store and a comb through the hair with a lice comb. Yes, I was really busy and didn’t have time for another drug store trip. Yes, I still could have done it. I wish I had.

But what if I had taken this approach? When in doubt, gather more information. (Get the lice comb. See if you actually have lice. Then proceed.)

I have another thought about this, as well. My mistakes have not, so far, been very life-threatening. I have had some near-misses, but to a one, they have not resulted in death. This may be obvious, but given how many times I might have died and didn’t, I think I’m doing pretty well for myself.

And that’s really what counts. I am not always right. In fact, I’m wrong a good lot of the time. But when it comes to life-and-death decisions, I’ve come out on top of things. More than once. So maybe it’s okay to be wrong sometimes.

There’s always something more to learn, isn’t there?

Standards of evidence

Like this. Now try not to think about it.
Like this. Now try not to think about it.

I decided last week that I know nothing about delusional thinking or psychosis and so I ought to read up about that. I mean, I know a fair amount I would say about my own issues, about trauma and dissociation and what you might call attachment issues. I even know some useful information about what have been classed as personality disorders—namely, borderline and narcissism, although I believe less and less that they represent distinct illnesses rather than a collection of symptoms that may or may not occur together. But that’s another topic.

So, I did. And it turns out that what causes delusional thinking—which is surprisingly common–may have to do with how people consider evidence. Those who develop delusions tend to consider only very sparse evidence before reaching a conclusion. In addition, they may reason emotionally, as others of us also sometimes do.

For example, a person walks outside, has an uneasy feeling, sees the neighbors talking, and decides the neighbors must be plotting to blow up his house. He doesn’t consider additional evidence, such as the fact that the neighbors don’t generally seem inclined towards violence and have no compelling motive to harm him.

It seems to me that a difficulty in considering probabilities must have something to do with this as well, because many of us get crazy ideas about things from time to time, but then we think about the odds and reconsider. But that’s just my own idea.

Uncle #2 is inclined towards delusion. He’s an anxious person generally, and seems constitutionally set up to worry. Last week, I was 20 minutes later than usual coming home in the evening, and he concluded I had decided to give up my room and take up residence elsewhere. Never mind that my rent for the next month has already been paid.

I'm fond of the bougainvillea also. But I worry a lot less.
I’m fond of the bougainvillea also. But I worry a lot less.

Uncle #2 has a few obsessions: the bougainvillea is one of them. He’s perpetually worried someone will chop it down, because this has happened before. He doesn’t seem to consider the number of times he has thought it was going to be chopped down and wasn’t.  This doesn’t enter in.

He’s also concerned that the other owners in the lane are conspiring to persuade his paying guests to pick up and leave. The watchman, of course, has been paid to assist in this process.

Granted, Uncle #2 not the easiest person to have as a neighbor, because he feels constantly threatened and is therefore inclined to be a bit obstructive and, well, crotchety is the word that comes to mind. But my experience has been that most people are really just too lazy and preoccupied with their own lives to form elaborate plots. In most cases, their difficult neighbors continue to remain in their houses and continue to be difficult in spite of any neighborhood sentiment against them. Also, Uncle #2 has lived here for nearly 20 years. But these are facts he seems not to have considered.

This has also gotten me thinking about the rest of us, and other differences in how much and what kind of evidence  we consider when coming to conclusions. I know for myself that, in most things, I want to see quantitative studies that use acceptable samples (large enough and random enough to mean something), control for important variables, and yield statistically significant results. Better yet, I’d like to see meta-analysis so that I’m seeing the results of many studies at once. Qualitative studies have their uses, but not as decisive evidence. I think this way in terms of my work (education) as well as in other areas where I need to make important decisions, such as physical and mental health.

If you work in the humanities, you probably have a completely different way you approach evidence, which I probably don’t understand. But I’m sure that that way is also valid. Whatever it is.

Of course, we all weigh new information against the framework of what we already know and believe—some of which is true and some of which probably isn’t. But that’s a different matter for a different post.

However, some people use an entirely different standard for assessing evidence, a standard that has to do with the person providing the evidence and not with the evidence itself: name recognition, prestige, the air of confidence and certainty in which the evidence is submitted, and personal qualities that are valued or associated with authority and believability. Some of this has some value: my physician has a medical degree from an accredited university. That seems important. But most of it probably doesn’t.

Sometimes, you know someone’s name because they’ve advertised well and not because they actually have anything to offer. Or, maybe you keep hearing their name because they’ve captured the imagination of a lot of people who know even less than you do about the subject.

This worked out well.
This worked out well.

As for confidence, that’s usually a better indicator of bias than of correctness. Absolute confidence means the person is unwilling to consider other explanations or interpretations aside from their own, so they have blind spots. The more confident someone is, the less seriously you should probably take them.

In the same way, I think we often consider religious and political figures in light of their personal qualities rather than think critically about their message. If they can persuade us, we believe what they are saying must be right. But the tactics that lead to persuasion are more often emotional than factual. Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who I think was right, seems to have mainly compelled the nation to listen because of his oratory gift and not because of the strength of his ideas. Listening to him, I still get chills. And it’s good we listened to him, but not everyone who can do that has something to say that’s worth paying attention to.

workersStill, I think we learn what evidence to use in making decisions–as well as in making sense of our lives–from our families as well as the larger culture. I was raised to defer to the “workers” (the 2×2 ministers) in nearly everything I did. Their source of authority? A place in the hierarchical structure of the church and compliance with the accepted practices and beliefs of those higher in the structure. Where did those come from? Charisma, really, and the political acumen to know who to align yourself with and for how long. Personal qualities and nothing else.

And I think this needs to change. I think we need to change how we consider evidence–responding less to how something is said or who has said it, while considering more what it is that is being said. Otherwise, we could all end up wearing our hair in buns or drinking poisoned Kool-Aid.

Standing them on their heads

auntyI like taking old ideas and standing them on their heads sometimes: taking an assumption I have–a notion I believe mainly because it’s been told to me, but which I may not have any other evidence for–and considering the world as if something else were true instead.

Does the world continue to make as much sense seen in some other way? Are there other explanations that account equally well for what I know aside from the old notion?

If a different idea has equal (or better) explanatory power, then it’s time to set the old idea aside, or at least hold it in a sense in limbo–something neither definitely true nor definitely untrue.

The idea under consideration at the moment is that our beliefs are motivated by a preference–perhaps even a need–in a particular way, and that we live to some extent in wishes and fantasy.

Instead, what I’m wondering is if, in fact, we arrive at our beliefs in rather more honest ways: Either our beliefs are received–transmitted to us by family or culture–or are constructed by us in genuine attempts to make sense of our own experiences.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve also been thinking about chronic anger. My mother was chronically angry–homicidally so. Her mother was also–although not at me. I have had plenty of opportunities to observe and be affected by chronically angry people. So, I have a stake in understanding it.

And Aunty is here, seething still in a pouting, a seven-year-old kind of way.  More opportunity.

I was reading Lerner and Loewenstein’s groundbreaking summary of the research on the effect of emotions on decision-making, and of the findings is that both anger and happiness increase feelings of certainty, and most people think less carefully and more implicitly during those affective states. When we feel anxious or afraid, we are more careful with our thoughts, and this is probably why some people end up ruminating.

What this made me wonder is whether chronic anger–as well as mania–leads to a baseline state of an almost unnatural degree of certainty. And if this feeds–or even gives rise to–a sense of grandiosity.

***

I was writing this post when angry Aunty came in and began to yell about light switches. That was yesterday.

The hot-cold empathy gap and decision-making

Before we begin on more serious matters, I have some observations to make.

Evil.
Evil.

Observation #1: I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning. I am taking this as a good sign. We may soon be able to return to regularly scheduled programming–as in, I might stop boring you all with my in-depth descriptions of jet lag. Let’s see.

Observation #2: WordPress knows where I am and has decided to enforce what I’ve thought of in the past as UK spelling conventions. However, I am not in the UK, so it might be more appropriate for me to think of it as everywhere else spelling. At any rate, I have decided to comply: I have also thrown in capitalization conventions for good measure.

Observation #3: The light switch for the loo has stopped administering electrical shocks to me as punishment for using it. This is by far the most important of the three, as this particular switch has given me a phobia that only in-depth therapy is likely to cure.

Now, continuing on with today’s topic….

The hot-cold empathy gap

I’ve mentioned the hot-cold empathy gap before. The hot-cold empathy gap is a psychological phenomenon taken from behavioural economics in which we fail to appreciate what our decisions are likely to be in other states: specifically, it’s our inability to understand what our thinking is likely to be when we are either more or less psychologically aroused than we are now.

When I’m rested, it’s hard to appreciate how it feels to be exhausted. The reverse is also true. Memory is state-dependent: we remember things best when we are in the same emotional condition as we were when they occurred originally. So, part of the reason we have difficulty understanding how we will feel and think in other states has to do with finding it difficult to remember what it was like being in a different state to begin with. We might know we were angry or tired or having nicotine withdrawals, but that’s not the same thing as remembering what it was like to be in that state.

What is most often said about this gap is that we fail to anticipate the intensity of our feelings during heightened states, but I think it’s more than that. The more significant difference is in our thinking processes, and I think it’s the difference in our thinking that we fail to anticipate.

In cold states, we balance our desires in the present with our plans for the future. At night, I might set my alarm early for some before-work exercise because I have a long-term goal of improving my fitness and overall health. I do know I’ll be sleepy and that the sleepiness will be uncomfortable, but I also know that I’ll get used to the routine in a few days and the overall benefit of better health outweighs the discomfort of a few sleepy mornings. However when I really do wake up the next morning, it’s not just that I’m sleepier than I expected to be, but that the future has shrink in importance.

Hot states don’t plan. The present is their primary concern: our hunger must be satiated, our thirst slaked, our cravings satisfied, and that must be done now. The future be damned. It isn’t just that we lose control, but that our goals change. It’s a problem, and like most other problems, I think there are solutions.

Delay

One of these approaches involves trickery, and it’s one of my favourites. During a particular bad patch some years ago, when I had some especially intense urges to self-harm, I wrapped all the really sharp knives in paper and hid them from myself under some other things under the bed. Because I’m easily hypnotized (that’s part of dissociation), I also told myself that I didn’t know where they were.

It was quite surprising to find them all still there when I packed up my apartment and moved out last week. I had forgotten all about them.

I think one of the difficulties of being a trauma survivor is that, until the trauma is resolved, you spend so much time in hot states, it’s hard to feel like a competent adult capable of planning well for the future. There are several ways trauma takes a toll on your self-esteem, but I think that’s one of them, and delay has been a very helpful strategy for me.

Hiding the knives introduced delay. Of course, there were other ways I could harmed myself if I’d really been intent on it, and I also did know where the knives were. All I had done is make myself wait 30 seconds–either to locate the out-of-reach knives or think of something better. And 30 seconds was all I needed.

Because what is on your side with hot states is time: hot states don’t last forever. If you’re lucky, your hot states may even be very short-lived. Mine usually are. Unfortunately, if you are borderline, you will need to stall longer than the rest of us: your hot states have more staying power. But it’s still a worthwhile approach.

Delay is the wisdom of counting to ten when you’re angry and hitting “save” instead of “send. It’s also the reason my alarm clock has been in the kitchen for the last eight years. If I delay getting back in bed and falling asleep again long enough to walk across my apartment, I may wake up enough to see the wisdom of getting up on time. And usually I do.

There are other ways you can use delay to help you make use of the transience of hot states to improve decision-making. I try never to make major purchasing decisions when I’m standing right in front of the object, because of course if it’s right there I want it. I’m in a hot state. But if I leave the store and do something else for a bit, and I find the purchase still seems like a good idea later, then I know I can go ahead with it.

Not long ago, a friend of mine shared with me that the Persians–back when they had an empire–considered all important decisions while both drunk and sober, in other words, in both hot and cold states. “Sleeping on it” is the same kind of approach. And there’s something to be said for it.

Avoidance

No, the mousse did not look this good. But I have not eaten mousse in years. Time had, indeed, made my heart grow fonder.
No, the mousse did not look this good. But I have not eaten mousse in years. Time had, indeed, made my heart grow fonder.

Avoidance is another possibility, and it’s probably what we are doing unconsciously when we avoid reminders of trauma: we are trying to stave off a hot state. There is such a thing as too much avoidance, but it’s not all a bad thing. On the plane, one of the desserts they gave us with dinner with chocolate mousse. Now, I have some food allergies, and mousse is not on my list of approved fruits. But it was sitting there. And it continued to sit there, and I continued to want it. I finally broke down and ate half of it, but I really didn’t think eating all of it was such a good idea.

And yet it sat there, and I kept wanting it. I could feel myself breaking down, losing sight of the future and its accompanying stomach upset, and becoming consumed by the present and its rich, chocolatey yumminess. At last, I covered it with a piece of foil that had covered the entree. Problem solved. If I can’t see the mousse, I don’t want it. Avoidance has its place.

Parties, Fear, and the Unconscious

partyI’m afraid of parties–a party, evidently, being any gathering of more than three people. It’s a drag, because there are often events I’d like to attend and can’t, because I end up feeling really and truly unwell.

Either I do come down with a virus, or I just feel so achy and in pain that a party is the last thing I feel I can manage. I’ve learned to respond to most invitations with “maybe,” because I never know exactly how things will go down.

There is a sense of deliberateness about this, like someone is making me sick so that I can’t go to parties, and it’s tempting to see myself as deliberately sabotaging my social life for any number of nefarious unconscious reasons.

This is wrong. It’s an error–specifically an error in perspective-taking.

Most errors in perspective-taking are egocentric. We assume others think and behave as we do, even when they don’t. We make the same kinds of egocentric errors with ourselves in states other than what we are currently experiencing as we make in trying to understand people who are simply very different from us. In a calm state, I can’t imagine how I’m likely to behave in a highly emotional state–even if I behave in the same way every time I’m in that state. It’s just too hard to imagine.

There are practical consequences to this. People without drug addictions don’t anticipate how intense a drug-craving will feel once they have them and may not decline the first time one is offered. If we understand that sex might not be in our best interest, we won’t plan on having it–and aren’t prepared for what we’ll decide later in the heat of the moment. We make living wills that lay out preferences for hastening the end of our lives without realizing that, when the end is near, most of us will accept almost any level of pain and disability just to live a few more days.

Those are examples of what is called the hot-cold empathy gap–a inability to see our own perspectives in a different affective state than the current–but this is the same kind of cognitive error I’ve made about parties.

Because my conscious mind–what you might call the “human” mind–makes deliberate, intentional choices, I assume that other parts of my brain function in the same way. But they aren’t. They aren’t considering whether this particular course of action will work out best in this specific situation. They are acting in more instinctive ways that have survived because, over the last 200,000 years or so, those responses kept us alive more often than they killed us.

Falling sick or having a body flashback isn’t something I’ve deliberately chosen to do to deprive myself of a good time. It’s there because, at some point in the past, responding in the way that I am kept my ancestors out of the jaws of large predators and away from other hostile groups.

Cortisol was only intended for short-term use. Side-effects include infection and brain shrinkage.
Cortisol was only intended for short-term use. Side-effects include infection and brain shrinkage.

I fall sick because I feel afraid. Stress releases the hormone cortisol which, among other functions, dampens the immune system. There’s a logic to this: there’s really no need to keep your energy focused on fighting off infections if you’re fighting off a bear that could kill you before you even get a stuffy nose.

Our problem now is that most of the dangers we face aren’t short-lived crises. They aren’t over and done with in a matter of minutes. They are more often circumstances we need to remain in for weeks. And if someone invited me to a party weeks ago, my immune system has been suppressed to one degree or another ever since. It’s not a surprise then, that I often end up with a cold or a flu.

The kinds of body aches I experience are part of memories of torture closely connected in my mind to performance at parties my father arranged to entertain other pedophiles.

One of the other things our brains do on a regular basis is look for similar situations in the past to help us determine the best course of action in the present.

It’s an awesome feature really. If I’m giving an important presentation, it’s wonderful to be able to know–even without conscious consideration–what went well the last time I gave one and what I should try to change. If I’m meeting up with my spouse’s cranky aunt (let’s pretend), I know exactly what to expect because I can effortlessly recall the last visit.

Trauma memories, like fish, need to be cooked and then eaten in pieces.
Trauma memories, like fish, need to be cooked and then eaten in pieces.

But when memories of other parties are traumatic rather than fun, it’s different. Because trauma memories are different than other memories. I think of them as whole fish you have to swallow, instead of something prepared and cut up into bite-sized pieces.

So, instead of the memory of my last presentation, which I can refer back to mainly through some general themes: bring cough-drops for your dry mouth, remember to smile, hold back on the stupid jokes…I’m remembering how much those childhood “parties” hurt–both at the time and afterward–and I’m remembering it in my body, rather than as a thought.

No one’s deliberately making me sick to keep me from having any fun. My brain is just doing what it does. And the real question isn’t, “Why do I do this myself?” But, “What do I do now?”

Keep Calm and…

“Affect influences virtually ever aspect of human functioning: perception, attention, inference, learning, memory, goal choice, physiology, reflexes, self-concept…” George Loewenstein.

We want different things when we are in the grips of a strong emotion than when we are calm. It seems, in fact, that things are different. And the difference isn’t just between being in “hot” (emotional) states and “cold” (calm) states, but between different hot states.

The world looks different, and we are different, when we feel angry than when we feel infatuated. And there is the same degree of difference between being sad and being angry. It makes sense really that borderlines–who are almost always in a hot state of one kind or another–have “identity disturbances.”

One of my earliest life lessons was, “Keep calm.”

Keep-calm-and-carry-onWhen the enemy is the people charged with your care, you need to stay alert. You need to be able to think, and you need to be able to think clearly. You need to keep calm.

Calm gives you the best chance of making decisions that you might actually like later. And one of the first things I really remember working at in a way that I was somewhat conscious was the fine art of delay. If you’re upset, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing. Act only when you are calm. So, as long as you are in deep distress, find ways to do nothing. Walk away from conflicts, distract yourself from the craziness in your head, keep your mouth shut, hit “save” instead of “send.” Delay, because no matter what has happened, it’s almost impossible not to calm down eventually, and I like the results of what I do in a calm state better that might I might choose to do in a hot state. At least, I like it better the next time I’m calm.

Everything is different now. It has been different for a long time, but sometimes change is hard to really take in.

Getting out of an abusive situation is like returning to civilian life. The stakes are suddenly so much lower. A bad decision is unlikely to end up with me dead. I don’t need to stay calm.

I’ve been thinking about that lately. because part of working with the trauma has meant finding even more ways to keep calm, so that I can approach the trauma without becoming overwhelmed–and there was so much I needed to approach, and so much I still do.

But I don’t need to keep calm.