Chasing That Rush

“Every time I go for the mailbox, gotta hold myself down, ‘cause I just can’t wait till you write me you’re coming around” – Katrina and the Waves

I love dopamine. For those who aren’t the research nerd that I am, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It rewards us for pursuing things we don’t have yet, and responds to things that are new or possible. It helps us think, plan, and focus. It affects learning, motivation, sleep, mood, attention, and even pain. It fuels the parts of us that want to explore, discover, chase, find, have and try. And once we have done those things it stops, leaving us looking for the next new thing, our next big ‘hit’.

I’m not rich enough to be a shopaholic, I don’t do drugs, and I’m not jumping out of planes, but over the years I have stumbled onto another way to get that dopamine high – new relationships. The polyamory community refers to it as new relationship energy, but it is more commonly known as the honeymoon period. It’s that time at the start of any relationship where everything is new; new feelings, new stories, new experiences, new people, and in the case of romantic relationships, new sex.  There is a seemingly endless supply of new things to learn, explore, and discover about your new friend, partner, or potential partner, and that intoxicating feeling of connecting with someone new mixed with that rush of new hormones is hard to beat.

So what happens when that high wears off? 

Some people never stop chasing the high. We all know them. It’s that person in your life who makes a new friend or finds a new partner and suddenly their lives become entirely focused around that person. They will cancel existing plans to spend time with them, can’t make new plans without checking first to make sure that person isn’t available, and can’t seem to talk about anything but their new person when you finally do spend time together. Everything in their life becomes about this person. And then the dopamine wears off, the new person becomes less interesting, and they are back to being the friend you used to have. Until the next new person comes along.  

These relationships aren’t only hard on the chaser’s friends, they are also incredibly hard on the chaser’s subject, the focus of their excitement. For a brief period they get to feel like the most interesting person in the world. Like they have found someone who really sees them, likes them, and can’t get enough of them. Until suddenly they are gone. And the subject is left feeling rejected, alone, and in many cases confused about what they did that resulted in this change. And when both partners are caught up in the rush, and are both caught up in that excitement to the exclusion of everything else, it becomes even more complicated, because no one can really explain why things ended. 

I have been in all of these positions. I have been the chaser, I have been the subject, and I have been the friend watching this happen over and over and over again. I have hurt people, I have been hurt by people, and I have watched people I love hurt others and get hurt by others. And it sucks. No matter what position I am in, it sucks. Every time I would think “this one is different, this one will work out, this time the connection will last”. And it wouldn’t. Because even if the potential for real connection was there at the beginning it had been washed away by the flood of dopamine telling me to do everything and have everything and be everything right now. 

One of the most important things I have learned from my wasted years of immersing myself in that rush is to slow down. A lot. Not because I’m trying to ignore the dopamine, but because I’m trying to draw it out, make space around it, and allow actual feelings and connections to grow in that space. To enjoy the rush a little longer, but also to give my new relationships a chance to find a connection within that time that will carry on past the end of the rush. So that other different highs can follow it. Because as great as that dopamine rush is, it absolutely pales in comparison to finding people you really connect with, who actually get you, and who like you for who you are, not just for how you made them feel at the start. And as good as “new” is, attachment, companionship, and if you are lucky enough to find it, love, are so much better. Because once you find those connections you can find new ways to experience that dopamine, together. 

Requiem to 2020

Covid-19 has been in our lives for over a year now, and many of us are currently experiencing a second or third lockdown as cases around the world are on the rise. The promise of vaccination exists, but it could be another year or more before our population is protected enough for life to get back to ‘normal’. If ‘normal’ can even exist anymore. 

It’s impossible to say now what the long term repercussions of our first encounter with a global pandemic will be. Which leaves us in a very difficult place; only half way through a marathon period of fear, loss, and waiting, without even knowing exactly what we are waiting for. We are stuck pushing our way to an ending, without any guarantee of what that ending will bring, or when it will occur. So how do we cope when the world around us seems bleak, and we don’t know when the light will come again? How do we find meaning, happiness, and fulfillment in our lives when it feels like everything has come to a grinding halt? How do we get to the end of this race still feeling like ourselves?

I have seen many stories of people who have done wonderful things with this time. People who have learned to become amazing artists, chefs, or writers. People who have immersed themselves in health building activities, who have lost weight, gained muscle, or increased flexibility. People who have taken this time to educate themselves, improve their living spaces, or explore things they have never had the chance to explore before. People who have embraced this challenging time, faced it like warriors on a battlefield, and who have beat it into submission with their success.

I am not one of those people.

2020 was going to be a big year for me. After many years of isolation, a few more years of trying to find a way to fit into someone else’s life, and some time (finally) spent discovering what I wanted, I found myself starting 2020 happy with who I was, the people I had around me, and what my future held. I found hobbies that let me be creative and express myself, friends that embraced who I am and reciprocated by sharing parts of themselves with me, and a partner who was as excited to build a life together as I was. I had reached an age I had always dreaded but found an unexpected peace and acceptance with. My son was going to graduate, and we were going to have the opportunity to celebrate his transition from child to adulthood. I was going to have my first public speaking opportunity on behalf of this blog, and my first ever out of country romantic adventure. I was in the early stages of developing new friendships and relationships that showed lots of promise. And there were going to be several parties, conventions, concerts, celebrations, and get-togethers to help fuel my ever present need for new input. It was shaping up to be a big year. 

Covid-19 hit us in mid-March and everything changed. All of the things we were looking forward to, all of the get-togethers, trips, and events, became things we were afraid of. The simple acts of going to work, getting groceries, or putting gas in our cars became high risk, and introduced a danger into our lives we had never had to consider before. Instead of finding comfort or joy in other people, we had to be afraid of them. The freedoms we loved were now risks we weren’t allowed to take. And while there have been some short periods of relief sprinkled in, most of us have been living like this for the last year. 

Like many people I spent most of 2020 being reactive. I watched the news, followed the rules, and stayed home. My whole life became about watching, listening, and waiting for things to get better. Every time the case numbers went down I would get excited, and every time they went up I would get sad. I had endless discussions with people about how the pandemic was going, how it was affecting them, what the numbers meant, and when things would get better. It became an endless cycle of checking in and waiting, checking and waiting. And not once did I decide to take to accomplish something with all the time I now had. 

Does this mean I consider 2020 a lost or wasted year? Can I no longer consider myself a warrior able to take on any challenge that comes my way? Have I let this pandemic beat me?

No.

2020 was not the year I planned it to be, and I was not the person I always thought I would be in the face of crisis, but that does not mean it was wasted, or that I lost, or have been beaten. A lot of wonderful things still happened, and some of them wouldn’t have without the pandemic. I got to spend more time with my son than I would have otherwise, and was able to be there and help him through something that none of us have ever experienced before. My family had the opportunity to show him, and ourselves, that there are different ways than the ones we have always known to enjoy day to day life, celebrate accomplishments, and support each other through difficult times. My partner and I had more time together than we had ever had before, and had the opportunity to go through something truly difficult together. We learned to recognize, understand, and support stress in each other, which likely would have taken us years to do without something as impactful as a global pandemic. We found new hobbies to enjoy together, new ways to challenge and entertain one another, and truly learned how to relax into our partnership. I was able to reach out to friends and offer support, and in some cases was pleasantly surprised by who offered support in return. Some friendships were difficult to maintain at a distance and are in a holding pattern until we can see each other again, but others flourished in ways I don’t think they would have otherwise.

2020 was a difficult year, because it was a year I entered full of expectation. In the end 2020 taught me the value of embracing and enjoying the things I have right now, showed me the immeasurable love and support that surrounds me, and left me in awe of the way we are all able to adapt and grow in new circumstances. I am now ready to move on from mourning what 2020 could have been, and to more forward looking at 2021 with hope free of expectation.

The Down Times

Do you ever have those days when you are just feeling tired? I don’t mean physically, although that can be a part of it, but mentally and emotionally just plain run down? Exhausted, drained, and like all you want in the world is to curl up somewhere safe and protected from everything that is demanding things from you?

It happens to me sometimes, and I have a really hard time with it. I am a naturally sympathetic person, and as such in most of my relationships I am a supporter. Most of the time this works for me, as I truly enjoy the feeling of being able to help someone who needs something, whether that need is physical, mental or emotional. It makes me happy when I make others feel better.

The problem comes when I need the support. Because I’m so independent and so quick to help others most of my relationships don’t get the chance to develop in a way that makes them able to support me when I need it. Most of them can’t even tell when I need it, and I have yet to find a person who knows exactly what I need, or who can give it to me even if I spell it out for them. Because of my habit of supporting I get into a cycle of pouring so much of myself into others that there is nothing left in my batteries when the time comes to take care of me. Even if I knew how I wouldn’t have the energy to do it.

So what is the solution? I don’t really know, it’s one of the things I haven’t figured out yet. Sometimes I try reaching out to people, and once or twice it has helped, but never completely, never in every way I need. Most of the time I just ride it out alone, or find something or someone to distract myself with until it passes. I know that’s not the healthiest approach, but it’s what I’ve got until I find something better. Part of my personal journey is trying to find new ways to take better care of me, or maybe one day find someone out there who knows how to help me when I need it.