Thursday, November 03, 2016

Never Let You See Me Cry

I just woke up from a dream with real tears spilling from my eyes. I can't remember the last time that happened.

I dreamed I was out of town with friends, and we'd split up - half to eat and half to shop. I was the last to finish eating and suddenly realized everyone was gone. I started texting everyone, and one by one they told me they'd gone home. I realized I was alone, out of town, with no way of getting home, and everyone had left me.

In the dream, I was panicked, lonely, and afraid. I couldn't find anyone to help me get home. Then after what felt like an hour, I ran into all of my friends. They were laughing. It was all a prank. No one had left, but they thought it would be funny to trick me. I started crying, and they continued to laugh. "Stop being so dramatic!" they told me.

The last words of my dream before I woke up were mine: "Do you guys actually think I would let you see how vulnerable I am, if I weren't seriously upset? Do you think I'd let you see how abandoned and lonely I felt? Do you think I'd actually let you see me cry?"

I woke up, and fat tears were dripping down my cheeks.

I'm reading a book, Emotional Intellligence 2.0. It starts with giving you a code for an online quiz to assess your emotional intelligence. I'd say I'm very emotionally intelligent, so I was actually really annoyed when it scored me much lower than I expected. I read the reasons, and it came down to this: I am a great listener, a great communicator, I'm empathetic and socially aware, BUT. I don't talk about myself enough. I don't open up about my own feelings or weaknesses with others.

At first I thought, "Well, of course not! Communicating is about listening to others and understanding them, not talking about myself." But the more I read, the more I understood what it was saying. Communication is a two-way street. How can others trust me (particularly professionally) if they don't know me? If I don't open up to them while they open up to me, that's not effectual communication. That's not emotional intelligence, to hide your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and fears from the world. That's being a counselor, not a friend.

The part that confounded me at first was the online analysis that I don't share myself. I have this blog, right? I wrote a book about the most vulnerable time in my life, right? But truth is, that's my personal life, and it's also through a medium of written word. In my face-to-face interactions, I don't talk about myself. When someone asks me how I'm doing, I say great and immediately turn it back to them. Today, I spoke on the phone with a friend/work connection who asked how my new job is going. Though surely she wanted details, my response was, "I love it! So how are you?"

I can share myself through ink and paper, keyboards and screens, but not in real life. And this is doubly so when it comes to my professional life.

What I think was most telling about my dream was that the group of friends I was with were my work friends from my most recent job. The last words, "Do you think I'd actually let you see me cry?", speak volumes. I remember once, early on in that job, I was getting extremely overwhelmed, and one of my coworkers (someone I consider a friend) saw me and stopped to talk. The tears welled up in my eyes, my throat got tight, and I couldn't speak without the fear of losing it. I hated, HATED, him see me nearly break down and cry. I was humiliated, and even now my face burns at the memory. It was him that I said this to my dream.

I don't like showing weakness. I don't like asking for help. I want to help others, but I don't want them to help me. I listen to people all day long; I seem to have some kind of magnet for people to share stuff with me. And I love being there for them, listening to them, being a safe place for them to let it all out. But I don't share myself back, not intimately, not in real life beyond the computer screen. I don't want people at work knowing when I struggle or when I'm uncertain. I want to look amazing and self-assured at all times. I feel this is entirely justifiable! Of course I want my colleagues and those who report to me to see me as strong and competent. But do I do myself and everyone else around me a disservice by not being honest about what makes me vulnerable - what makes me just like everyone else?

This is something I am working on. I can be professional at work and still share myself to whatever the appropriate level is. (This is something I still can't figure out; maybe the book will help.) I need to be able to say on some days work is hard. Today was hard. Today I handled a three-child home fire fatality story. It was emotionally a very difficult day. I found myself at times wondering what I'm supposed to do here. I found myself at times wondering if I could really do this job. I had to push my personal emotions aside to get a job done, which I felt guilty about in return. I need to be able to admit this. I know I'm not the only person in the world to doubt herself or feel emotionally conflicted.

I definitely need to work on this with my friends. If I'm asked about myself, I need to talk a little about myself. Most people who genuinely care about me genuinely want to hear how I'm doing. It doesn't make me arrogant or narcissistic. It just makes me real. Human. Emotionally intelligent.

But vulnerability hurts, and I've learned to be ashamed of it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Next President of the United States

It's one week before Election Day. This is the second presidential election I've ever voted in.

As a thirtysomething that sounds pretty bad. No, I didn't sit out the last two elections out of apathy or protest; I was simply living abroad and couldn't figure out how to get an absentee ballot sent to me in time. While the presidential campaigns start here a year well in advance, over in the UK, I didn't start thinking about US elections until nominees were picked and the news started to get relevant.

For the record, I was pro-Obama the second time. The first time, well, it was 2008 and I was eight months pregnant with my second kid, and I didn't even know it was an election year. So I kind of missed the climax of electing the first black president of the United States. But I was on the ball in 2012, ready to cheer my man back into the White House.

But if you think me not knowing the US was about to elect its first black president is shameful, let me admit this.

The only other presidential election I ever voted in was 2000 after I turned 18. I voted for George W. Bush. So there's that.

So anyway, here we are another four years later, and we're about to decide as a nation who will be our next leader. Yet unlike the past sixteen years, where the stakes were relatively low (Gore, Kerry, McCain, Romney - none of them terrible choices), this year the stakes seem ... relatively high.

I was an avid Bernie Sanders supporter. I made no mistake about that. I had a Sanders sign in my lawn and a magnet on my car. I wore a Sanders t-shirt and had Sanders buttons hanging from my rear-view mirror and on my desk at work. I'm a huge fan of the man; I was a fan even before he announced his bid for president.

But I was never a Clinton hater. I didn't like her much, but I didn't hate her. I still viewed her as the second best option across both debate stages (followed by John Kasich, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, though it pains me to admit it). When she won the primary, I was disappointed but realistic.  At this point, we knew Trump was taking the Republican nomination, and the more he talked, the more I was convinced he was the least fit person across both debate stages to become president. (He had a few serious contenders though, on both sides of the aisle.)

I decided it was time to learn more about Hillary beyond what the media and Facebook had to say. I started reading her autobiography Living History (which I haven't actually finished). I started looking into what she's actually done in her career. And perhaps most importantly I faced up to some unrealized internal biases; basically I had to admit to myself that I was more sexist than I wanted to believe. Many of my complaints against Hillary could have been placed on any number of other politicians, but they weren't, because they were male. Males aren't "shrill", they don't have to be warm and approachable, they don't have to prove they can successfully juggle a family and a career, they can talk over each other and fight to be heard without being seen as rude or bitchy. In fact, many of the things I genuinely think are valid criticisms of Clinton turned out to be focused more on her than the actual criticisms. In other words, I view most politicians as people who lie, stretch the truth, cover things up, flip-flop, make bad decisions and then try to justify them. I'd say that about just about all of them (with the exception of Bernie). But when it came to Hillary, those things seemed bigger and more important than they seemed in relation to every other (male) politician I could think of. Internalized bias and sexism? Maybe so. Did I feel as against Bill as I did against Hillary? Actually, no. I love Bill. So why the disdain for his wife? That is far harder to admit than casting my first ballot for George W.

Now again, there are valid criticisms against Hillary. I'm not saying everything comes down to sexism, because it doesn't. Not everything. But I wonder why Hillary's emails are never far from the headlines while George W's and Colin Powell's continue to be virtually ignored? What causes such vitriol against Hillary and the things she's done, or been accused of, that doesn't reach beyond her to all the other people who have done or do the same things? Maybe the fact she's running for President, and they are not. Or maybe it's because she's been held to a higher standard her entire life, and certainly in this election, and the impossible standards she's held to only grow.

Compare that to Trump, however. Oddly enough, the standards from Trump just keep getting lower and lower. In the primary debates, Trump had a good night if all he did was make fun of another candidate's sweaty brow (and not an entire ethnic group).  Trump "debated well" if he managed to not mention the size of his penis more than once. As time went on, the standards Trump had to meet to have had a good day plummeted. If he went 24 hours without insulting a Gold Star family or suggesting a ban on an entire religious group or making a misogynist remark about a woman's looks or menstruation, he was doing well. We finally reached a stage where even a voice recording of him disparaging women and admitting sexual assault wasn't the last straw. Nothing sticks on Trump. Not like everything sticks on Clinton.

When you look at all the standards we hold across the two main parties, there is no equality. For one, we ask for perfection in high heels and a homemade pie made of rainbows, and for the other, we ask for 24 hours of no verbal diarrhea. When they both fail, we are less disappointed with the diarrhea. Because, well, we weren't really expecting much.

I'll admit one other thing: the media IS biased towards Clinton. I'm not blind. A post-debate panel on CNN will consist of two Trump supporters and eight "others". However, I kind of feel that when the stakes are this high and the candidates are this unbalanced, it's hard to be neutral. How can one be neutral over sexual assault, ethnic slurs and encouraged foreign espionage?

Now we're seven days away from Election Day. Without sounding dystopian, I'm nervous. Really nervous actually. I would have loved to see a President Sanders, but I'm actually pretty stoked over the idea of a President Clinton now. I'm excited for my son and daughters to witness the first woman elected as President of the United States. I don't think she'll do amazing things (though maybe I'm wrong), but I think she'll do good things. Still I'm nervous, really nervous, over the possibility that Trump might actually pull this off. I hate to negate everything by invoking Godwin's Law, but seriously - the parallels of fascism are frightening. A strong leader, who says out loud what the people are thinking but are afraid to say, comes along and promises greatness, promises to get rid of the problems (aka, people who look problematic), makes grandiose claims and bullies anyone who gets in his way. Strength right?

I don't usually talk about politics, but with the election so close, it's on the forefront of my mind. This will be my second presidential election, and it's a damn important one. I'll be casting my vote this week, for President, for Congress, for state legislature, for local officials and for state ballot initiatives. Then I'll sit back, biting my nails, as I watch history write itself before my own eyes.