Note to readers: Papabear is trying something a little different today. I've had a couple letters where I had to write back to the furry to find out more information before I could respond in a helpful way. I thought it might be interesting to post below a conversation I had with one furry that shows the thought process behind offering advice.
Athelstan: I'm a 35 year old bear and I just bought a house all by myself. I'm finding myself lost on how to make it into my den. The feeling that I can do just about anything. I want my place to be open for others and to reflect who I am, but I must know who I am.
Any ideas on how I sort this out and trust myself enough to make a home my den?
Papabear: Dear Athelstan, to help you I need a little more background. You say you are 35 and just bought your own place. Where were you before now? Were you married? Living with family or roommates? Tell me a little more about yourself, including your experience as a furry.
Athelstan: For the last year I was in a duplex. Hard to do much to a rental place. Before that I was renting the basement of the house I bought with my ex that we had sold to a friend. So I had been living with my good bunny since 2003. He knows how to decorate and I let him do his own thing. We separated in 2008. He was co-dependent and I was a depressive. A bad combination. He just wanted to make me happy, and nothing would make me happy. I've been through years of therapy and am doing much better. I'm getting out, being social. My house came almost as a lark. Low house prices, along with a greatly increased 401k allowed me to get a house. So I find that making my house a home is pressing me on my issue with individuation.
More about me. I'm a geek. I fix computers for a college/hospital. I had a hard childhood. I wish "It gets better" was around when I was growing up. I was mostly alone until High School. My parents benignly ignored me. There was lots of arguments and drama in my family so I learned that being emotional or stating what I liked was wrong. I'm learning to be emotional, but it may be my lifelong journey to become emotional. As an escape I read and that is where I really became a furry. I've made three fursuits. I've written a story. My fursonas change as I like. I see my furry selves to be an idealistic reflection of myself. My bear, Greg, is a gruff trucker who loves his cigars and being with other big burly men. My dragon or bear (depending on mood) Athelstan is a historian. I have few others I roleplay with, but that's for wanting to play in naughty ways.
Papabear: Interesting what you say about your parents. Are you from a white Anglo-Saxon background?
Athelstan: Indeed. Very religious.
Papabear: A Protestant denomination? may I ask?
Athelstan: Church of Christ. My parents were very hypocritical, and I internalized the guilt and shame when I found that out.
Papabear: Hence your depression, which is likely the reason why you couldn't discover who you were. I have a similar story. My father was such a homophobe that I internalized my sexuality to the point I didn't realize I was gay until I was 40. Parents can really mess with your head, but, in the end, we are responsible for our own self-discovery.
Athelstan: Indeed. I'm about to the point that I've lived on my own as long as I lived with them, and I'm much better. It's my life to live as I please.
Papabear: Good for you!
Papabear: So, if no one was hanging around telling you how to decorate or that you should be worried about what visitors will think, how would you fashion your personal living space?
Athelstan: I'm not sure how to answer that. I can do anything and too much choice is very hard.
Papabear: Did you ever see the Robin Williams movie "Moscow on the Hudson"?
Athelstan: 20 years ago... I think.
Papabear: Do you recall the scene when he goes shopping for coffee? In Russia, there was one choice: coffee. But when he goes to the coffee aisle in New York there are dozens of choices. He becomes so confused he passes out, muttering "coffee.... coffeee..." kind of like you?
Athelstan: I don't pass out, but yeah, I overthink too much.
Papabear: Okay, I hope this is not cliché, but have you tried meditation? Relaxation techniques and allowing your mind to go blank and let your heart guide you...?
Athelstan: I have tried. I have a loud mind.
Papabear: Perhaps you need a professional, such as a yoga teacher to help you. Do you have trouble falling asleep at night?
Athelstan: Yes... How did you know?
Papabear: You mentioned your racing mind. Because your mind is so active, it prevents you from falling asleep. I want you to try something for me, if you would.... Next time you go to bed, pay attention to your body. Do you notice any muscles tensing? leg? neck? jaw?
Athelstan: I should lay in bed, working from my feet up, tensing and then relaxing each part until my entire body is relaxed? I just need to do that.
Papabear: I don't tense, I just focus on each part of my body. I start at the toes and work my way up. Each time I notice a part is tensed, I relax it. This method has worked for me for years. Sounds like you tried it and it didn't work? I'm usually tense in the jaw and neck.
Athelstan: My shoulders are where my tension is, and relaxing does work... I just forget about it.
Papabear: Ah, ok, well, that's another thing: to make a routine each night. Also, to turn off the TV, make sure your room is dark and peaceful.
Athelstan: I got that part down. My room is dark and with out any distraction.
Papabear: OK, so you just need to work on making the relaxation a routine. The reason I'm talking about this is because I think it is very important for you to get needed sleep to rest the mind and to help you focus on the main issue of finding who you are. You have to work on silencing all the outside voices of your parents, family, friends, etc. that are cluttering your head, and find that inner voice that is yours
Athelstan: Thank you! I normally got to pay for someone to tell me these things.
Papabear: Well, I don't have a degree on my wall (well, I do, but it's not in psychology or social work), so I can't charge you. Besides, I really DO want to help my fellow furries. I want to make the world a happier place if I can. You are welcome. Anyway, I think you have to do the things we talked about here first, and see how they go, and then we can proceed from there. Sound good to you?
Athelstan: Yes. Thank you again!
Papabear: You're very welcome. Feel free to poke me any time, hon.
We'll see how it goes with Athelstan, but this is the first step. Papabear does not wish to give the impression with this column that he is a pop psychologist who can solve furry problems with a few taps on the keyboard. Good advice sometimes needs to be spread over long sessions. There are some people in my life whom I have advised over a period of years. On the other paw, Papabear has also received good advice from his dear friends. I firmly believe that a big reason we are born and live is to be there for those in need. To support one another. I have made more friends who are furries in my life than those who are not furries, and that is why I am grateful to all of you and why I write this column. It is my personal "Thank You" to all of you. Bear hugs.
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.