After a more hectic than expected beginning of the week, Lady M and I have taken a leisurely wander to the gym to work out some of the aches and pains with a mixture of exercise and spa pampering.
I usually start with a half hour brisk walk on a treadmill as it gives me time to let my mind wander and eases my sometimes creaking joints into acknowledging that there’s work to be done. I’m finding it gets me into a positive mindset, but also that it lets me switch off a bit.
Today’s thoughts came in general as my gaze occasionally passed over the other people using the space. There’s nothing earthshattering in the thoughts, but I felt it worth acknowledging and recording that:
A) everyone, even the most chiselled and glowing among us, had to start somewhere.
B) most people using the gym are in their own headspaces and couldn’t care less about what I look like
C) it’s easy to see how people can get obsessed with measuring themselves against other people and the weights they use or the machine settings they are on.
D) The only person I’m measuring against is myself and the difference from where I started
Every week in the UK Cosplay Community Facebook group I post a number of themes prompts to get people talking and sharing stories and ideas. Sometimes the most difficult one to do is Mental Health Monday, either because it’s difficult to think of a variety of positive suggestions beyond “what makes you smile?”
As someone who is open about their own ups and down it feels a bit twee to reduce it down to just smiles. Sometimes I ask people about their achievements, or their plans for one objective for the day. Each is responded to with varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on how people are feeling – as it should be.
Today I asked people to show a picture of something that puts a smile on their faces – a simple enough question – and posted my own answer to the question. My post was a picture of me holding a cup of coffee.
I explained that what makes me smile is picking out a mug that someone close to me has given me when I make a drink. When I am then drinking that cuppa, the heat is like I’m holding their hand.
I’ve had a lot of people saying they liked that, and Lady M went a bit dewy eyed too. So I thought I’d share, and ask you to think of what you pick up or touch that lifts your spirit or quirks your lips even just for a moment. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself.
The one thing about being off sick but in that semi-recovery stage is that the brain weasels like to pop out to play. The latest conversation with my GP has basically set me on the path to investigate what they suspect are stomach ulcers, but so that the first set of tests aren’t skewed I need to stop taking the drugs they put me on to stabilise me.
As a result, the worries about the next week are about a repeat of the weekend rather than on looking after everyone else, and the what if scenarios that are mugging for the camera despite my best efforts to remain grounded. In no particular order I could be facing a regime of pills, diet changes (again), or surgery, or the discovery of nastier causes of the blood upto and including cancer (thank you brain for that very unlikely option)
So, I’m focusing on being well enough to at least work remotely the next couple of days before my booked leave, on celebrating Lady M’s birthday next week, and on not letting fireworks freak me out, and generally getting past this year’s unpleasant memory day. Yay for complex PTSD.
So, big lad pants on, focusing on the positive, here we go.
I realised the other day that lockdown put a massive crimp on my routine of trying to walk between 6000-10000 steps a day as a baseline level of exercise. Like many of us at the height of it all I was too worried to really leave the house barring some careful walking around the estate and as a result there is certainly a bit of extra meat on my bones at the moment
Going back to work as a front line library bod certainly underlined how fitness had dropped off as I was shattered at the end of each day at first.
Fortunately my most recent blood checks for managing my diabetes have come back with levels being fine, but between that and having managed to finally heal from whatever I did to the nerves and muscles in my leg over the lockdown, I’ve been doing my best to start back on being more active.
My first big walk was a couple of days ago, and my legs and hips certainly complained about it the next day, but even if its just a small walk round the block to get me out of the flat I’m determined to do it. If nothing else its good for my mental health to get out and feel the wind and hear the outside world. I’m lucky to have a lot of green spaces and the river Thames within walking distance, so I’m doing myself a disservice not to explore them.
With the weather a bit cooler today, its made me realise what about the steady heat blanket of this week has had me struggling a bit.
Essentially the lack of breezes had brought a heaviness that was reminding me of the dissociative parts of my depression. Everything was feeling dull and distant and my head was responding to the familiarity of those sensations.
Being a reasonably smart cookie, I recognised this on a subconscious level at least, because I’ve been making efforts to drag myself outside the flat in search of light and sound, and at least hints of moving air. Being around people, talking online, keeping busy, these have all kept my brain shaken from the old tracks. So thats a good thing, possibly even means I’m learning to look after myself.
That said i didn’t really put it all together until counselling this evening, but then that’s what its there for.
I was just having a post D&D session chat with myr s and Lady B via the wonders of Discord and the topic turned to ways of dealing with the grey blur of days in lockdown.
As I rambled through the sorts of things I’ve been doing, I had a bit of a realisation: that most of the small things I do in the house involve moving little bits around to present vistas. I’ve been rearranging the placement of groups of funko pops, or rearranging books in their shelves, or moving minor pieces of furniture. At first I thought it was just lazy tidying, but there’s something more interesting going on.
One of the things I’ve learned while managing libraries is that displays and notices need to be varied in placement and composition quite regularly. This is because people very quickly get used to them and overlook them. Why? Well apparently its related back to our prehistoric roots where pattern recognition evolved as survival hinged on spotting things out of place that might be a predator.
When we see something new, our attention catches to assess if it is a threat or opportunity, before being relegated to known background while we search for the next anomaly.
During more normal times, going out keeps the brain fed with new stimuli to process and assess, but at home we start to climb the walls because we’ve assessed the normal surroundings as safe and yet that primitive part keeps screaming that we just haven’t spotted the tiger yet.
So, I’m in a process of keeping my living space and activities in flux to satisfy my brain’s inherent paranoia. It seems to work, and probably explains why I find data cleansing both easy and a high stress activity.
There’s probably a good debate to be had there that its not so much a matter of a low boredom threshold as ongoing hypervigilance on my part, because reasons.
My counsellor is the first to tell me that I have a tendency to want to help people and put their problems above my own – and she usually says so when I’ve spent a long time talking about my concerns about a friend, or someone I work with. So this extended period of lockdown and general stress has been an exercise in closely managing my own mental reserves so that I stay boundaried in the sense of maintaining my own safety while still being present for people.
Its not easy. It can be quite seductive a call to throw grand dramatic gestures. Everyone wants to be a hero after all, but keeping the slow and steady drip of checking in on people – listening when they do or do not respond, or sending the odd off-colour joke without expecting a reply – seems to be a middle ground that is allowing me to not over extend myself or to feel that I’m abandoning people.
Its hard when there’s that little voice wanting to leap down the phone and hug someone who is clearly in distress, but that little voice doesn’t take into account other people’s wants, needs, or support networks – that’s where it becomes unhealthy in trying to impose itself.
That’s the point where it becomes about me, not about them.
I am glad to bale to report that I amvery lucky with the support networks that I do have, and with the friends that can and do ping in and out of sight on various platforms. I’m doing my best to be a reliable generally positive part of their networks, rather than a burden on their time or the cause of a heavy sigh.
So, silly memes and reimaginings of scenes with disney characters, songs and daft videos – all of these and more will continue to flow as distractions. I might even get some work done in between them all too.
My workplace is taking the general mental health of its employees seriously enough to be rolling out information and training in resiliency and self awareness, and making sure people know that support is available. I’m glad to see it, and even more so to have my staff acknowledge that they’ve found some of it useful, or at least thought-provoking.
My own use of the tools is somewhat undercut by the experience of being in long-term counselling for some nineteen years or so, and doing many of the practices already as part of my self-care discipline. It would be easy therefore to allow a degree of jaded thought if not for remembering that many people are encountering these concepts for the first time and that my journey does not invalidate the courses, the assessments, or the information in any way.
It would be easy to scoff and roll my eyes at the results telling me that I have negative thoughts and high levels of stress – because it’s not telling me anything that I’m not already aware of – but the tools and challenges suggested are ones that colleagues are finding useful.
I know I have negative thoughts and impulses because I challenge and fight them every morning, afternoon, and evening and do my best to not be defined or controlled by them. The thing is, I don’t really know how many others around me fight them too: Not unless they tell me by word or deed. So that’s why I’m so glad for the new focus at work. It’s more chipping away at the stigma.
I probably spend far too much playing around with the silly filters on social media – mostly as we send updates to each other to put a smile on each others faces.
What I find interesting is to see how much fun I can have to produce the more unusual poses rather than just the stereotypical straight to camera glares. It appeals to me on an aesthetic level, and can be a fun way of practicing for the cosplay photos.
While that may seem of limited use – it a) is something that makes me happy and b) means I have more confidence when more official photos are taken. I recently had a shot taken at a work event to go on an ID card, and was able to pose enough within the limits that I actually appear to be full of life rather than sapped of the will to live.
Being able to have confidence in my own appearance is a relatively new development. My weight gains due to disordered eating while depressed were huge – at one point I weighed over twenty-one stone (135kg) which played no small part in my developing type two diabetes. I came to loathe images of me, especially when I compared them to the slim and athletic appearance I had when I was younger.
It has only really been the last couple of years since I’ve started cosplaying that I’ve begun to be comfortable with having my photo taken. Dressing up and putting myself in the hands of photographers keen to help me make the best images has both boosted my confidence and given me practical guidance in how to hold myself in healthier and more flattering ways – and to stop caring about looking silly along the way.
Discarding the voice that cares and frets about not looking ridiculous has been a freeing experience and helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. It has helped me in my own journeys to know myself, and it has helped reduce my retention of stress.
And that’s why I love playing the Fool for selfies. I can let go, laugh at myself and with others. I can welcome the silliness and feel both childlike and more adult in my appreciation of using my body with at least a little less shame.
I should warn you, there’s a bit of navel gazing in this post, and I’m not sure where it’s going other than its partially inspired by recent conversations and a (very NSFW) blog by my girlfriend, Lady S.
Lady M recently commented that I was quite a dominant and commanding personality while I was venting about how the term “alpha male” irritates me. It’s generally used to excuse boorish and aggressive behaviour. It’s something of a pet peeve, especially when attached to a blokey set of micro and not-so-micro aggressions in social environments.
Lady M smiled and said it was likely because, being how I am, I push back at anyone assuming an authority over me. That’s as much a reaction to the institutions I grew up in and past trauma as anything else.
In my usual way of drawing threads together, this observation matched and complemented one by Lady S, who has said that she perceives my being a Dom as about who I am rather than it being something I do.
I’ve certainly remarked in therapy over the years that there does seem to be a pattern of my taking charge in situations, or of having people seem to look to me for advice. Maybe that’s just because I’m not afraid to make decisions and make things up as I go along: I’m a great believer in following my gut instincts in snap decisions.
So perhaps it isn’t so surprising to find that being a Dom to Lady S is something that has come quite easily as we’ve talked and explored boundaries and expectations. It’s an interesting journey that I hadn’t expected, but is proving intriguing and a huge boost for my self confidence. Perhaps all that examination of my shadow side in therapy has been more productive than anticipated.