Quarantine and Neglect: How Isolating can Bring up Old Feelings of Neglect

I’m quarantining now and it’s been a week or so since I’ve started. It’s the first time I’ve had to since the pandemic began and it’s not easy or pleasant, that’s for sure. I’m catching up here on NLL a bit. Doing some research and looking into tutorials which is nice, productive. But there’s another aspect to quarantining that has me feeling a bit off. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. But the more I sat with the feelings the more they reminded me of growing up in my childhood home. What I was experiencing was the remanence of my feelings of neglect.

We already know some of the downsides to quarantining are being disconnected from family and friends. But I had no Idea what I was going to experience when I shut the door and the world out for seven days. The feelings first came on as a bit of boredom. I currently live with two others, so I only leave my room for a few things. But isolating in a twenty by twenty foot room with very little in the way of social interaction is trying on me emotionally.

At first I thought, “this isn’t so bad, people have it much worse than I do.” But the more I have time to think about my situation and feel my emotions, the clearer it feels. That I’m reliving the neglected parts of my past where I wouldn’t see my caregivers for what felt like days.

Just me sitting in front of the T.V. by myself, watching another episode of the Simpsons. Except when I would occasionally go into the kitchen to try to find something to eat that wasn’t soda or cerrial. The same friend of mine that coined the frase, “I’m here, I care”, also said that they were raised by the Simpsons. And with them being on for close to four hours a day, I definitely spent more of my time with that family than I did with my own.

I understand the sacrifices my caregivers had to make in order to provide for me. It wasn’t always easy for us when I was growing up. But I feel as though they could have struck a balance between working and spending time with the family. Subsequently there are few moments I can reflect on that feel like quality family time.

Instead it felt like I was walking around my house feeling like a ghost. Empty. Which brings me back to quarantining for the past week. There is that same ghost like quality to sitting in my room alone. Feeling the emptiness of years past weighing down on me. As I said above, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t have the same routines to fall back on. Usually I drink a few cups of herbal tea with honey before I go to bed. I also talk to the people I live with over dinner. Instead I eat my meals in my room in solitary with only water and a lemonade.

The dishes pile up on my shelf because I don’t want to make too many trips to shared common areas for fear of infecting someone if I have gotten the virus. It reminded me of the ways I used to live. Some of my apartments as I’ve mentioned before were manifestations of the ways I learned to neglect myself. So isolating for a few days is bringing those feelings of neglect right back, front and center.

Feeling and being alone, posible being sick and living in questionable surroundings is for all the reasons I’ve started above, like feeling and being neglected. Reliving some of these emotions is draining and I imagine I’m not alone in noticing this. With more and more people quarantining it would only make sense that this type of isolation would bring back some painful memories of past experiences.

We work so hard to create comfortable lives. Filled with people, activities and rituals that when we lose it all so swiftly, what we could be left with is old feelings of painful neglect. But it’s not as bleak as it seems.

There are definitely resources I’m able to draw on to help me through some of the more difficult times here while alone. And to remind myself that I’m in the here and now, not in the past anymore. Because it’s so easy to get swept up into reliving the past when old feelings come tumbling in. Remember that the lives we’re building aren’t gone. We just need to access them maybe in different ways.

Some of the ways I keep myself company are obvious ones. I reach out to friends via text or IM. Catching up with old friends and being support for them makes me feel more connected. Sharing thoughts and memories that keep me company during the times I feel most stressed and isolated is comforting.

Also making plans to go visit them when we’re able to travel again gives me something to look forward to. I haven’t seen these friends in a very long time so seeing how they’ve changed over the years while rehashing some old stories sounds like a great way to reconnect.

The friends I’m talking about live on the west coast. I’ve known them since I was in grade school and high school when we lived in the same city. I’ve also only recently reconnected with them finding I have more time on my hands and less to do thanks to Covid. I’m happy I did because like I’ve said above, they’ve become a source of emotional support. So if you’ve always wondered how an old friend of yours is doing, maybe you lost touch after high school when you both went your separate ways to different colleges. Don’t be held back from reaching out because you feel things are too different now. Send that text, message or email. You’ll probably be surprised with how welcoming they are. I know I was and I’m happier for it.

Another resource I’ve come to rediscover in a new way is doing yoga. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with my practice in the area I have. I usually exercise in a separate room where there’s plenty of space to flow through my vinyasas. But the useable space in my room is just enough to walk through to strategic places. I.e. the wardrobe, hampers and bedside.

They are already cramped quarters and I didn’t think I’d be able to fully extend into my warrior IIs. But after moving some stuff around I find that I have just enough room to do my practice in.

I also shifted the time I practice to early in the evening when the sun is going down. I light a few candles and find that my space is cosier than the room I usually work out in. It reminds me of one of the first studios I started my practice in. There isn’t as much room, but with the sun setting and the ambient lighting from the candles, and all the pieces in my room that come together to give shape to my personality, it feels as though I am in a more intimate version of the studio where I first learned to love yoga. It is more me in every way and definitely feel less isolated.

If you’ve been thinking of starting a workout routine but can’t find the time, now maybe the best opportunity to get into a healthier habit. The reason I like yoga so much is because you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. A mat, maybe some videos and time. Yoga with Adriene has a wide selection of different length videos to choose from. So if you only have the time or energy for twenty minutes of yoga, she’s got your back.

Another resource I’m able to cultivate is reading. I never used to read that much. I picked up reading as a hobie in my early twenties. Even then I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. It felt as though it were taking up too much of my time. I’m not sure from what because I mostly played video games and consumed a lot of television.

When I did read I mostly read nonfiction. But reading only one subject matter for any length of time is a good way to burn yourself out. Lately I’m keeping a few different genres of books around for some variety. I have one science fiction, one on sustainable living and another I just put on hold at the library for houseplants that purify and cleanse the air in your home.

My old reading habits were one book at a time. And I had to finish that one before I started another regardless of whether or not I liked it. It felt more like work actually. But now I try to read twenty minutes before I go to bed. And if I don’t feel like reading the book I read last night, that’s okay. I just pick up another. Or if I don’t feel like reading, that’s fine too. But knowing I have that twenty minutes before bed set aside for that purpose makes me feel a little better about my reading habits. Like I’m cultivating something that will make me a little healthier. And it feels good.

Do you have a Goodreads account? If so, it may be fun to revisit some of the books you put on your shelf to look into for later. That’s where I found the book on houseplants I ordered from the library. And if you haven’t checked out your local library in a while, it may be worth the endeavour. There are loads of resources there and they are all free as long as you have a library card. They’ll even deliver materials from other libraries that are in your network. So if you can’t find what you’re looking for at your local library, chances are one in your network will have it.

NLL has been a huge resource for me as well. I’ve set a word limit and some R&D time and goals for the week or day. I don’t always meet them, but it’s good to connect with my creativity and explore some of my emotional spaces through writing. Also I keep a bullet journal as I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

Writing is a passion of mine. But if it wasn’t writing I’d be pursuing some other creative outlet. Cooking or maybe looking into brewing beer again comes to mind. Being alone is the perfect time to pick up a hobie that you may have started a few years ago. Or maybe there’s something that you’ve always wanted to start but can’t find the time.

A friend of mine is watch youtube videos on woodworking. The same friend who helped me build the shelves that I spoke about in my post on, building shelves building community. He’s finding people who are doing creative and interesting projects that are in line with his shared interests in woodworking. The Bourbon Moth is one of the finds he told me about. They’re a company that makes furniture using reclaimed pieces of wood. They also have loads of YouTube videos on diy woodworking projects.

If woodworking’s not your thing, maybe you’re into a sport or knitting. There are so many people out there sharing their passions on YouTube or by blogging and podcasting, that there is no shortage of ways to connect with others about what you’re into. All you need to do is get out there and look around a bit. Who knows what you’ll discover. And don’t forget to let those you care about know along the way. You may just learn something new about an old friend or family member.

Another way I’m taking care of myself is by attending to my need for some variety in my diet. Before I went into quarantine, I went to the grocery store to stock up on some supplies. Snack foods I could keep in my room that I knew would lift my spirits while I was pacing around the tiny square footage of my bedroom.

I knew I wasn’t going to be spending the time in my kitchen that I normally do, cooking meals for the week and going food shopping. So having a few healthy snacks that I could munch on during the day in between either leftovers from the fridge or takeout is something I look forward to. Knowing that I’m looking out for myself and taking care of those small needs is gratifying and comforting. It’s like knowing I’m here for myself when things get tough.

If you’ve read my post on sorting your music collection, you’ll know that I’m weeding out some of my music library as well. I’ve also started a new playlist of songs to look into, that I’ve heard while at work or out and around. I’ll play it on shuffle when I’m doing a task and if I hear a song I like, I listen to the album to see if it’s a keeper.

I noticed that I play the same few albums over and over again on repeat. And it’s not that I don’t like those songs, but after a while I need a little variety with what I’m listening to. Doing the same things, whatever they are, over and over again is mentally draining. This way I’m mixing things up in my daily routine musically and discovering new songs I like at the same time. I’m also thinking less about the past as well.

It’s strange how music has the ability to bring us back to times and places in our lives. I know for me I avoided a lot of the music I used to listen to. I’m not hitched to the old songs as I once was when they come up. I know that they’re there, but I don’t fear them popping up as much as I used to. Because I’m building a more positive connection with the tracks I’m listening to now. Associating them with a brighter outlook and a more positive times and places.

Another aspect of my life I’m tending to is taking care of my house plants. I have a moderate collection of plants I’ve collected over the years. I have them on a schedule for watering and feeding, but asides from the basics I haven’t put a lot of effort into their maintenance. Lately I’ve been doing some research on them. What their ideal environments are, what’s the difference between low light and medium light needs? Ways to get more moisture to plants that like high humidity.

I’m currently trying to bring a crispy wave birds nest fern back to life. It isn’t quite the right time of year for it’s growing season, but I’ve put a plan in place to bring it the love it needs when it wakes up. For example I was watering the center of the plant before, which is where the new frond growth happens. A little research said that this is a good way to stop new fronds from coming up. So I’ve started watering around the sides.

It’s a nice feeling attuning to my plants needs. Searching out new ways to care for them while adjusting my care routine to reflect these new habits I’m trying to develop. Because that’s what I’m also doing for myself really. I know I need food, but I don’t want just any food. I want something nutritious but also something I’ll enjoy. Same with music and reading. I enjoy these things and want to cultivate positive experiences around them while discovering new favorites. There’s so much out there to discover and experience, but we won’t find what we’re looking for if we’re focused on how alone we feel.

Those are the current ways I am attending to my needs while isolated in quarantine. The stress of isolation is still here, that doesn’t go away. But knowing that I’m connected to my larger support group, and caring for my own needs is a huge resource. The old feelings of neglect still pop up once and awhile, but they are surrounded by so much more support then they ever have been before that they aren’t as pressing or encompassing, intense as they once were.

The loneliness isn’t so lonely knowing I can reach out to people. The boredom isn’t so heavy knowing that I’m pursuing interests and hobbies. Life feels a little more full. Like I’m more me. As Tara Brach put it, “it’s survival of the nurtured, not the fittest.” And while I’m attending to my fitness levels, I’m thriving because I’m nurturing the parts of my life that used to lay neglected. First by others, then by myself.

It took a lot of work to get to the place where I can feel this nurtured. But it’s not impossible and it gets easier with help. It may seem bleak for the moment, but remember that this too shall pass. And a little bit of self nurturing can go a long way. So be kind to yourself. Pick up that hobie that you’ve always been interested in. Reach out to that friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Go through your libraries and rediscover some old favorites or find some new ones. Whatever it is, do it with kindness and you will be nurturing yourself. Until next time, peace and thanks for reading 🙂

Image Credits: “empty room” by tozzer577 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Ghosts in Our Pockets: How Sorting Through Your Music Collection May Help to Lay Some Spirits to Rest

As I’ve mentioned the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some early spring cleaning. I started with my clothes, then moved into the kitchen and my pantry. Both places were filled with loads of neglected feelings, so when I shifted my focus to my music collection, I sort of knew what to expect.

It started when I was looking at my playlists. Thinking I needed to change things up a bit, I was looking for something to listen to when I came across the number of liked songs I have, and when I realized the number was close to 8,000 songs I kinda freaked out a little. I had literally thousands of songs at my fingertips and I couldn’t find anything to listen too!? This was a staggering revelation for me.

So I decided to listen to the songs I have saved and maybe cut back some, use better discretion instead of liking songs all willy nilly. This seems like an unreasonable feat to achieve, but the idea of having a manageable music library was appealing so I began my journey, sorting through my massive music collection.

I was pretty excited at first and things were going smoothly. In the first four or five days I sorted through maybe a thousand songs. Most of which were whole albums I saved under the assumption that I would revisit them at a later date, to explore new music and have a broader selection to choose from. But instead, they lay in my library waiting for the day to come around when I’ll suddenly remember that song I heard at work three years ago while busy doing some other task and thought, “hmm, this is nice, I’ll listen to the album later.”

Sadly, those days are few and far between. But the more I listened to the songs, the more I started to remember the times and places, when and where I was when I first heard them. I’ve since begun organizing tracks into different playlists corresponding with different moods and times in my life. So if I’m feeling nostalgic for my early twenties, I have a playlist to keep me company.

I suppose what I was most worried about was coming across a song or an album that would trigger some feelings of anxiety or brush up against some traumatic experiences I’ve been through in my own personal musical history. After all, the main way I learned to relate to my emotions was through music. I know I’m not alone in this and that’s one of the reasons why music is in the very fabric of most, if not all cultures. Music is important.

I guess this is why I thought I’d find it to be an emotionally draining task. I’m still in the midst of the sorting process, I’m down to about 4,500 songs, but the more I sort them, the better I feel about the music I’m listening to. It feels a little more intimate knowing that instead of blindly liking whole albums because I heard a song I liked once, that when I open my library I’m instead greeted by carefully selected songs and albums that reminds me of a time and place, or a mood I’m in.

And I’m finding that my musical taste is changing. It’s a living, breathing part of me and still a dimension of how I relate to my emotions. I may have traded the gritty New York rap for some singer-songwriter folk, but the feelings and how I relate to them are similar.

Even some of the songs and albums I listened to when I was dealing with the worst of my emotional neglect and self-abandonment didn’t bring up the same feelings of fear and anxiety that I thought they would. I don’t listen to them as often as I had, and that may be a large part of why. I’m not constantly reinforcing the negative messages the songs and albums were conveying on repeat as I once had. But they helped me to get through a time and place in my life when I felt submerged in them. And there’s something cathartic about being in the primal feelings while they’re happening, and knowing that someone else has been there too. Maybe that’s part of the process of moving through the feelings, listening to someone guide you through their experience of it.

There’s also an aspect of feeling lighter after having sorting through the music and their corresponding feelings. As though my music collection isn’t loaded and waiting for me to haplessly fall into a dark crevasse, never to be seen again.

But there are also times where I feel I may be going too fast. As though I’m sorting and discarding songs for the sake of throwing things away. And it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of, “out with the old and in with the new”, especially if, like me, you’ve been living in the past through your music collection. But as I mentioned above, sometimes it’s nice to revisit those memories that were joyful, and remembering a time and place through music can be a soothing way of doing that. As Marley said, “one good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.”

When this feeling comes on, the worry about losing a large portion of my emotional language, I know it’s time to slow down a little. After all, I’m looking to bring a sense of ease to and around my music library, not more stress. Another reason for not rushing this process is it took me a life’s time worth of listening and experiences to accumulate this collection. To think I can sort through it with any degree of sensitivity to my emotional needs in a short period of time seems unreasonable and insensitive.

And now I’m looking forward to the songs and artists I’ll discover. I’ve started a playlist, “Music to Look into” where I put songs I hear when at work or out somewhere. This way instead of liking an entire album, not remembering which song I liked and then burying it in my music library, never to be seen again, I have the one song I liked in a playlist that I can revisit and decide if I want to explore the artist or album some more.

We listen to music because we enjoy it. If we leave our libraries unattended, we may be avoiding some of the emotional energy we have tied up in the songs of our pasts. If you’re finding yourself in a musical rut, it may be time to go through your own library. Freeing up some space may give you the room to expand your appreciation of what you already have and what may be waiting for you to find. Peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “CFBX Music Library” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have one. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land that job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body or to even know what my emotions Were. Also that I was the one in charge not my emotions. My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle is… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of traumas. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, states of being such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a real source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it is, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

So how do we begin to recognize our critic? And possibly even more importantly, what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with them? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself. I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up :]

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0