Being a Listening Ear

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.

Writing Lines

I remember writing lines as a punishment at school. It didn’t happen very often, mostly because I got very good at staying within the text of the rules if not the spirit, and by not getting caught on those occasions where I decided I knew better. My counsellor would be among the first to point out that I’ve never met a rule that didn’t make me want to dig my heels in. The flip side as many will agree is that I rarely meet a barrier I don’t want to push against.

What was fascinating to me at school was how the punishment was often subverted by those undergoing it. Sometimes the punishment would be what most would understand by representations in media as varied as The Simpsons and Harry Potter. Most people think of lines as variants on “I will not tell lies”, or “I will not sell bridges to gullible Americans” – repetition as punishment in the hope the message will sink in.

At our school it was often more incentive. We had to check out pages of special blue paper with exactly 25 lines on each side from our House Master. We then had to fill those lines with at least seven words a line, copying from a text. I imagine at least some of you can already see where this went.

The most passive aggressive response to this punishment was to draw out a 7×25 grid on each side and fill those boxes. Sometimes we would just copy a text, other times we would do it in reverse, or vertically. 

For those teachers and prefects who didn’t bother reading the results we got more inventive. There was a fad for putting in random words, and then for making patterns, like writing in a spiral. Then some bright spark noticed that no one ever specified what text had to be copied, so all bets were off. Hedgerows and older siblings’ bedrooms were searched for copies of Penthouse and the like (ah the joys of pre-internet Britain), and stories and articles duly remixed in patterns on the page.

Did the punishments ever stick? What do you think? Lines were designed to waste our time, and were treated with contempt accordingly. Perhaps this explains a bit more about my approach to rules: that they are there to make you at least think for a moment about consequences before you break them good and hard.

It’s all about personal responsibility you see, owning the consequences of what you do and recognising what drives your responses to situations. 

Those line writing exercises may have slid off my back like water from the proverbial duck, but at the same time the reverse of them as a repetitive mental exercise can be a useful tool. 

When I’m thinking over things that have got under my skin and I’ve worked out why I’m letting stupid things irritate me, it can be a useful exercise to set myself some mental lines as a corrective. Instead of telling myself “I will not rewire the physics lab bench supplies”, or “I will not set fire to the bin”, I instead set my own boundaries like: “I will not be an entitled jerk when someone doesn’t message straight back”

What lines should you be writing for yourself?

Idle Musings

My motivation to blog continues to be all over the place, but I’m largely blaming that on being a busy little bee, and in usually being in the middle of something when a blog idea occurs. Alternatively I write something and then donate it to someone else – like the blog article I wrote about a week ago and gave to Lady M for her TWITT blog. 

That means that I’ve been thinking of updates and commentary on a blog post that will be posted next month some time. It started as a random observation along the lines of ‘Things Lady M says’ and turned into a slightly rambling rant about unconscious bias and our inability to spot our own blind spots. I may have been a bit tipsy and in a weird mood at the time. I’ll link to it when it goes live and then we can all laugh about it together.

That, and a chat with Lady G about writing, led me to have a long discussion in my most recent counselling session about not wanting to rely on drinking to cue writing sessions when inspiration is in sparse supply. The stereotype of the alcoholic writer exists largely because of the disinhibition that comes with even a small amount; and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there were occasions where a looming deadline had been met with the aid of a glass of scotch or two. 

On those occasions I found I was winding myself up as a perfectionist and paralysing myself with a fear of even starting. A bit of alcohol helped me not care enough so that I could just make a start. Tidying it up afterwards was simple enough once I had something to edit.

My concern was that this not become a habit or to be under any illusion that it was necessary. I’m all too familiar with how what seems to be an effective tool can become a crippling necessity from my experience with self harm. There were parts of that nightmare that at times felt as much like addiction as a horrendously flawed survival mechanism. I have no desire to revisit them. 

It’s not even as if I need alcohol to come up with ideas, as anyone who’s seen my brainstorming notes on Twitter can testify. The surreal and eye-catching tends to come easily (yay me!), and as one of my oldest friends once remarked: my humour is insidious in how it tends to creep up behind you, tap you on the shoulder, and then summon dread Cthulhu to tapdance in your cerebellum. I have no idea quite what they meant, but it sounds hilariously squamous.

Incidentally, my counsellor agreed I don’t have a drinking problem, problematic drinking, or even a difficult relationship with alcohol. We will no doubt be spending more time on why I feel the need to worry about the possibility and what it says about my self-confidence in continuing to recover. Either that or I’ll engage in sarcastic diversion tactics while she skewers me with painfully direct observations that send me spinning after my own tail. Well, as I said to someone recently: I do appear to be the human incarnation of a labrador at times…