Sparring with my Shadow Selves

I have always been attracted to Jung’s idea of “shadow” selves. They are pieces of you, your personality, which are hidden in your subconscious. Often explored only in dreams or meditative states, one of the primary goals in life (according to Jung) is to acknowledge and “merge” with your shadows to complete you.

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Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings – always darker, emptier and simpler. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Over the last several years, I have consciously been journeying towards better self-awareness. I have been able to bring to light many demons which previously only lurked in the shadows (though I am sure there continue to be more aspects of me which are hidden deep within somewhere). One obvious outcome of my journey so far is my conscious awareness of the many personalities that all spar amongst themselves to have primary control of my brain.

Since they’re not really in the “shadow” anymore, but not quite “merged” with what I call me either, I’ll call them alternate selves.

Right now, my two dominant alternate selves are (#1) the one who pushes me on to complete the last leg of my Ph.D. and find a job to move on to, and (#2) the one who implores me to slow down and just take a break.

I’d say #1 is usually more often in control than #2, because I identify with its viewpoint as the more rational one. The last semester is expected to be busy and a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve just gotta buckle up for the ride and stick it through, and deal with the consequences later. Self #2 kicks in on the not-so-good days and reminds me what those consequences feel like, why I need to slow down a bit, delay graduation if I need to. Self #1 tells me that is hardly an option now – the balls have already started to roll for an August graduation. Self #2 points out that yes, but it is not 100% official yet! Self #1 is driving me to find jobs, because I still want a career (though maybe not the one I had originally planned on). Self #2 is asking that I give myself a little rest break in between, it will do my body good. Self #1, however, retaliates with the knowledge that if I get too cozy feeling “good,” I will probably never want to go back for a postdoc training, and it will be that much the harder for me to go back to doing any kind of a (semi-)structured job. Of course, self #2 wonders what’s the point of doing anything at all if you’re going to be miserable while engaged in it!

My current compromise is to yield to self #1 in that yes, that graduation in August is probably happening. That means I will have to push through this semester to have the current project completed and submitted for publication within the next couple of months. But, I give in to self #2 in that I will cut myself some slack on how I handle the actual dissertation and not kill myself over it. I have to concur with self #1 that if I take a break now, I will probably never want to return to working the type of jobs I take pride in now. Any physical benefits I reap from the extra rest will probably be nullified by the mental strain I will most definitely be in as I lie around moping over wasting my life and intellect and education. Still, I made a pact with self #2 that if I do not get a job that I feel good about, I will take a break and start searching again next semester instead of just compromising for any ole thing that pays the bills. I am fortunate in that my husband can support me financially for a little while if it comes to that. So despite the financial strain that it will inevitably be, I will keep that as a viable fall-back option.

For now, my refereeing has silenced my two selves into some kind of truce. But I do not see this lasting long. As I take another turn on this roller-coaster ride, I know they will start to bicker again. And there is little I foresee in the immediate future that will contend them both. I guess I’ll just wait in the shadows until quieter times!

Love,

Fibronacci

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitude

My husband and I both value our solitude immensely. Being amongst the hustle-and-bustle of the city for too long causes us considerable anxiety. This is more so true of my husband, who would be a monk or a hermit if he could! As for me, I am something of an “empath” and an “HSP – highly sensitive person“. Thoughts, emotions and auras of places and people can affect me deeply. There is also some discussion about at least some HSPs being more sensitive to pain. Hence, finding a way to balance our need for inner peace (which, in turn, can affect FM severity) with being able to practically function in the world is crucial for us. One of the ways we do that is by “turning off” once in a while, and getting away from people and their vibes.

So for the photo challenge this week, I thought I’d share pictures of one of the places around town where we often go for some peace and solitude.

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Ironically, these photos are actually taken around a lake that is very close to my husband’s place of work.

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It’s called the Capitol Lake, because it is right by the State Capitol – smack in the heart of the seat of the state government!

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And precisely for that reason, it is almost completely empty on the weekends. After all, who wants to hang around work and a bunch of government buildings on their days off?

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Of course, that clears the way for my husband and me to enjoy many a quiet day in these beautiful surroundings, and regain our sense of internal balance!

Love,

Fibronacci

The Vacation Ambience

When several of my friends suggested that taking a break from work might do my fibromyalgia some good, I was never quite certain that would be the answer. After a recent vacation to my hometown in India, for the first time, I felt there might be some truth in that!

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For the three weeks that I was visiting my parents, I noticed a sharp decrease in my chronic pain levels. And with some pacing, I was able to retain good energy levels as well, and pack quite a few (not terribly hectic) activities. I cannot stress enough the value of pacing during this trip, and how well it served me!

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However, I think there were several other things at play there to promote my wellness. Perhaps the most important ones were:

(1) Stable weather – not too hot, not too cold, low humidity, and stayed that way!
This was a dream-come-true after the kind of changes we go through constantly where I live now.

(2) Lack of the repetitive actions that I am constantly engaged in at work.

(3) Lack of stress and a general atmosphere of relaxation.

Until about last week, I would have probably swapped the last two on the #2 and #3 spots. But one week back at the work, with all the pipetting and computer work, and I realized just how much my right arm, and right upper back and shoulders are aggravated by the repetitive motions.

Realizing the effect of repetitive strain is also what made me give serious thought to taking some time off, especially after I noticed how much better I continued to feel even after the vacation was over. I am not sure if this break can ever be reality – especially given practical considerations such as the cost of my medication, and the huge financial burden it would be if my husband were to cover the cost of my health insurance as well. Not to mention, the clock starts ticking immediately after one receives their Ph.D. Most grants and many “entry-level” job positions are not available past a certain number of years post receipt of the doctorate degree. So without a productive next few years, I could be stuck between a rock and a hard place in the future, with very few avenues regarding my career. But though an extended break might be a bad professional decision right now, later on down the line, it might make for a great personal care decision, and I am certainly keeping it in mind!

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As for the general atmosphere of relaxation, the beautiful home and garden decorations at my parents’ house played no small part in creating it. The designer, my mother, could probably rival any interior/exterior decorator with her ideas. She really made me feel like I was in a 5-star hotel while simultaneously feeling at home! So for this week’s photo challenge on ambience, I shared a few photos of her garden, throughout the post, which created a lovely “vacation ambience” that made me forget about work in ways I can never do at home. And that kind of lack of stress, I do believe, played a major role in managing my symptoms despite the packed two-and-half weeks I spent at that house. Relaxation truly goes a long way for pain relief!

Gentle hugs,

Fibronacci

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare

Few things are more rare than snow and ice in the subtropics! But when it happens, the beauty can be breathtaking.

And there’s that thing about beauty – it can hide in the most miniature of things, and bring immense joy when you open your heart and find it!

Love,

Fibronacci

Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

by Rabindranath Tagore

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


As the cost of education keeps rising in my home institution and other places, as more and more people seem to be engulfed by fear and paranoia in the world, as reason and truth become buried in a world driven by emotional lies and materialism, and as a fibromyalgiac who feels she has lost her place in the world – this poem rings true to me on so many levels!

One day, I hope to awake in that heaven of freedom as well – freedom from the pain, the fatigue, the expectations of me as an academic, as a person battling chronic pain, freedom from the traps my own brain sets for me when I am in the throws of anxiety and depression – and I hope to awake into being a more balanced, wholesome person.

Love,

Fibronacci

Questions I have for Fibromyalgia

As a scientist suffering from a poorly understood condition and as a patient frustrated by its unpredictability, I have spent many miserable days and nights wondering about the many idiosyncrasies of fibromyalgia. On sleepless nights, the patient in me has a conversation such as below with the scientist in me:

Patient: Why does bad weather (actually, a change in temperature/pressure in any direction) make my symptoms worse?

Scientist: Do humans have atmospheric sensors in their body like some animals? How does that signaling work to affect pain perception?

Patient: Why does the pain get worse during my periods?

Scientist: What is the connection between hormonal levels and pain signaling?

PatientWhy does the pain get worse at night, right when I am trying to sleep?

Scientist: Is there any connection between the circadian rhythm and pain sensitivity/signaling? If so, what is it?

PatientI wish I could sleep . . . I am so tired . . . (poor sleep makes pain and fatigue worse)

ScientistIs there a feedback loop between the circadian rhythm and pain sensitivity? Why do patients with fibromyalgia experience alpha intrusions and not get restful sleep?

And the quintessential:

Patient: Why me? (yes, I know it’s cliche)

Scientist: What causes inter-individual variation in pain sensitivity? What genes are involved in those pathways and how does environment play a role in the development of the chronic illness?

As an epigeneticist (one who studies modifications on genes responsible for fine-tuning their function), that last question is especially close to my heart. I have a suspicion that a significant fraction of the population is probably born with genes that make them sensitive to pain perception. But only 2-4% of the U.S. population has fibromyalgia. So what factors are involved in determining who with the disposition actually develops the condition?

These are just questions for now. I have no answers for most (if not all) of them. But we need to find the answers. The more answers we have, the better we can treat ourselves, future patients, and perhaps even take preventative steps. So until then, perhaps that “why me” question is worth asking after all!

Love,

Fibronacci

Discovering Self-Compassion

A few days ago, I wrote a contemplative post, wondering how much I might be catastrophizing my own pain and giving it more attention than it needed. Ironically, I was in some intense pain when I wrote that after being advised repeatedly to use mind over body and ignore the pain.

Yesterday, I was in the same spot again, but ultimately broke down and took my pain medication. A few hours later, I noticed that it had taken the edge off the pain. It was now down to a level I could live with. And it was then that it hit me! I am already using all kinds of mind over body tactics to keep myself active and moving and involved with life. If it is only after taking the “emergency pain pill” and extra muscle relaxers that the pain is down to a manageable level – not gone, mind you – then how much worse must it have been before?

I would never treat anybody else in that kind of pain with as much insensitivity as I treated myself. So why did I treat myself like that? I would never disbelieve another person if they expressed that much pain. I would never ask them to just not pay attention to it or act like they are making it out to be worse than it truly is. So why did I disbelieve my own pain and wonder if I am catastrophizing?

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I think part of the reason is that, as a scientist, I am loathed to take subjective data at face value. And pain levels are just that! Even so, I feel like I often view my own situation with objective lenses from time to time, so there is no real reason for me to invalidate subjective data coming from myself. There is no prior evidence of me acting like a baby  or engaging in extended pity fests. If anything, I am always extra tough on myself. And now, my naturally harsh inner critic seems to have internalized things others say or views of chronic pain patients that the society holds, and is belittling me for admitting when the pain gets out of hand. And as an objective observer of myself, I can see that this is akin to re-victimizing the victim for an event they could not control.

As a person who has counseled child abuse and domestic violence victims, I couldn’t dream of saying anything that would make their pain feel invalidated. I have always encouraged them to admit their own anguish – if only to themselves – so they can work through it. And I must treat myself the same way.

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In many ways, I feel the pain has robbed me of my youth, my dreams, my spontaneous adventurous nature. And that kind of pain and anguish is difficult to ignore. Both physically and emotionally. And I need to be OK with admitting that to myself. Not suppress it or call myself a whiney-baby for feeling it. I wouldn’t say that to a friend, if we had swapped places. So why should I say it to myself?

Ultimately, nobody can know my body as well as I do. So I need to take a stand for it when it needs me to. If I wouldn’t doubt the validity of a friend’s complaints who was in my place, I shouldn’t doubt my body’s either. I need to turn off the inner critic and take care of myself as I would a dear friend. I have never listened to “society” or “other people” when I have cared for or counseled my friends in difficult positions. And I shouldn’t allow society or people to influence how I treat myself either.

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It has been a long journey for me, discovering self-compassion. I started it a long time ago when caring for my inner child overcoming various unpleasant repressed memories. I may have gone off-track for a while. But I am grateful for the turn of events that has brought me back!

Love,

Fibronacci

 

Life and Death

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my life and death. Not in a suicidal or terminal kind of way. Just in more philosophical terms.

Featured image: Guided by the Lights (8X10, oil on canvas)

In many ways, a lot of my old dreams and old personality traits have died a slow ignominious death. At one time, I could see the course of my life from a bird’s eye view. I could see a path ahead of me, and a goal to work towards. I derived a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from my work as a scientist. I was diligent and good at what I did, and was duly appreciated and respected for it. I had a plan chalked out for what I wanted to do after graduate school and never doubted that I would be able to get there. I had non-work related dreams too – like training to be a scuba diver for instance. Now all of those thoughts and plans are buried somewhere under the ground. Perhaps, so is the appreciation and respect that I had once earned, along with a slice of my confidence pie.

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Those dead leaves might well be the remnants of my old dreams.

Yet in other ways, I have emerged at the opposite end alive and still mostly kicking (figuratively anyway!). I am having to take my life more one day at a time, which can be stressful when trying to plan a career, but quite nice in other ways. It gives me time to slow down and enjoy what I have today, in this moment, before I start thinking about the future. Even though I have had to steer my life in a different direction mid-stride, I have not let go of all my dreams . . . though I have had to modify them quite a bit. I have learned to be OK with the fact that I may not have a single career goal that I could strive towards. They may have to evolve with time, depending on how my body behaves. I may never be able to get the scuba diving certification, but at least my current life pattern is such that I might have the moment to just enjoy the sight of the ocean with my husband. I am not sure that previously I would have made the time, or that we would have had the connection, to be able to derive pleasure from such simplicity, just from being in each other’s company. With the slow demise of my workaholic uber-independent self is coming the rise of a more balanced person, who is learning to slow down and accept a little help once in a while.

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And those bright little flowers, tentatively pointing to the sun, might be my new life.

I don’t think I have yet come to terms fully with letting go of my old life, dreams, abilities, etc. But I recognize that a new me is trying to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes. And I am trying to do things and think thoughts that would encourage its rebirth. I believe that everybody needs to make some of sort of journey during their lives. I suppose this is mine. My chance to die and be reborn into a new person. One day, I might get there. Until then, I thank you all – my readers – for accompanying and supporting me through it.

Love,

Fibronacci

Pining for Spring

Heat sensitivity is a terribly annoying thing if you have always lived in tropical/sub-tropical climates. But ever since I developed fibromyalgia, it seems to be getting worse each year. As soon as the summer rolls around, the heat just saps me of my energy and especially makes my legs ache. Then the storms come and add to the aches with their low pressure systems. It is a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of.

Today is the first time I went outdoors by one of my favorite lakes in town to feed some birds. It is something I enjoy very much in the spring, but today I got tired quickly, and even the birds looked lethargic.

Luckily, I was able to get some nice snaps of them last time during springtime!

The muscovy ducks, mallards, sparrows, blackbirds and cardinals seem to really enjoy the seed feast. The mallards don’t always play well with each other though – they seem to have a strong pecking order! The sparrows are the friendliest, most communally feasting birds.

The other birds in the area are blue-jays, robins and brown thrashers. The robins and thrashers seem to like hunting for their own food and don’t like any free goods. The blue-jays are interesting because they like the seed but they seem to feel unsafe on the ground, so they stay on a constant move (very fidgety birds, hard to get a decent pic)!

These are the birdies my husband and I tried to play with today. Although we were both on the tired side (the birdies and I), seeing them did brighten my day up a little! When the big things that I have no control over (like this insane weather) don’t fall into place, I try to focus on the small little things that bring me joy. It may not fix all my problems, but it does get me through another moment, another day. And, really, what more can I ask for?

Love,

Fibronacci

Twilight Ventures

Twilight offers a certain mysterious atmosphere that I have always been attracted to. Maybe it is an outward reflection of my mysterious nature . . . who knows? Or maybe I am just waxing poetic!

Fun fact: I almost called my alias Twilight Princess after my love for the twilight time of day and my favorite video game from the Adventure of Link saga!

I used the red cloudy night from one of the above pictures as inspiration for this painting below. I called it Crimson Night (12X12, oil on gallery-wrapped canvas).

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Crimson Night

This one (below) was painted at a slightly earlier time in the evening: Lights on the Lake (8X10, oil on canvas panel).

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Lights on the Lake

The beauty that surrounds us even in the midst of a bustling university town is amazing! I just have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes open!! Pursuing art (even as just a hobby) has certainly helped me be more mindful of the beauty that is all around me – bringing me a step close each time to my personal spring of joy!

Love,

Fibronacci