Change Happens, and it’s not a bad thing.

It does, change happens. There’s a lot of it happening this year, some of it good and some of it not so good. I’m getting a lot of questions from various quarters asking if I’m ok at the moment, questioning me about being stressed and whether I can cope with the changes that are happening. Yes is the short answer. In fact I’m not actually that stressed believe it or not, even though some changes are a bit dramatic and some things happening really aren’t ok. Despite all the changes and drama I’m actually happier than I’ve been in a very long time. Which given what’s going on right now appears a little peculiar to some (although not those who are in on the reason why) but there we go, that’s me all over really.

There are things changing at work, lots of huge changes. Relocation and restructure are two words that will make anyone who’s worked in large organisations cringe. I’ve been through this in previous jobs so it’s not much fun watching it happen all over again. I walked away last time, so staying is a new experience for me. In addition L has started school, new work and access schedules have therefore kicked in and there are developments (I think) in an area of my life that has been gathering cobwebs. Lots of changes happening.

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What is it about change that we don’t like? And why is it odd that I quite like it? This is the longest I have lived anywhere since I left home at the age of 18. The longest I have ever been at one address since I moved out of home is this one, I’ve been here almost 4 years. In the 22 years since I left home I’ve lived at 14 different addresses. I know I have my own place here and I’ve put down roots, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have itchy feet. Not moving for a while is kind of weird, so moving offices at work is kind of nice to be honest, despite the irritations it throws up, it’s settling the itchy feet syndrome, because fundamentally I’m quite happy to stay up here, I love living here. Some of the people I’ve met from here are pretty good too.

Change is disconcerting, it provides the potential for threats, for a loss of security, a loss of resources etc, things evolutionary psychologists would explain better than me. Cognitively it’s all about cognitive dissonance. We face a conflict between what we already know and a place we need to get to, this means a conflict in views, attitudes, perceptions, etc. We like harmony and will do whatever we can to achieve it. Change creates cognitive dissonance and this creates emotional discomfort and disharmony, which is very uncomfortable for us. We resolve this in various ways, either by changing our attitudes, our perception of the situation or removing ourselves from the situation. But we have to resolve it somehow or we become incredibly uncomfortable and stressed.

change-process

Change isn’t always disharmonious though, sometimes change is a good thing – especially for some of the situations I’ve found myself in. I’ve run towards changes to get out of those situations, in fact that’s how I found myself here. You can only run for so long though, one day you have to stop running away and start facing up to things, if only to process them and move forwards properly.

I’m teaching emotion to some of my students at the moment, and the physiological mechanisms are very similar to stress – the difference is mostly just the cognitive interpretation of events that are happening.  If we can attribute emotional code to our physiological response we don’t then code it as stress. Yes emotions can be stressful, but we still have a label and a reason for the stress, and this focus is easier to deal with than generalised stress which we can’t attribute a cause to. There is physiological arousal due to emotions, and yes in the past this has caused me to implode a little – emotions can be overwhelming when they happen all at once. There were reasons for this, the barriers I had which I put in place to prevent myself engaging with my emotions. There’s a big difference now, and that’s the absence of the barriers I used to have in place. They’re not there anymore.

I have kept everyone at arm’s length for as long as I can remember, I’ve put up walls and pushed down my emotions, particularly over the past 10 years. For most of my 30’s I didn’t really let anyone get close, a few managed to get through the barriers, but not many. Most got fed up with not having feedback/validation/responses etc. I can imagine it’s really quite disheartening and upsetting trying to connect with someone who is keeping you at a distance emotionally. I did try, and I’m sorry to those people who tried and I pushed away. But my attempts to connect backfired on more than one occasion, so I sort of gave up, it was self-preservation and they didn’t care enough to stick around. I got tired of getting hurt and I got tired of trying to connect with people who just leave. The past 4 years I’ve let precisely nobody get close to me. So many people have left, barriers kept me safe.

But, pushing down your emotions means that when they surface it’s overwhelming, and there have been times when I’ve not coped well with that at all. Hence the concern now, things appear stressful so there is a concern that history will repeat itself. It won’t. No really, it won’t.

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Recently my barriers appear to have been pretty much dissolved. This is because of a single individual. I don’t know what magic trick he’s performed, and I’m still processing it all. He’ll have no idea he’s done this either. He’s not a new feature in my life, but something has changed, and I’ve stopped being defensive (although still very capable of saying stupid things, I’m still me after all). I’m not sure where this is heading, but he’s achieved what nobody else has achieved and for that he’ll always be pretty special.

But this now means that emotions are much more accessible and visible, all the time. It was a bit distracting and confusing for a while, given I’ve not had their constant presence for so long, but I’m getting used to it rapidly. This means that there won’t be moments where I’m overwhelmed now, because that can only happen when things escalate suddenly. Being in a constant state whereby emotions are present is far more normal, and means I’m not overwhelmed when they intensify, and I’ll respond ‘better than expected’ in some situations. This is a positive thing. Very positive.

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It’s probably extra confusing that I’m speaking my mind and actually saying what I think now, which used to only come out during ‘drama’ moments. I’ve always kept the peace, gone along with what others want and generally not rocked the boat. I don’t follow the herd, but I don’t tend to mind what decisions are made as long as everyone is happy. It’s like when someone asks you where you want to go for dinner. I genuinely don’t care. As a fussy vegetarian who used to have an eating disorder food is not all that high up my priority list. I’m absolutely not going out for dinner to eat food, I’m going out to spend time with whoever I’m going to dinner with. I’m more than happy with a bag of chips on the seafront, in fact frankly I’d prefer that over somewhere I’ve got to dress up. It doesn’t matter what I eat, my priority is spending time with people I care about. It’s a different angle I guess. For the most part I would far rather there was harmony in my environment, there have just been too many arguments in my life and I bloody hate conflict – it’s upsetting, I cry at the news, never mind visible conflict in my environment.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve spent this year frankly trying to sort my head out, because I was lacking in confidence (impostor syndrome was a permanent feature of my life) and could not match how others saw me with who I saw in the mirror. I don’t know whether it was writing this blog, writing a diary (because there is no way I’m ever putting all my thoughts on this blog!), making peace with my past, or simply hitting the milestone of being 40. Whatever has happened, it’s all combined with the end result of me no longer being bothered if people are offended by what I say. I’m a good person, my intentions are always positive, and I never, ever intend to hurt or upset anyone. I’m not perfect by a long shot, and I don’t always get it right, but neither does anyone else. I’m only ever going to try and do my best and help everyone I can. That’s just me. If people can’t see that and misinterpret my intentions then so what? There is no reason I should care about this. What other people think of me is no longer my concern for the most part (there are always exceptions, I’ll get on to that later).

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So this combination of barriers coming down and me getting the confidence to say what I think is bringing back the person I used to be before some of the crap in my life happened. It’s just this person I used to be is not someone most people round here know. She’s nice though, I promise, she earned the nickname ‘Tigger’ and looked after her drunken friends throughout university after all, she’s an ok person.

For the most part I don’t care what others think of me now. I do care what some people think of me though, these are the people I care about, the people that matter to me, the people who’s opinions I respect, the people who I want to think well of me. These people have all, in their own ways, shown me their opinion of me, and frankly that means far more to me than any other views. I know I have earned the respect of some, and I know these people like me. Connections are always a trade-off, and I’ll take quality over quantity every time.

So I’m ok, really ok, more so than I have been in a very long time. Just look at my face if you want to know how I’m feeling, I’m rubbish at hiding my emotions when they’re actually functioning properly, I’ve got a very expressive face. If my face lights up then I’m probably pleased to see you, if I frown then I’m probably unhappy about something, and if I snap at you or get cross then I’m probably just pissed off.

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I’m not stressed, despite what I’ve said to some, I’m just not, so please stop asking. The things happening are either normalised, not important, or good. I’m happier and more optimistic than I’ve been in a very long time. There is nothing wrong with displaying emotions, it’s entirely normal, and it’s definitely healthier cognitively than suppressing them. I’ve stumbled across hope for the future, optimism is now a genuine thing in my life and I’ve missed that, I’m not about to give it up just yet. So I will not be putting up the barriers again, get used to it. It’s a little scary in one particular situation, but I’m ok with that. I’m me again, I’m really glad I’ve got to this place again and finally turned the page on all the crap I’ve been through. No, I don’t care if you don’t like the real me. I do.

 

Vx

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