"Four Quick Ways to Swap Isolation & Fear for Connection & Joy" by Cyndy Etler (We Can't Be Friends)
Today we're excited to share a guest post from Cyndy Etler, author of We Can't Be Friends! Read on for more about Cyndy, their book, plus "Four Quick Ways to Swap Isoltaion & Fear for Connection & Joy!"
Meet Cyndy Etler!
Meet We Can't Be Friends!
In this powerful follow up, We Can’t Be Friends (ON-SALE: October 3, 2017), Etler discovers that while Surviving Straight, Inc., was hell, readjusting to the real world is even harder.
High school sucks for a lot of people. High school extra sucks when you believe, deep in your soul, that every kid in the school is out to get you. I wasn’t popular before I got locked up in Straight Inc., the notorious “tough love” program for troubled teens. So it’s not like I was walking around thinking everyone liked me.
But when you’re psychologically beaten for sixteen months, you start to absorb the lessons. The lessons in Straight were: You are evil. Your peers are evil. Everything is evil except Straight, Inc.
Before long, you’re a true believer.
And when you’re finally released, sent back into the world, you crave safety. Crave being back in the warehouse. And if you can’t be there, you’d rather be dead.
This is the story of my return to my high school. This is the true story of how I didn’t die.
Four Quick Ways to Swap Isolation & Fear for Communication & Joy
Before I tell you to come out of your blue shell and reconnect, reconnect!!, a confession: I just pulled my hoodie up over my face. To hide said face from the neighbor. So for the record: I’m not here to preach. I totally dig hide-vibe. But I also dig options. Autonomy. And having an internal recipe box to flip through for mental health.
Ever since my memoir The Dead Inside and its sequel We Can’t Be Friends came out, people have approached me with their own stories of abuse and depression. Our conversations have led me to an understanding: my happiness is something of an anomaly. For many who experience long-term trauma, a feeling of contentment, a sense of personal power, proves elusive.
This fact begs a question: why am I so frigging happy most of the time? Why have I been able to pursue, and reach, my dreams? I started with nothing: no family, no money, no confidence, no connections. How did I end up here? Am I some kind of lucky freak?
While studying to become a teen life coach I learned that yes, I kind of am. You know how supermodels won the genetic lottery via long legs and tall cheekbones? Others of us win that lottery with, like, optimism and grit. But those traits count only for a small percentage of my trauma recovery. The other stuff—like the simple, doable tricks I’ll share with you here—are things I figured out over years of trial and error.
So, onwards with the options. If you’re feeling isolated or anxious, and you’d rather feel contentment and connection, maybe try one of these.
Trick #1: Hang out with animals and nature.
This Janes Addiction lyric has soothed me for 19 years: “If you need a friend, feed any animal.” And damn if it ain’t the truth. When I feel any kind of bad, nature and her animals fix it, lickety split. All I have to do is step outside and breathe.
At the risk of sounding lunatic, I’m going to tell you something: animals talk to me. I bet they talk to you, too. You can hear them if you watch. And listen. And read their signs.
A snapshot from a few hours of yesterday:
Saturday, 8:00 a.m.: I walk to the back of the yard to lay out fresh birdseed. When I turn, I spot six doves in a line on my rooftop. They’re all looking at me. They’re all saying, “Thank you.” Just that.
I look down and a daddy long legs skitters out of my path. I freeze; he freezes; without a word we say to each other, “I see you. I’m not here to hurt you. You do your thing; I’ll do mine.”
Saturday, 2:00 p.m.: I’m out on the trail with my dogs. I stop to get a rock out of my shoe; when I straighten, dogs are half a football field ahead of me on the trail, looking back. “Y’okay, ma? We notice when you drop off. We won’t go on without ya.”
A butterfly zooms crazy circles around me, then lands on a leaf and stays still. I study her; one wing is fine, the other is chopped up. When I start to feel bad for her, she springs into flight, and zips right past my ear: fluppa-fluppa-fluppa. Translated, “Broken parts mean nothing. Am I not still gorgeous? Do I not still fly? Tell the others.”
Saturday, 6:00 p.m.: Hubby and I exchanged hot, stupid words of anxiety-driven nonsense. The fluffier dog runs up and between us, bouncing on hind legs for a kiss. “Guys! Guys! Look at how cute I am! Look at how good our life is! Stop the insanity!”
The wisest thing I ever did was adopt a shelter dog. Even wiser was adopting a second one. But even if you don’t have the scratch to support a life, you can probably get to a patch of earth. There, you’ll find living things. Go look at them. Breathe them in. Listen to them. Fastest fix on earth, for anything.
Trick #2: Learn Self Care: Do Yoga.
My yoga thing budded from necessity and cheapness. I had pain in my hips. I didn’t want to pay a doctor. I googled “hip stretches.” I found free Ekhart Yoga vids on YouTube. And ahhhhhh.
I was an angry yoga-doer at first. I would speed through the intro niceties about sitting and taking breaths; I didn’t have time for their words of kindness toward self. I wasn’t there for kindness. I was there to beat the pain out of my bad-behaving body parts. I stayed that way for years.
But eventually, water-over-a-rock happened. When working at a job that mirrored my childhood abuse, I found I had to do yoga, before going in. I had to do it to get my head right, to feel safe and calm. Days I didn’t, I came home with a headache and a panic attack.
When I joined a gym to do some more body-punishment—Out, out, bloody fat!—I let my $12-a-month yoga membership lapse in favor of gym fees. I could just do yoga at the gym, right? Righ—wrong. Gym yoga was loud and fast and, stupidly, competitive. When the gym closed due to a snowstorm and I did an Ekhart Yoga class, I remembered what calm felt like. I remembered what self-care felt like. I realized that every minute I spent doing Ekhart Yoga was a do-over of the neglect and cruelty I absorbed in my childhood. I realized to afford the 40 cents a day for that kind of miracle.
Trick #3: Ask for Props on Social.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m always kind of sickened by the Insta feeds of those ever-smiling, ever-styled gland handers selling some version of happiness. Probably because I don’t believe ‘em. Like, if you’re as wealthy as you say you are, how do you always have time to be parked at a scenic overlook in the Hollywood Hills? Don’t you need to work? Unfollow. Unfollow. Unfollow.
My style is more true grit. Heyyy, lookit this! This great thing is happening! If I can reach here, so the *bleep* can you! followed by, Ooohhh, crap. I’m not gonna hang my dirty undies, but today pretty much sucks. I’d probably have more followers if I sold sunshine and B.S., but I’m not in it to sell. I’m in it to
hopefully help others move from where I was, to where I am. I can’t do that if I hide where I was, and where I sometimes still am.
With that all said, when I’m really bummed, I ask for social love. I swear to God. I’ll say something like, “Guys, I’m afraid I’m gonna fail. Prove me wrong? Tell me something good?” And people do. Because they appreciate honest vulnerability. Or because it feels good to give good. Or...shoot, I don’t know why. Maybe my friends like me or something? But it works. People care. If you ask them to show it, they will. And they do.
Trick #4: Go Out and Try on Color.
As a confirmed introvert and borderline hermit, I get it. When you’re in a funk, you don’t want to leave your cocoon. That’s why all of the other tricks require no contact with live humanity. But when the itch demands distraction, when you get to feeling stir crazy, it’s time to brush the teeth, pull on some clean undies, and GTFO.
For me, money is an object, and so is self-esteem, so on my once-yearly pick-me-up outing, I follow certain protocols. First, I call a girlfriend who’s all friend, no frenemy. You know who I’m talking about. We’ve all got those friends who can kill you with a comment; who think you should buy their lunch. But nuh-uh, baby. Not today. Set up your playdate with the friend who truly wants you to feel good in your skin; who covers her own vig.
Next, we go to stores that are too big to notice us—Marshalls or Macy’s or Ulta. When you’re feeling agoraphobic, the last thing you want is a pushy, hovering sales person telling you that you need that ugly dress. No you don’t. All you need is to see some fuchsia and turquoise next to your face. To remind you that color exists.
Then, we play dress up. With clothes in the size that fits without squeezing. With makeup. With handbags. With shoes. Bonus points if there’s some $5.00 bracelet we can unwrap when we get home—Charming Charlie is great for that—but even if we don’t have that fiver, just seeing ourselves in a different context works wonders. And that friend—the gift of a friend—can trade you endorphin rushes,
by making you try on stuff you’d never wear, by telling you how cute your butt looks, by giving you a hug before you part ways. Three hours later, you’re a new human.
People like isolation, otherwise we wouldn’t have hoodies and earbuds and tinted windows. No shame in the hermit game. But when the internal lights go out—when alone turns to lonely and anxiety reigns—maybe try one of these tricks. And then? Reach out and tell me how it went. I’ll be ready, by then, to take the hoodie off.
A huge thank you to Cyndy Etler for sharing her inspiring words!
*You can purchase We Can't Be Friends HERE!