Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wallow the Leader

Before I can work through any exploration of my role at Circles and whether I can still own a business and host a community, I have to come to terms with my current reality. In my training to be a therapist, Jim Grant called this “Acceptive Empowerment.” It’s akin to realizing that you can’t plot a useful map to Alaska from New York if you insist on believing that you’re in Tahiti. Tahiti may be a nice place to be, but if you’re not really there, the map you create won’t get you to Alaska. The journey will likely be frustrating and self-defeating.

So, where am I? These days, I’m mostly at home. I'm afraid to go out. I’m having a hard time focusing on anything. Since August, I’ve gotten very little accomplished for Circles. Working with my staff, I did manage to set it up so that the business is self-sustaining, though not making money for me and not growing. We analyzed our sales over the past three years and established store hours, a staff schedule, an inventory purchasing system and cash flow management scheme that allows the business to pay its bills with the lowest known volume of sales. While this doesn’t create excitement or a sense of bounty, it relieves a lot of stress about the shop’s stability and assures that business can continue while I back off for a while. Thank heavens for a crew of loyal and reliable staff - Jennifer, Judy and Hannah with backup from Bridgid and Martha.

In slowing down, I’m facing a maelstrom of thoughts generated by emotions. Thoughts can drive you crazy unless you get some perspective. It has taken a while to climb high enough above the thoughts to identify the emotions. Anger. Fear. Confusion. Exhaustion. Sadness. Despair. Loneliness? The question mark is there because while I feel lonely in facing my condition, I also feel surrounded by support. My staff is taking care of the store, the Circles community has not abandoned the ship, and my ex is providing for me. I am being given all the room that I need to attend to my needs. While there is a bit of financial pressure to contribute at home, the only real pressure for me to figure out how to manage my life better is internal.

Getting emotional perspective on the thoughts that plague me is one step along the path of healing and reconciliation (with life.) Still emotions can drive you crazy, too, unless you climb a little higher and get a perspective on them.

Generally, I have a deep abiding faith in the universe. I can’t say that this is a religious faith. I have somehow always had a sense that everything is as it should be and I will make my way. I’ve been able to draw on this inner strength for my entire life. It helps me detach enough from my emotional state to self-reflect and adjust course. Right now, I’m not able to get there. As I try to think about moving Circles along or what else I might do with myself, I can’t get out of the muck of my emotional quagmire. In a moment of Acceptive Empowerment, I need to admit that I’m traumatized.

While I said that I didn’t want violin music, I must also admit to feeling sorry for myself. I resent being sick. I resent being disabled. I resent being dependent. I resent being weak. I resent being vulnerable. I resent my feelings of worthlessness. I resent my feelings of failure. I’m feeling whiny. I’d like to have a good old-fashioned temper tantrum. “Waaahhhh, why me?” “Waaahhh, when does life give me a break?” “Waaahhh, this isn’t FAIR!”

Life isn’t "fair". I know this. Afflictions are often random. (Well, unless you're a Buddhist, which I have some appreciation for.) Temper tantrum or not, I’m not 2. Telling myself this doesn’t stop the flow of emotions, though. I’m not able to get myself to “get over it and figure out what you need to do!” Try as I might, it’s not happening. What do I need to do to move myself through this layer of fog and get a little higher up the mountain of self-reflection? Maybe I need to dive deeper into the pool of self-reflection. I've always found climbing to be easier than diving.

So, why write about all of this here? Clearly my state of being is crippling my ability to lead a business, host a community or even knit creatively. Everything is stagnant. Some leader. Do all leaders have these moments?

Hmmm. Stagnant. Diving in would stir up the waters. Ugh.

Oh, I did finish a sweater recently. (I’ll try to get a photo of it, but the new computer is not compatible with the old camera, so I have a technical challenge.) And I did design a hat for Southwest Trading. So maybe I'm not creatively dead.

Friday, December 01, 2006


The post title "Offerings" has been on my mind for quite a while. Whenever I sit down to type, though, nothing comes out. Which was exactly why this topic is on my mind. I seem to have nothing to offer. This is not a “woe is me” kind of post. It is a self-assessment and expression of my inner experiences. I seek catharsis, not violin music.

In October, I had a conversation with a friend about why I have a blog. I hadn’t really articulated it before. When she asked, I clumsily spit out some thoughts on the matter. The heart of it is this: I don’t seek a readership or to promote my business. Still, I don’t keep a private journal, because if my experiences and my convoluted processes can be of service to even one other person, then it is worth making it available. It is one small offering I can make. For me, living a meaningful life means making offerings.

Even after that conversation, however, I wasn’t able to write. I haven’t been able to do much of anything since my diagnosis in July. I don’t want this blog to become about the details of my health. So, here is a brief update:- I have done the first 3 months of chelation. I don’t feel better. In fact, some symptoms are intensifying. The latest test results showed a decrease in two metals, but a new metal showed up: arsenic. (There is an explanation for this, but I won’t go into it here.) The last appointment with the doc left me despairing. He offered no hope that any of my symptoms would reverse, even if we get all the metals out, and no ideas of how to pro-actively work toward recovery. I am now permanently on an anti-inflammatory that can keep some of the worst symptoms at bay if I pace myself and don’t stress my neurological system. Right now, that means 4 hours a day of physical exertion and/or people interaction.

When you have a 7 year old child and a business, how do you limit yourself to 4 hours a day? I haven’t figured that one out yet. By the end of each day, I’m an ear-ringing, head-throbbing, neck aching, limb burning, hand-tremor-ing, foggy mess trying to service customers and gently guide my child through her early years.

None of it is going well. Two weeks ago my daughter sat next to me and gently said, “I don’t want my mommy to get any sicker than she is.” She’s clearly feeling cheated out of a quality mommy experience.

The day before Thanksgiving, I received a scathing indictment of my character from an anonymous “customer” who claims to represent a group of Circles’ customers. In summary, it said, “Circles would be a good idea if you weren’t there.” The list of grievances were that I am an impatient teacher, I dominate conversations, I am self-absorbed, speak inappropriately about customers and am judgmental. I got the message that this person would not be offering any thanks for my presence in the world the next day. (Funny thing is, I'm not there much right now. It's an odd time to complain about me.)

Anyway, I’m sure that a self-improvement class or two would whip me right into shape.

I know better than to take an anonymous critique too seriously. First, it is cowardly to send an electronic transmission. The author does not have to take responsibility for how her communication impacts me. In fact this author cannot have expected any positive outcome. She mentions no redeeming qualities that I might use to support the massive personality transformation it would take for me to correct all these faults. Second, generalized aspersions are simply one person’s opinion about another's overall character. These kinds of opinions are usually very subjective and reflect more about the emotional make up of the criticizer than the character of the criticized. The email mentioned no specific situations that would allow me to understand how someone might have been offended or misunderstood, etc. There is no window for reconciliation. A communication like this can only serve to undermine someone’s sense of self-worth while also creating a creeping suspiciousness about which customer sent it. With each person who walks into the door I could find myself wondering, “Is she the one?”

I've been around long enough to have heard a few things about myself. I know that one person’s experience is not the totality of how I am perceived. For instance, the next day I was sitting at a Thanksgiving meal when someone mentioned wanting to learn to read music. Another person offered to teach him and he replied, “You can’t teach me. You don’t have any patience.” When I said I could try, he responded, “Now, Allison can teach me. She has patience for days!” In fact, since childhood I have been lauded for my patience and teaching skills. So, I know the critique in the email does not reflect my true nature.

However, it may reflect my current state of being. I have been told that when my symptoms are flaring, my entire countenance is different. I seem detached. Almost not “here”. And I have a furrowed brow. Lately, symptoms have been fairly constant. Any situation that requires me to put out energy is stressful. Once the symptoms get into gear, I’m struggling to be in the world. I’m confused and lost and in pain. It can’t look warm and friendly to any one around me. So, what this email is reflecting for me, is a question I’ve had about what I can offer Circles right now and whether my presence is a detriment to the business and the community.

I will spend the next few days writing about this. I will address different aspects of the critique and how I can imagine someone interpreting me this way. Mostly, I will be processing, in what I hope is a cathartic way, some feelings and thoughts I have about my health as it affects my role at Circles, visions I have for Circles, and visions I have for myself ( be they pie-in-the-sky or fairly humble.) Hopefully, a lot of emotions that are rattling around inside of me, whipping up far flung thoughts, criticisms and desires, will get expressed in such a way that allows me to find a path forward. The goal is to figure out how I can best serve myself, my daughter, Circles and whomever else I’m supposed to serve. See, the reason that I can’t write about offerings is that I’m stuck. I don’t think ‘depressed’ is quite the right word. The more appropriate word might be ‘traumatized.’ More on that in the next post.