Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Embracing Limitations: Or, What I Learned at Polycon

You don’t get to choose your parents, your metamours, or your triggers. Triggers? Those are the people, the situations, the news, the events that cause you to become irrationally angry, jealous, scared. Triggers cause minor or major panic attacks, and often inspire me to lunge for the Xanax.

Some triggers you are aware of. You know when to expect their arrival. When he spends the night at her house; when everyone goes out together on the night I work; getting cut off on the highway; or, mentally calculating the best price on vitamin brands at the grocery while two over-tired children scream at each other, attracting the attention of everyone within a 10 ft. radius. (Not that I’ve ever experienced that before …)

Then there are the times when triggers sneak up on you. Surprise! It’s not okay for you to wear the dress I bought you on a date with him. Surprise! Roses? My stupid crazy ex-boyfriend used to buy me roses! How could you? Surprise! I’m okay with you dating girls but not guys!

Some might call these weaknesses, but instead, I’ve upgraded their status to “limitations”. Limitations are the boundaries (permanent or temporary) within which we can work effectively. Trying to work outside our limitations only brings negative consequences. For example, a food allergy can be a personal limitation. Sure that cake, ice cream, garbage pail full of everything you want to engorge on looks great. But indulging in your personal limitation will only bring undesired consequences. It is the same with relationship limitations.

Working With Limitations

Does this mean it is impossible to move beyond your limitations? Sometimes. There are some limitations you can work on, become better at, adapt strategies for. You can be gentler, more approachable, more intelligible, more knowledgeable. But then there are some limitations you just have to respect.

All my life I have struggled with meeting new people and going to unfamiliar places. When I was younger, my strategy was to avoid them.  As you can imagine, I was lonely and eventually my desire to change was stronger than my fear of the unknown. Recently, I was reading about a condition known as Avoidant Personality Disorder. While I do not claim to have said disorder, I do identify with some of its components.

For Avoidants, being in certain social situations, or even just around strangers, or in public at all, causes stress which produces a chemical reaction in the body. Some become paralyzed with fear, anxiety, or even panic to the point where they cannot bring themselves to go to work or the grocery store. There are different degrees of the disorder. And the goal is to work on strategies which allow the individual to perform the necessary tasks despite the chemical imbalance.

I feel this stress even just thinking about new venues and people. Sometimes the chemical reaction begins before I even get there. In many ways, I have been able to overcome some of these obstacles in no small part with the help of TheLordofDarkness.

But even now, in social situations with people I don’t know, I can feel the panic rising in my chest. Cognitively, I know there is no reason to panic, but I still feel it. And I know I’ve reached my limit when strangers (or people I’ve only just met) infiltrate my personal space bubble. It’s more than I am able to handle. This is my limitation and this is the time for me to walk away.

I’m furious with myself of course.

This past weekend, TheLordofDarkness and I attended BeyondThe Love polycon. I observed how easily he navigates through what seems to me an obstacle course of
anxiety. Him and others make friends, new partners, hookups look easy. Fun, even.  Damn, them.

Someday, with practice and lots of support from partners and friends, I may be able to work past this limitation. But for now, I know this is my stop and I get off the bus.

Embracing Limits

It’s easy to beat myself up over what I can’t do. Instead, I consciously choose to see my limitations as the other side of my strengths, the things I love about myself. I am very sensitive and take things way too personally some of the time. It is also my sensitivity that gives me a deep level of empathy for others, especially those I’m close to. 

It is my sensitivity which causes my relationships with partners and close friends to be deep, meaningful, and life-long partnerships regardless of how the structure of the relationship changes. I love this about myself. I desire and cherish these relationships. And I would never change it.

Punishing myself for not being what others are or what others expect me to be, accomplishes nothing. Forcing myself beyond what I am reasonably comfortable with only makes me miserable.

It is by embracing my limitations, and affirming them as strengths that I create space to grow. Loving and compassionate people inspire us to learn and grow. Negativity and condemnation only cause us to clam up, hide, and give up. Why shouldn’t we treat ourselves, our limitations, with kindness?