Saturday, May 28, 2011

Predator Fascination

At the zoo, some of the most popular animals are predators. Big cats, big birds. Sharks. Wolves. Bears.

This is true even though most of the times that I've been at the zoo, the predators aren't really doing anything. They're sitting there, because they're nocturnal, or because that's what predators do when they're not hunting. Often they sleep. Sometimes they watch all the people. But when the tiger stretches, you can hear the little kids squeal and hide behind their parents.

Last time I was at a zoo, there was a little house with three giant windows. Straight ahead was the leopard cage, which I liked but the leopards were sleeping far above us. On the right were tigers. Baby tigers, so they were actually doing stuff. Very excellent, and I spent a lot of time watching them. On the other side were, I think, river otters. These guys were all over the place! Swimming and running around on shore and playing. They were adorable, and active, and I thought they were totally nifty.

But I still ended up back over at the tiger window.

People like predators, I think, because it's very important to be interested in things that might hunt you. It's better when it can't actually kill us because then we have that fear-in-safety adrenalin feeling. When the lion yawns and we see all his teeth... wow!

You'd think we'd be similarly fascinated by things we want to hunt or eat. Some people are, maybe, because a good hunter understands her prey. Is it so visceral, though? I don't know.

I'm a cat person. I love predators. I can understand dog people, a bit, although I don't want a dog. There's a kind of coevolved relationship between people and dogs and it can be a beautiful thing. They're companions. But dogs are also predatory.

I have friends who have rabbits. Rabbits are prey. I get wanting something soft and fuzzy, but I don't understand the emotions and behaviors of rabbits; they don't make sense to me and they don't seem interesting.

And I wonder... what part of loving predators, or prey, is identifying with its nature? And what part is fascination with the Other Who Wants To Eat Us?

Cats are, essentially, furry balls of sleepiness and impulsivity. Dogs are eagerness to please on four legs. The prey critters I've owned, they seem to be about fear and lots of babies, since half of them are going to get picked off before they reach adulthood.

We're fascinated by predatory people, too. Serial killers, cult leaders, all that stuff. Especially on TV, or in prison, or at least in the next town over. We like predatory people so much, we decided that certain kinds of people are inherently violent and dangerous. Then we become fascinated with them, and with controlling them.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I've just been thinking about how odd it is that I have two cute little furry softy killers, and I cuddle up to them with their fangs and claws right next to my jugular... and I love them because of their predatory nature, and not in spite of it.

I seem to have gotten to some kind of sociological commentary, and I'm wondering if perhaps we should be glad that we're starting to see wild predators in our suburbs again. Because maybe if we're afraid of the jaguar in the schoolyard, we won't make monsters out of the immigrants down the block?

Hey, it's better than putting them foreigners into zoos...

I don't know. Meow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Am My Own Personal Phoenix

Someone online asked this question on a forum:
  • Has reaching a downward spiral in the past inspired you to work on issues you have otherwise ignored or self medicated for?
  • Why do you think this moment was crucial to your personal evolution, into a healthier person?
  • What means did you use to move forward from that point in your life, into a more positive direction?
  • What has that aspect of your personal journey taught you?

I've had two points in my life where I was crashing hard and had major epiphanies.

The first, years ago, was when I became suicidal after years of depression. I wasn't suicidal for long; just long enough to seriously consider it and make the active choice to not do it. At the time, I'd felt like I was completely out of control of my life, and couldn't do anything to fix anything... but I, and only I, could decide if I should end my life. For me, that was enormously empowering. At the same time, my parents made one of the hardest decisions I believe they've ever made; they decided to stop supporting me (unless I moved home), and gave me a month to find a job. My new empowerment and the jolt they gave me got me moving on a very slow path to health. Also a career, almost by coincidence.

The technique I needed for years after that was incremental improvement in different parts of my life. I became change-averse, because change had so often felt devastating. If I wanted to change my housing situation, I needed my job and love life to be stable, for instance. It took enough effort to maintain my life, and to make change, that managing more than one significant change -- even for the better! -- was very difficult. In many ways and at many times, I settled for less-than-ideal because I was managing a crisis in another area of my life.

But a few years ago, in a single week I lost my relationship and my job. At the same time, my household was breaking up (amicably), so I had to move. My mental health crashed, although it had been somewhat tenuous even before that. Out of all of those things I'd carefully managed for all those years, I felt like I'd lost everything, except family and friends. I hadn't, of course; I had resources I'd built over the years of gradual improvement, but it sure felt like everything was gone.

My mom suggested a mindfulness class. I resisted, but finally she said she'd pay for it, and what else was I doing with my time, really? So I took it. The class was a revelation. I've been working on accepting myself as I am, noticing the moment, and letting what is true be. It's kind of hokey; I never would have done it if I hadn't been so devastated.

I had always tried to be stronger, to resist whatever horrible thing would happen next without collapsing. Now, I am learning to be flexible, while retaining my strength. I have enormous emotional range; I can feel a variety of intensive emotions in a single hour or day. Now, I'm gaining the skills that let me do that, instead of trying to resist the truth of what's happening in me. I have a core of wisdom and calm. On my best days, anyway.

It's a gradual change over time, but it's working. It helped me be open to the wonderful relationship I have now. It's helping me manage an astonishingly complete life change: I've started a new job, I'll be moving, I'll be moving in with my fiance, and then we'll be getting married! All at once, it feels like. All good things, but all major changes. It's a far cry from incremental improvement, and sometimes it's overwhelming.

But now, I let myself feel overwhelmed for a little while, and then, like the tide, it recedes. And there I am, with myself, as always. With Mr. Shiny! It is good.

I took him to therapy today and we all did a brief overview together of how I have changed, and how my life has changed, in the past few years. I am me, but I am very much not the person I was.