Merry Christmas to the misunderstood and the lonely

It’s Christmas Eve. So many familiar songs of the season fill the air as families and friends gather to exchange gifts, eat good food, and enjoy each other’s company. In particular, the words by Noel Regney stand out to me today: “Do you see what I see… Do you hear what I hear… Do you know what I know…Listen to what I say…” (1962). Although I know mental health awareness was probably not on his mind when he penned those words, I can’t help but feel that countless people with mental illnesses can relate as we are struggling to “fit in” or simply survive this Christmas.

Seeing those bits of the song pulled out and pieced together, I see a plea for understanding. Experience truly is a brutal teacher. Those who have never experienced mental illness can sit next to someone with anxiety, yet have no notion of how consuming the illness can be. Those who have never experienced depression can sit next to someone with depression, yet have no understanding of the hopelessness that accompanies the illness. The same can be said of all mental illnesses. Unless you have walked in my shoes, you unfortunately will never understand just how deeply these issues influence every aspect of my life, including holidays with family and friends.

With this in mind, I thought I would write this short Christmas post to say “I get it” to those people out there who are struggling through Christmas feeling misunderstood or alone in their struggles. You are unique, as are your individual struggles, but you are not alone. I’m right there in the thick of it with you. There are a few things I try to do or to keep in mind at social events. Whether I am with a group of strangers or with people I have known my entire life, sometimes one or all are necessary. 

  1. Enjoy the little things – focus on how delicious your food tastes or the sound of Christmas carols in the background.
  2. Think about what is happening right now, rather than what could happen or what might have happened.
  3. Escape to a quiet area when a group setting becomes too overwhelming
  4. Establish an ally – someone you can pull aside if you need help getting out of an endless anxiety loop.
  5. Don’t be afraid to leave early if you need to do so for the sake of your mental health.
  6. Set boundaries – don’t participate in activities that make you too uncomfortable.

Finally, if anyone is reading this and is struggling to survive this Christmas, reach out to me. My email is tealmhawareness@gmail.com. You are not alone. I am happy to commiserate or talk about shared or different experiences or coping mechanisms. Christmas is about love and acceptance, not pain and loneliness.

References

Regney, Noel. (1962). Do You Hear What I Hear? Lyrics retrieved from https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/1449506/Star+Bright/Do+You+Hear+What+I+Hear-The+Little+Drummer+Boy

Positively Pessimistic: confessions of a catastrophizer

glass

Trigger warnings: anxiety, depression, suicide

So there’s this thing called pessimism. It is “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.” (Pessimism, 2018). We, the pessimists of the world, are the Debbie Downers…the-glass-is-half-empty-ers…the catastrophizers. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the optimists. They are the ones who bring joy into the world and remind us that life really is worth living. They are sometimes so positive it’s disgusting. Their cup is half full of vodka, while the pessimist holds a half empty glass of diet water. I love the following explanation of two vastly different perspectives:


“An optimistic person sees good things everywhere, is generally confident and hopeful of what the future holds. From the optimist’s point-of-view the world if full of potential opportunities. The pessimist, on the other hand, observes mainly the negative aspects of everything around. Thinking of all the potential dangers and pitfalls on the way, the pessimist is likely to have little hope for the future. Consequently, the pessimist tends to remain passive when encountered with a challenge, believing that his efforts are futile anyway” (Hecht, 2013).


I pulled the above descriptions from a 2013 article written by David Hecht about the biological and neurological factors that influence whether or not a person sees the glass as half empty. In the article, he discusses that pessimistic tendencies appear to stem from people who are right-brain dominant. These people tend to be more “intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective,” as opposed to the more “logical, analytical, and objective” left-brain dominant people (Cherry, 2018). I can definitely see this. Right-brained people are less likely to rationalize their way through a situation. Logic? What’s that? Don’t be silly…logic has no place in predicting outcomes or making decisions. Why apply objective reasoning when I can instead invent the most creative and catastrophic outcome possible?

There are some things you will never (or rarely) hear out of the a pessimist’s mouth. I suppose I should clarify that you will rarely hear them out of MY mouth. All pessimists are not created equal, so I can’t speak for everyone. I also don’t know if all pessimists have a closet optimist hiding inside them, but I definitely have one of those little things too. Sometimes she makes herself known.


It’s good enough…said no pessimist ever

That phrase is like nails on a chalk board. I don’t want anything I do or say to be “just” good enough. I want it to be perfect. But perfectionism isn’t particularly healthy. Hecht (2013) says research has shown “that unhappiness, low self-esteem, pessimism and depression are all linked to the chase after perfectness.” Reading this caused me to dig a little deeper into how pessimism and perfectionism relate to each other. According to Psychology Today, “what makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so there is a negative orientation” (2018). And there it is. Perfectionism is pessimistic because instead of striving for greatness, we strive for…ummm…non not-greatness? Sometimes wording makes a difference.

I had my first counseling appointment yesterday with a new therapist. At one point, I told her I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and insignificance (the opposite of perfection). I told her, “I am never enough for anyone.” I quickly amended this by saying, “I don’t include my family and close friends in that statement.” The therapist said, “Ah. So you have been enough?” I said, “Yes. To my friends and family. Just not to a significant other.” She said, “Then maybe instead of saying you aren’t enough for some people, you should say you are enough for the people who really matter.” I didn’t go into my first therapy session thinking my mind would be blown. But wow. My mind was blown.

On this crazy, difficult journey, I am slowly starting to realize that being enough does not mean being perfect to all people at all times. Being enough means being who I am with the people who matter.

I am good enough. And that is perfect. The closet optimist in me agrees.


Everything will work out in the end…said no pessimist ever

I have an extremely difficult time believing in happy endings. My brain goes to the worst case scenario with everything…every time. I am a catastrophizer. Dr. John Grohol, a Doctor of Psychology, explains catastrophizing in this way: “an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is.” He goes on to say, “Falling prey to catastrophizing is like striking out in your mind before you even get to the plate… It can affect our entire outlook in life, and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, disappointment, and underachievement” (2018). Doom and gloom much? Welcome to the entire premise for all my internal dialogue. It’s not pretty.

The most recent example that comes to mind is my hotel stay last night. I came home for Christmas and decided to stop at a cheap, pet friendly hotel so I didn’t have to drive all the way through. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot of a hotel that will remain unnamed, I began to question my decision. The parking lot was not well lit and the building looked like it had seen better days. While checking in, the front desk person recommended I access my room by going to the poorest lit section of the parking lot, entering a back hallway, and going through a small outdoor courtyard. I took the battered room key, gathered my belongings and my dog, Toby, and quickly came to terms with the fact that I would likely get mugged and murdered before I even located my room.

Somehow I found the room without suffering anything traumatic or life threatening. The room key worked on the first try (much to my surprise!) and I quickly deposited my things on the floor. I just as quickly picked my things back up from the floor, as it was questionable whether or not the room had been cleaned in the hotel’s history. I checked under the mattress protectors and sheets for bed bugs and was sure to remain as clothed as possible so my skin didn’t touch anything. I already have an irrational fear of contracting bed bugs from a hotel stay anyway, but as this was a pet friendly hotel, I  also assumed Toby and I would both come down with a bad case of fleas. Scabies and skin mites were also not out of the question. Oh. And probably ring worm from the shower.

As I tried to fall asleep in the strange, run down hotel, I texted my best friend, seeking reassurance that all would be well. She has worked in the hospitality/hotel industry for a long time, so she is a more than credible source of information. She encouraged me to check for hair on the bathroom ceiling to confirm that they clean thoroughly. What?! The bathroom had a popcorn ceiling. How am I supposed to check for hair and proper cleaning of a popcorn ceiling?! I pondered how many dogs has peed on the smelly carpet or the surprisingly comfortable beds. For that matter…how many humans had peed on the smelly carpet or the surprisingly comfortable beds?

I did finally get to sleep, but got up early this morning and high tailed it out of there as fast as I could. Needless to say, I skipped the continental breakfast. I’m sure there would have been cockroaches in the eggs and mold on the toast. Upon finally reaching my sister’s house, Toby began scratching behind his ears. I panicked and said, “See! We have fleas from the hotel room!” My sister said in her calm, cool, and collected way, “Or maybe he just has an itch.”

Looking back on the hotel, it really wasn’t that bad. The staff was nice and it looked much better in the light of day. My initial discomfort when pulling into the parking lot managed to kick start my irrational fear factory, which turned a mediocre hotel stay into a night of terror out of some horror flick. The moral of the story is this: an anxious, pessimistic catastrophizer should not travel alone or stay in cheap, pet-friendly hotels. And I should listen to John Lennon : “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay it’s not the end.”


It can’t get any worse…said no pessimist ever

I hate to break it to you, but it can always get worse. It can and it probably will at some point.

Recently, I had dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house. During dinner, my aunt pulled out Garry Poole’s The Complete Book of Questions, and we proceeded to go around the table and answer random questions. There was a two-part question that I found to be particularly profound: “How hard is life? How does your life compare?” (Poole, 2003, p. 113). The order of the questions is important to note. The point is to first identify how bad things can really get, which then gives perspective while you answer part two. If the question was just “How bad is your life on a scale of 1 to 10,” the answer would probably be different since you hadn’t first considered how bad life could be.

My ex-husband is a paraplegic. He used to say, “It could always be worse. I could be a quadriplegic.” I heard his quadriplegic friend once say, “It could always be worse. I could be a quad and have a traumatic brain injury.” There is always someone out there who has it worse than you. Time out, though. As important as it is to maintain perspective at all times, I also think it’s important to make sure we aren’t completely downplaying our own pain or suffering by always comparing ourselves to others who are worse off. If you’re hurting or going through a rough time, acknowledging that someone else has it worse doesn’t mean that your pain doesn’t matter. The reason to keep your struggles in perspective is not to minimize what you are feeling, but instead to bring attention to the things for which you can be grateful. Life sucks. It’s going to get harder. But that closet optimist in me sees that I have a lot to be thankful for because I have a loving family, amazing friends, a good career, a roof over my head, and food on my table every day. As my cousin so eloquently put it to me the other day while we were discussing mental health experiences: “It might get more difficult and be worse next year compared to this year, but I will have more and better coping mechanisms because of what I went through this year. So, yes, it can get worse, but I will be ready for it.” (Note to my cousin: if I butchered that, please forgive me)


I won’t be disappointed…said no pessimist ever

This one is actually a big struggle for me. One of the few areas in which I actually am an optimist is my belief that people are innately good. I want to believe this. In fact, I need to believe this so I can function on a day-to-day basis. If I maintain that people are basically good, I can look beyond any mistakes or malicious behavior and see the light that shines beneath their words and actions. It makes forgiveness possible. This unwavering belief in the goodness of those around me can be a good quality. Until it’s not. Then it’s a very, very bad quality because I set myself up to be hurt over and over again.


 “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

From The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1971)


I love this quote because it can be dissected in different ways. You can take it at face value and say the easiest way to lack disappointment in life is to lack expectations. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? However, I don’t actually believe it is humanly possible to have zero expectations in a relationship, whether it’s family, work, friends, or a romantic relationship. Declaring that you have no expectations is in itself establishing an expectation. The fact of the matter is this: people will always disappoint us. Is that pessimism or is that just being realistic and honest? Dr. Israel Charny (2018) says that, “like it or not, we will be the wiser and the better prepared to cope in life if we prepare ourselves in advance for the possibility – and ultimately the likelihood – of a certain degree of hurt, injustice, betrayal, and destructive acts against us from people…close to us.”

In my own personal life, I have been disappointed time and time again. I have also disappointed other people time and time again. I am certainly not innocent of this crime against others. The pessimist in me whole heartedly agrees with Dr. Charny – if I assume everyone is going to disappoint me, it takes a tiny bit of the sting out of it when they actually do. In fact, if I catastrophize and say they will disappoint me in the worst way possible, it will be a pleasant surprise when I am only faced with small disappointments. That being said, the closet optimist in me refuses to let go of the idea that, although this person is going to hurt me at some point, they are also good and worthy of my time, love, and forgiveness.

The following quote takes my breath away because it perfectly captures the dichotomy that is my pessimistic and optimistic view of those around me. I have the expectation that people are both good and destined to disappoint me. But that should never stop me from seeing their beauty.


“I would rather die, broken into a thousand pieces because I loved fierce, I gave of my heart, pursued my dreams and I believed in the goodness of humanity, than die as a whole, untouched and unbruised because I wanted to preserve myself from hurt, disappointment and things going wrong.” – S.C. Lourie


 Look on the bright side…said no pessimist ever

According to the oh so accurate Urban Dictionary (2003), a pessimist is “an optimist with experience.” In my own life and though my own experiences, I have determined that pessimism goes hand in hand with both my anxiety and my depression. In fact, according to Hecht, depression is “a pathological state of pessimism. Depression is characterized by overly pessimistic thoughts, a negative thinking style and a tendency to focus and ruminate on what is wrong and magnify it, while ignoring the good things in one’s life” (2013). On a bad day, looking on the bright side is the last thing on my mind. Just opening up my eyes to look at my bedroom ceiling can be a challenge.

Depression is the ultimate pessimism. A couple definitions of the word depressed are “being or measured below the standard or norm” and “pressed down, or situated lower than the general surface” (2018). To be depressed and pessimistic is to be pressed down, beaten down, to the point of being in the emotional negative. Lower than low. I had a recent conversation with a friend who described depression like the most constant and stubborn of rip tides – it pulls and pulls and pulls until it’s easier to just give in and let it carry you away. Then you reach the point of giving up. Amidst all the talk about pessimism and optimism, Hecht states that “suicide attempts reflect the ultimate pessimistic state and extreme hopelessness” (2013). Pessimism and optimism aren’t just about how we see the proverbial glass of water. It can be a matter of life and death.

Never dismiss someone as “just a pessimist.” Even some cheerful optimists are covering up the closet pessimist who is taking over their life. Pay attention to those around you. Check to make sure people are okay. Reach out to them and tell them that it’s okay to see the glass as half empty, just so long as the glass doesn’t fall to the ground and shatter.

One last quote from Hecht’s great article on optimism and pessimism: “Therapeutic methods for overcoming pessimism and unhappiness concentrate on setting realistically achievable goals for oneself, cultivating a non-judgemental attitude and practicing unconditional self-acceptance – applying compassion, generosity and love to oneself” (2013). It’s all about the self-love!

Namaste. I see you.

 

 

References

Charny, Israel W. (2018). The Nature of Man: Is Man by Nature Good, or Basically Bad?

Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/warrior-

life/201803/the-nature-man-is-man-nature-good-or-basically-bad

 

Cherry, Kendra. (2018). Left Brain vs. Right Brain Dominance: The Surprising Truth.

Verywellmind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/left-brain-vs-right-brain-2795005

 

Depressed. (2018). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/depressed?s=t

 

Greer, Daphne. It Could Always Be Worse: The power of gratitude and perspective. Tiny

Buddha. Retrieved from https://tinybuddha.com/blog/power-gratitude-perspective/

 

Grohol, J. (2018). What is Catastrophizing?. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-catastrophizing/

 

Hecht, David. (2013).The Neural Basis of Optimism and Pessimism. Retrieved from

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3807005/

 

Pessimism. (2018). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pessimism

 

Pessimist. (2003). Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pessimist

 

Plath, Sylvia. (1971). The Bell Jar. New York: Harper & Row.

 

Poole, Garry. (2003). The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 conversation starters for any occasion. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

Psychology Today. (2018). Perfectionism. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/perfectionism

 

Cover photo credit http://www.unsplash.com

Soundtrack to a breaking heart

music

Trigger warnings: depression, abuse, suicide, lots of emotions

I am a musician at heart. I took many years of classical piano lessons, which taught me how to feel each note and appreciate each dynamic chord. Speaking of the word chord, I find the various definitions of the word to be incredibly fitting. According to dictionary.com (n.d.), one definition for chord is: “a combination of usually three or more musical tones sounded simultaneously.” Right below this definition on the website is the following definition: “an emotional response, [especially] one of sympathy.” Music and emotions are synonymous. You can’t have music without emotions. And emotions can be explored and interpreted with the aid of music. There is a reason that music therapy can “promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, [and] promote physical rehabilitation” (American Music Therapy Association, 1998-2018). Simply put: music is powerful.

For this very reason, a lot of people have playlists for different moods or occasions. Whether we are in love, heartbroken, feeling festive, or even just going to the gym, there’s a song for that. I personally have a playlist with a simple name: Heartbreak. It’s frustrating how frequently I turn back to this playlist. Maybe it’s bad luck to keep it on my phone, but it’s easier than recreating it every time I need to lose myself in some melancholy tunes. The songs represent some of the most painful moments in my life. They bring back memories of heartache, but also bring comfort and reminders that life isn’t as hopeless as I may think right this minute. Since they have been such a big part of me for so long now, I thought I would share them. There are so many feeling and emotions associated with each song, but I did my best to categorize their message. I have so much in common with people experiencing various types of heartbreak. Each of these songs are dedicated to you. I see you.


To the used and abused

Christina Perri: Jar of Hearts (2011)

I know I can’t take one more step towards you

‘Cause all that’s waiting is regret

Don’t you know I’m not your ghost anymore

You lost the love I loved the most

 

I learned to live half alive

And now you want me one more time

 

And who do you think you are?

Running ‘round leaving scars

Collecting your jar of hearts

And tearing love apart

You’re gonna catch a cold

From the ice inside your soul

So don’t come back for me

Who do you think you are?

 

I hear you’re asking all around

If I am anywhere to be found

But I have grown too strong

To ever fall back in your arms

 

And it took so long just to feel alright

Remember how to put back the light in my eyes

I wish I had missed the first time that we kissed

‘Cause you broke all your promises

And now you’re back

You don’t get to get me back

 

I don’t know which is more difficult: getting out of a mentally/emotionally/physically abusive relationship or staying out of one. It takes a special kind of person to use and abuse another human being. Thankfully, I have never been physically abused, but I have been to hell and back with emotional and mental abuse. I have been taken advantage of. I have been stabbed in the back. I have been used for my generosity and forgiving nature. And in spite of that, my abusers have had the audacity to request I stay with them. They make empty promises with their fingers crossed behind their back.

This song brings tears to my eyes for a number of reasons. The lines “who do you think you are? Runnin’ round leaving scars, collecting your jar of hearts” is a reminder that abusers don’t stop at one. If they have beaten you down, chances are they have beaten down others before you and will beat down others after you. That is a person to get away from. Don’t go back. On the other hand, I love the defiant strength that builds throughout the song. The rose colored glasses are off. The game is over. Find that inner strength and don’t go back to that life. You are strong! You are a beautiful soul! Don’t stand for abuse of any kind.


To those with regrets

Britton Buchanan: Where You Come From (2018)

I trade guts for glory
I trade love for pain
I trade my tomorrows
If you just say my name
This spoon and this needle
This blood in my veins
I’m an innocent victim
On a runaway train


But it’s time to let go
It’s time to break free
From these sins that I hold
And this blood that I bleed
Don’t say goodbye
You don’t have to hold on
The place where you come from is gone

This. I love this. It’s okay to set your regrets free. We’ve all made mistakes. We all have actions we wish we could undo, words we wish we could unsay, and pictures with 90’s hairstyles we wish we could burn (for those born in the 90’s or later….shut up…your time is coming). I get chills when I hear the line “Don’t say goodbye – you don’t have to hold on.” Give yourself permission to let go. Give yourself the go ahead to stop beating yourself up about things you can’t go back and change. Regret, guilt, personal grudges…they accomplish nothing except cause you pain. We can never move forward if we are constantly looking back. If you did things you regret (who hasn’t?), the present is your opportunity to change for the better, to shed that old self, and take the first step into the rest of your life. Don’t let past mistakes keep you from experience the life staring you in the face right now. My cousin recently reminded me of a brilliant Bob Ross quote: “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents” (n.d.). Each happy accident opens new doors and offers opportunities to learn humility or practice forgiveness. Acknowledge those experiences and move on, rather than focusing on them and holding on. You’ve got this.


To the fighters

Julia Brennan: Inner Demons (2016)

They say don’t let them in

Close your eyes and clear your thoughts again

When I’m all alone, they show up on their own

‘Cause inner demons fight their battles with fire

Inner demons don’t play by the rules

They say, “Just push them down, just fight them harder

Why would you give up on it so soon?”

 

So angels, angels please just keep on fighting

Angels don’t give up on me today

The demons they are there; they just keep fighting

Cause inner demons just won’t go away

So angels please, hear my prayer

Life is pain, life’s not fair

So angels please; please stay here

Take the pain; take the fear

 

They say it won’t be hard; they can’t see the battles in my heart

But when I turn away

The demons seem to stay

Cause inner demons don’t play well with angels

They cheat and lie and steal and break and bruise

Angels, please protect me from these rebels

This is a battle I don’t want to lose

 

What I absolutely love about this song is how it brings to life the fact that it’s so difficult for others to understand what people with mental illnesses go through. It’s easy to stand on the outside looking in and say “do this” or “do that,” without an appreciate for the emotional and mental anguish happening under the surface. I see this song as a cry to the outsiders to have compassion and acknowledge that my behaviors and mental struggles are not always a choice. No one would choose to live this way or fight such darkness. When people tell me repeatedly that I worry too much, that I’m overreacting, or that I’m being irrational, I want to shout, “give me a little credit!!” I know all that. But telling me that is not going to change the fact that the chemical imbalance in my brain makes it impossible at times to rationalize my way through a situation. It’s not always helpful to point out to us how irrational I am being. Rather, please acknowledge that I am trying and appreciate that sometimes all I need is a quiet companion on my journey to find clarity within my far from simple reality.


To the homesick

Lindsey Sterling (feat. Andrew McMahon): Something Wild (2016)

You had your maps drawn
You had other plans
To hang your hopes on
Every road they led you down felt so wrong
So you found another way

You’ve got a big heart
The way you see the world
It got you this far
You might have some bruises
And a few of scars
But you know you’re gonna be okay


Even though you’re scared
You’re stronger than you know

If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding
Caught in all, the stars are hiding
That’s when something wild calls you home, home
If you face the fear that keeps you frozen
Chase the sky into the ocean
That’s when something wild calls you home, home

 

My best friend shared this song with me shortly after I moved out of state. I’d never lived more than a few miles away from where I grew up, so moving 700 miles away was a bit of a system shock. I made this somewhat rash decision after having my heart ripped out by my ex-husband. Over the last couple years since the move, I have learned that there are different types of homesickness. There is the homesickness in which you yearn for the people you love. There is the homesickness in which you want to find your way back to a place of peace, security, and belonging. There is the homesickness in which you just want to feel safe in someone’s arms. All those things are home to me: people I love, peace, security, belonging, and safety in someone’s physical embrace. There are days when I still am scared to be so far away from home. My heart, or rather my heartbreak, led me on this adventure, for better or for worse. Someday I hope to experience less homesickness. Until that time, I listen to this song and remind myself that home is always closer than I think and that I am strong enough to find my way back at any time.


To the broken

Danny Gokey: Tell Your Heart to Beat Again (2014)

You’re shattered

Like you’ve never been before

The life you knew

In a thousand pieces on the floor

And words fall short in times like these

When the world drives you to your knees

You think you’re never gonna get back

To the you that used to be

 

Tell your heart to beat again

Close your eyes and breathe it in

Let the shadows fall away

Step into the light of grace

Yesterday’s a closing door

You don’t live there anymore

Say goodbye to where you’ve been

And tell your heart to beat again

 

This is a song my sister shared with me at a time I so desperately needed to hear it. Not long before, I had been over at a good friend’s house. It was actually the friend who found out about and informed me of my husband’s on-going affair, so our friendship was both strained and immeasurably strong. I could not determine whether or not I hated her for bearing the news that ruined my life or loved her for telling me what no one else could or would. Either way, no one else saw into my pain quite like she did. I remember standing in her kitchen, then leaning against the wall, sliding to the floor, and crying my heart out on the cold tile. This was only days after the bomb had dropped. I had reacted with little emotion up until that point – I had been too numb and in shock. I remember telling her I had no idea what I was going to do. I remember the feelings of complete and utter hopelessness, loneliness, and brokenness. Then this song came along, perfectly describing the state of my life. It certainly didn’t fix things – nothing could fix things – but it brought some element of piece. I’m not the only one who has been crushed beyond recognition. I’m not the only one who has survived. I’m not the only one who has started to rebuild again.


To the actors

Christina Perri: Human (2014)

 I can hold my breath
I can bite my tongue
I can stay awake for days
If that’s what you want
Be your number one

I can fake a smile
I can force a laugh
I can dance and play the part
If that’s what you ask
Give you all I am


I can turn it on
Be a good machine
I can hold the weight of worlds
If that’s what you need
Be your everything

 

But I’m only human
And I bleed when I fall down
I’m only human
And I crash and I break down
Your words in my head, knives in my heart
You build me up and then I fall apart
‘Cause I’m only human

 

This song speaks to me on so many levels. I am an actor. I can be whoever anyone needs or wants me to be. At some point, though, something must give. Even the best actors can only keep up their façade for so long before they break. For my kindred spirits out there, it’s okay to let others know that we have chinks in our armor too. It’s okay to remind others that we can’t be strong for everyone else. It’s okay to give ourselves permission to not be perfect. “I can hold the weight of world if that’s what you need” – but I shouldn’t have to bear that weight. It’s difficult when so many of us, myself included, have set a precedent for strength and reliability. Those are invaluable traits, but not if it means sacrificing ourselves in the process. We matter too. Be what others need you to be within reason. Don’t forget about yourself. Don’t forget that you are made of flesh and bone and human brokenness just like anyone else. Sometimes we have to let ourselves be weak so someone else can bear the weight of our world for a bit.


To the betrayed

Demi Lovato: Stone Cold (2015)

 Stone cold

You see me standing

But I’m dying on the floor

Stone cold

Stone cold

Maybe if I don’t cry

I won’t feel anymore

 

Stone cold

Baby

God knows I try to feel

Happy for you

Know that I am

Even if I can’t understand

I’ll take the pain

Give me the truth

Me and my heart

We’ll make it through

If happy is her

I’m happy for you

 

Stone cold

You’re dancing with her

While I’m staring at my phone

Stone cold

Stone cold

I was your amber, but now

She’s your shade of gold

 

God knows I try to feel

Happy for you

Know that I am

Even if I can’t understand

I’ll take the pain

Give me the truth

Me and my heart

We’ll make it through

If happy is her

I’m happy for you

 

Don’t wanna be stone cold

I wish I could mean this

But here’s my goodbye

Oh, I’m happy for you

 

So many emotions with this one. This song tears my heart out all over again every time I hear it. This was another song shared with me after I found out about my ex’s affair and betrayal. The line “I was your amber, but now she’s your shade of gold” is obviously one that cut me to the core. It took my name and slapped me in the face. Setting that aside, my interpretation of this song might be different from someone else’s. Some people might see this woman as a push over. A door mat. She’s standing by and letting some other chick steal her man. And that is probably all true. However, I see an underlying theme of forgiveness. Instead of getting angry, she let’s go and puts his happiness before hers. That is what I tend to do, whether it is healthy or not. In the end, I believe that mentality is what made it so “easy” to forgive his sins against me. I also recently told my new ex-husband that I genuinely hope he finds happiness and that his dreams do come true. I don’t see the point of holding grudges or wishing misfortune upon someone who has wronged me in any way. As with any grudge, it will do me more harm than the other person. For me, this song represents the pain and agony that goes with betrayal, along with the bittersweet relief that goes with forgiveness. Let go of the hate and bitterness so that you may see all the love that is out there waiting for you.


For the survivors

Brian & Jenn Johnson: You’re Gonna Be Okay (2017)

I know you’re trying hard to just be strong

And it’s a fight just to keep it together

I know you think that you are too far gone

But hope is never lost

Hold on, don’t let go

 

Just take one step closer

Put one foot in front of the other

You’ll get through this

Just follow the light in the darkness

You’re gonna be okay

 

I know your heart is heavy from those nights

But just remember that you are a fighter

You never know just what tomorrow holds

And you’re stronger than you know

 

When the night is closing in

Don’t give up and don’t give in

This won’t last, and it’s not the end

It’s not the end

You’re gonna be okay

 

Where do I even begin with this one? Depression is real. Depression is scary. As someone who has struggled to find a reason to take my next breath, these words are a war cry. If I had a fight song, this would be it. Don’t give up. It may be an uphill battle, but it’s a worthy fight. For me, the wars that rage on at night often seem a little less overwhelming at sunrise. Another Bob Ross quote is appropriate here: “You need the dark in order to show the light” (n.d.). Sometimes it’s so difficult to see beyond the here and now. The hope that comes with tomorrow is too far out of reach to actually be worth considering. I am here to tell you that you aren’t alone in these struggles. The sun will rise, bringing with it a promise of new discovery and grace. I have struggled, currently struggle, and will struggle going forward. We’re in this together. I see you. Please see me.


 

References

American Music Therapy Association. (1998-2018). Retrieved from https://www.musictherapy.org

Brennan, Julia. (2016). Inner Demons. Inner Demons. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/juliabrennan/innerdemons.html

Buchanan, Britton. (2018). Where You Come From. Lyrics retrieved from http://www.metrolyrics.com/where-you-come-from-lyrics-britton-buchanan.html

Chord. (n.d.). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/chord

Gokey, Danny. (2014). Tell Your Heart to Beat Again. Hope in Front of Me. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/dannygokey/tellyourhearttobeatagain.html

Johnson, Brian & Jenn. (2017). You’re Gonna Be Okay. Bethel Music. Lyrics retrieved from https://bethelmusic.com/chords-and-lyrics/youre-gonna-be-ok-bright-ones/

Lovato, Demi. (2015). Stone Cold. Confident. Lyrics retrieved from

Perri, Christina. (2011). Jar of Hearts. Love Strong. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/christinaperri/jarofhearts.html

Perri, Christina. (2014). Human. Head or Heart. Lyrics retrieved from http://www.metrolyrics.com/human-lyrics-christina-perri.html

Ross, Bob. (n.d.). From The Joy of Painting. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/65452/20-bob-ross-quotes-make-life-better

Stirling, Lindsey. (2016). Something Wild. Brave Enough. Lyrics retrieved from

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

Gaslighting: “It’s Not Me, It’s You”

it's you

Trigger warning: Emotional and Mental Abuse

Let me tell you a story. It is a difficult story to put into words, so please bear with me.

When my second husband and I first got married, he worked as a paramedic. Not long after we were married, he switched to working with a full time female partner. I would imagine that any spouse in that situation will tell you it makes them a little uneasy. There is a reason ambulance crews are called partners. They work long hours together, go through some very traumatic situations together, and often end up knowing each other really well due to conversations had when the call volume is low or when they are posting (waiting for a call to drop). They depend on each other in potentially dangerous situations and must be able to read each other’s verbal and non-verbal cues well enough to anticipate needs during emergencies. Trust is key in their working relationship.


Partner: “A person with whom one shares an intimate relationship: one member of a couple” (n.d.).


Initially, I had no issues with his new partner. She was married with several children, so I did not see her as a threat in any way. The thought really didn’t even cross my mind. The longer they worked together, the more he talked about her. He seemed to know every detail about her personal life, including her marital issues. It was clear they were forming a close bond, so a small bit of doubt began to worm its way into the back of my mind. I started making jokes about how she was the “other woman,” which always annoyed him. He said it was an unfair, tasteless joke. I felt bad enough that I kept my thoughts to myself, despite the fact that he literally spent more time with her than me and continued to gush about her every word or action.

One day, my best friend and I were out to lunch. Low and behold, my husband walks into the restaurant with his partner, unaware that I was there with my friend. I caught their attention and invited them to come over and sit with us. I ended up sitting on the same side as my friend, while my husband and the partner shared the other booth. My husband made no move to try and sit with me. The way they interacted made my stomach churn. They kept laughing and giggling and sharing private jokes. Later, my friend told me that she felt like they were a couple on a date and that she and I were their friends. Anyone observing would have thought the same thing.

dating

Partway through lunch, the partner says, “Tell them about the table.” My husband turned bright red and stayed silent, which immediately piqued my interest because he was the type of person who was embarrassed by nothing and had a witty comeback for everything. She said, “Fine. I’ll tell them. It’s a great story. We probably won’t ever be allowed in that store again.” She proceeds to explain that it had been a quiet morning, so they had posted at a local furniture store. She continued on by saying that they went in to look at kitchen tables. My husband and I had just moved into a house and were planning to look for a kitchen table the following weekend, so I was horrified that he would go do something so personal – something I had been so looking forward to – with her before he’d even gone with me. He took her furniture shopping for our house! To my horror, she then proceeds to say that when he found a table he liked, she hopped up on the table, made an action wholly inappropriate in public view, and suggested they make sure the table was sturdy. She maintained eye contact with me the whole time. In case you missed it: She. Told. This. To. His. Wife.

scream

Needless to say, there were words when he got home from work that night. I was a wreck. He became increasingly upset with me, saying that it was just a joke and that I should be more trusting. He said that I should know that he would never stoop so low as to cheat on the love of his life. He expressed disappointment that the thought would even cross my mind. I had no right to be upset because he’d done nothing wrong. He couldn’t help it if she had a raunchy sense of humor and no shame.

He played my guilt complex strings like a first chair violinist. His performance was flawless. And it worked. I felt so terrible that I would jump to conclusions and assume her joke could only mean his guilt. I told myself I had absolutely no reason to not trust him. Till death do us part, right? He made that vow right along with me. I owed it to both myself and to him to stop reading between the lines or imagining things that could never possibly happen. The trouble is, doubt kept creeping in, so I had to keep smothering it and shoving it back into a locked closet deep inside my heart.


gaslamp

The actual term gaslighting was only recently introduced to me. It stunned me when I did a little research. Gaslighting is a verb. The action “is a malicious and hidden form of mental and emotional abuse, designed to plant seeds of self-doubt and alter your perception of reality. Like all abuse, it’s based on the need for power, control, or concealment” (Lancer, 2018). I also find the following Urban Dictionary definition to be alarmingly accurate:


Gaslighting: “An increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim – having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception” (Your Reality Check, 2009).


Doesn’t that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy?

Dr. Robin Stern, as quoted by NBC News, says that gaslighting “is always dangerous. The danger of letting go of your reality is pretty extreme.” She goes on to say that “the target of the gaslighting is terrified to change up [the relationship] or step out of the gaslighting dynamic because the threat of losing that relationship – or the threat of being seen as less than who you want to be seen as to them – is quite a threat” (DiGiulio, 2018).

Looking back on that marriage, if I had to identify one word that was constant through it all, it would be turmoil. The trouble was, all the turmoil was internal. The war that raged inside of me on a regular basis is difficult to explain. It was a combination of 1) mistrust because his words didn’t always line up completely with his actions, 2) negative self-talk over the fact that I was a terrible person for not trusting him completely, and 3) frustration over the fact that I was experiencing these volatile feelings but could not talk to him about them for fear that he would finally have enough of my unfounded concerns and be done with me. There were a handful of occasions during which I attempted to have a conversation with him about the fears that were eating away at me from the inside out. I always ended up in tears. I would even try writing out bullet point lists so I wouldn’t forget anything or miss any example or supporting detail. Inevitably, he always convinced me of the same conclusion: I worry too much and it’s just my anxiety creating problems that aren’t actually there. It was all in my head. I read an article in Psychology Today that suggested “the person gaslighting you might act hurt and indignant or play the victim when challenged or questioned. Covert manipulation can easily turn into overt abuse, with accusations that you’re distrustful, ungrateful, unkind, overly sensitive, dishonest, stupid, insecure, crazy, or abusive” (Lancer, 2018). This is what he did. He wore me down until I was blind to the truth and doubted my ability to identify red flags that were clearly evidenced by his actions.

blind


Fast forward a few years. I was actually at the point of being at peace in my marriage. I was happy. I felt that we were in a good place…a loving place. I really did trust him at this point. I had finally succumbed to the brainwashing and saw absolutely no reason to ever doubt anything he said. He wouldn’t dream of cheating on me. Ever.

Enter stage left: long-time colleague and friend who is taking a biology class. This friend is lab partners with a nice young mother. She talks non-stop about her amazing boyfriend, the father of her adorable baby boy. The more she talks about him, the more my friend begins to feel a sense of familiarity with this so-called perfect boyfriend. His name. His ethnicity. His background story. The act was up when the friend looked up his lab partner’s Facebook page and saw that her profile picture was of my husband snuggling her close and looking at her with utter adoration. The cover photo was a picture of a smiling baby who looked exactly like the man I thought I’d be with for the rest of my life.

game over

I never actually understood the term “having the rug pulled out from under me” until that moment. I was blindsided. I trusted him. I had convinced myself I was crazy every time I even considered his actions anything but innocent. I’d been a fool. Fool me once, shame on you. True. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’d been fooled, brainwashed, and had believed that it was all in my head.

When I confronted him with my knowledge, I did not tell him that I first went to the woman to hear her side of the story (It was not the ambulance partner from before, but was still someone from the EMS community). I wanted to see how much their stories differed. Of course they were wildly different. When I finally told him that I had already spoken with her and that the only consistency between their two stories was that he was indeed the father of the child, he had the audacity to tell me she was a pathological liar. He told me she had gotten pregnant intentionally to trap him into leaving me. He said she railroaded his life, that he felt betrayed by her actions, and that he was the one who had truly been wronged. She ruined his life. End of story. Oh…and would I please forgive him, make a fresh start, and forget it ever happened. I did forgive him (best thing I’ve ever done in my life), I declined his offer for a “fresh start,” and chose to never forget. Forgetting leads to repetition. I hope to never have a repeat of that experience.


I share this deeply personal story not to receive pity for being a gaslighting victim, an outpouring of sympathy for the pain I experienced, or praise for how strong I was to come out of that situation on top. I don’t want any of that. I want others out there to know that this happens. I want others to know that it’s not okay. You don’t have to tolerate that behavior from anyone, no matter how much they claim to love you or need you.

Dr. Stern, again quoted by NBC, lists out some big red flags that would have been wonderful to know back then. Think of it as a “you might be a gaslighting victim if…” list:

  1. “You’re constantly second guessing yourself or have trouble making decisions”
  2. “You’re ruminating about a perceived character flaw (like being too sensitive or not a good enough person)”
  3. “You feel confused about your relationship”
  4. “In a confrontation with the person that might be gaslighting you, you feel like you suddenly find yourself in an argument you didn’t intend to have, you’re not making progress or you’re saying the same thing over and over again and not being heard”
  5. “You feel fuzzy or unclear about your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs”
  6. “You’re always apologizing”
  7. “You’re frequently making excuses for your partner’s behavior”
  8. “You can’t understand why you’re not happy in your own life”
  9. “You know something is wrong, but you just don’t know what” (DiGiulio, 2018)

If you are noticing those red flags in your own life, or in the life of a loved one, do something. Say something. It is a toxic situation and I can’t even begin to explain how important it is to get away. Stop the abuse. Don’t be afraid to reach out or ashamed of being fooled. We are all human and all make mistakes. What’s important is what you do about it going forward. Stand your ground and find courage in the fact that you are an incredible individual who deserves to be loved by both yourself and others.

If you don’t know who else to reach out to, send me a message. I’ve been there. I’m here now. I see you.


“I can never understand which is more painful, the lies I believed or the truths I did not.” – unknown


 

References

DiGiulio, Sarah. (2018). What is gaslighting? And how do you know if it’s happening to you? NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-gaslighting-how-do-you-know-if-it-s-happening-ncna890866

Lancer, Darlene. (2018). How to Know If You’re a Victim of Gaslighting. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/201801/how-know-if-youre-victim-gaslighting

Partner. (n.d.). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/partner

Your Reality Check. (2008). In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Gaslighting

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

Silent Night, Sleepless Night

insomniaI’m trying to do a better job of being positive, or at the very least attemptingto put a more optimistic spin on things. After a lifetime of sleep issues, I can confidently say that Insomnia is an artform and I am a skilled artist. I utilize diverse mediums such as anxious thoughts, wide-eyed stares at the ceiling, and burrito wrapping myself in the sheets, which all allow me to become unproductive for many additional hours a day. While other people are busy sleeping and rejuvenating their spirits, I am awake solving all the world’s nonexistent problems and unraveling the mysteries of the universe. Everything would basically collapse without my added efforts each night. To borrow a phrase from my friend Sandy: “I have to tuck the moon in each night and then worry that the sun won’t be able to rise without my help.” I kick ass every night so everyone else can shut their minds off and not worry about a thing. That’s right. I graduated summa cum laude with a double major in insomnia and anxiety, plus a double minor in loneliness and problem solving.

I’m all out of positivity and BS now. That was exhausting. Let’s talk about insomnia.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (2018), one in ten people suffer from insomnia-related “daytime functional impairment.”  I promise you…it’s as bad as it sounds. If you think about it, a prevalence of 10% makes insomnia relatively common. But what is it? The Journal for Clinical Sleep Medicine explains that insomnia is “the presence of a long sleep latency, frequent nocturnal awakenings, or prolonged periods of wakefulness during the sleep period” (Roth, 2007). I personally prefer definition number four from Urban Dictionary, which states that insomnia is “when little demons keep poking your brain with little pokey things to make damn sure you can’t sleep” (Insomnia, 2007). That basically sums it up.

I have struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember. It certainly goes hand in hand with my anxiety. My earliest memory of my sleep problem is when I was only a few years old. I remember going down to the living room to sit with my mom so she could tickle my back until I fell asleep again. (If only I could make a machine that could tickle my back the way my mom does, I wouldn’t have any more sleep issues!) In that memory in particular, I recall the neighbor’s bug zapper going off on a regular basis. Even at that point, the noise disturbed me and caused a great amount of anxiety. I’m sure I thought our house was 1) about to be overrun by all the bugs that were missed by the zapper or 2) the zapper was actually a bad guy coming to get us.

pug

Another memory is from when I was seven years old. My family was vacationing in Oregon, visiting family, and enjoying the ocean. I distinctly remember lying in the living room in a sleeping bag, listening to my dad and my uncle discuss this terrible thing called HIV and AIDS. I was awake for much of the night because I was so terrified that my entire family was going to contract and die from that disease. That fear lived with me for weeks afterwards and caused ongoing sleeping issues.

There was a tape player near my bed growing up, so each night my sisters and I would put on various children’s stories, audiobooks, or recorded radio programs. I will never forget the sense of dread I developed if I knew the tape was almost over. If it finished and I wasn’t yet asleep, the anxiety would creep in and I’d be wide awake in a flash. Just in case, I kept myself surrounded by an army of stuffed animals. If all else failed, they stayed awake to keep watch over my family and me while I tried desperately to drift off to sleep.

Over the years, I certainly have not discovered the secret to overcoming insomnia. I no longer surround myself with beanie babies, teddy bears, and a larger than life purple dinosaur named Grape. I have traded those guardians out for sleeping medication and the occasional glass of wine. Unfortunately, this still does nothing to stop the flow of internal chatter. Insomnia is more prevalent among women (Medline, 2016), which makes sense since our thought process is like a plate of spaghetti – all jumbled together…can’t tell where one thought ends and the other begins. My stream of consciousness is comparable to the black hole that is YouTube –  you start by watching one video about puppies, then six hours later you find yourself watching some obscure foreign language documentary with no subtitles and no recollection of how you got there. One anxious thought leads to a semi related thought, which leads to something vaguely correlated, and then it’s all downhill from there. Good luck making any sense of anything. Someone somewhere was describing my nighttime brain when they sent this statement out into the internet world: “My mind is like my internet browser: 19 tabs open, 3 of them are frozen, and I have no idea where the music is coming from” (unknown author). Spaghetti and internet tabs that are permanently frozen or loading. That’s me. Every. Single. Night.

spaghetti

In all seriousness, the sleep debt that piles up night after night is pretty devastating. In fact, “insomnia is associated with substantial impairments in an individual’s quality of life” (Roth, 2007). For me personally, I get pushed into this vicious game of which came first – the anxiety or the insomnia? The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (2016) puts it far more eloquently by stating that “a comorbid psychiatric disorder such as depression or anxiety may be a consequence of – as well as a risk factor for – disrupted sleep.” Great. So I already have anxiety and depression, which is going to make it difficult to sleep, which will in turn exacerbate my anxiety and depression. I just can’t catch a break! Throw in the other vicious cycle of no sleep, then caffeinating to get through the day, which also makes it difficult to sleep that night. I’m losing the battle AND the war.

The hardest part for me is that the dark, quiet wee hours of the morning are where my demons live. Just as that Urban Dictionary definition suggests, that is when they come out to play. One of my all-time favorite songs is “Inner Demons” by Julia Brennan. The first verse in particular always speaks to me:


They say don’t let them in
Close your eyes and clear your thoughts again
But when I’m all alone, they show up on their own
‘Cause inner demons fight their battles with fire
Inner demons don’t play by the rules


It’s easy to tell yourself to just stop thinking about everything and go to sleep. It’s something entirely different to actually accomplish that task. Think about how much deeper shadows seem at night. Now take the stuff of nightmares, throw them into those shadows, convince yourself that every worst case scenario that could happen is going to happen, and remind yourself that you are facing all that alone in a cold bed. More than once I have been relieved to see the first glimpse of dawn, if for no other reason than because the sun chases away some of the fears and I can get to sleep. Unfortunately, that’s usually about two and a half minutes before my alarm goes off. Medline Plus (2016) explains that one symptom of insomnia is “feeling as if you haven’t slept at all.” It is a terrible feeling that lingers and can really bring down the entire day. Keep all that in mind when you see someone who looks tired or mentions that they have insomnia and didn’t sleep well. It can be devastating and makes life so much more difficult than it already is. Be kind to everyone – you never know what kind of demons they fought the night before.

In closing, I can tell you that I have two wishes when I wake up each morning (if I have actually slept):

  1. To feel rested
  2. To have 20/20 vision

I can’t remember when the last time the first one happened. I’m still holding out for the second.

 

Good night. I hope you all sleep like babies and have wonderful dreams.

Namaste.

 

References

Brennan, Julia. (2016). Inner Demons. Tunecore Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

MedlinePlus. (2016). Insomnia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/insomnia.html

National Sleep Foundation. (2018). What is Insomnia? Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-is-insomnia

Roth, Thomas. (2007). Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978319/

Insomnia. (2007). In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Insomnia

Photo credit: Unsplash.com

The Lotus List

lotus

I believe God sends us people, songs, quotes, etc. exactly when we need them. I recently had a conversation with a friend during which I began to dredge up some of the things that will forever exist on my Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda List. (We all have that list. If only I would have tried… I should have done… Instead of choosing this, I could have chosen…) Even as I was speaking, I knew it was a pointless exercise, but I couldn’t help bemoaning that I didn’t act on a certain inkling at a specific point in my life. This friend wisely reminded me that “time is linear” and we can’t play those games with ourselves – every moment, regretted or cherished, brings us to where we are at right now. Every choice, and each unique outcome, helps mold us into who we are and who we will one day become. It was the kick in the butt I needed to fold up that Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda List and toss it over my shoulder. Naturally I went back and picked it up later (chronic anxiety…duh), but I slipped it in my pocket for future reference instead of reading or studying it just then.


Regret: “Feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over something that one has done or failed to do” (n.d.).


It’s true that we all have regrets. I think if anyone says they have absolutely no regrets, they should probably regret lying. When I was young and dumb, I used to arrogantly say that I would live my life with no regrets. After well over a decade of making adult choices and facing the humbling consequences of said choices, I have realized that living without regrets is an unrealistic goal. I would be better off setting my sights on facing those regrets, living with them, but not letting them control me. While mulling over these things, I was again slapped upside the head with words I needed to hear:


 “Reflection is necessary, but dwelling is an issue. When reflecting, remember how it felt, what it was like, but don’t stay too long there because that dwelling opens the door for regret and disappointment, which then leads to longing and depression.” – Amy Thompson (a kick ass woman I am lucky enough to call a dear friend)


It’s like my other friend had a conversation with Amy and said, “Hey…say something to Amber about regret. She needs it right now.” What a beautiful thought that it is okay to reflect on our struggles, on choices we perceive as incorrect, and our experiences that came about because of our choices or the choices of another. But not dwelling on these things? I mean, come on… you’re talking to a an olympic gold medalist in overthinking, over analysis, and anxiety. If there is one thing at which I’m a pro, it’s dwelling on mistakes. Amy hit the nail on the head by saying that focusing on mistakes, or simply looking back more often than forward, delivers us into depression’s waiting arms while swaddled tightly in a cloak of shame and self-loathing.

After dwelling on the fact that I dwell on things too much, I’ve realized something today. Rather an epiphany, really – see Amy…good things can come from dwelling too long! Maybe not. ANYWAY. What I realized is this: I cannot value my personal growth from struggles if I cannot love my mistakes as well. Wait…what?! You mean that minor mistake that kept me awake for three nights straight? Or the big mistakes that led to three failed marriages? I’m supposed to love those?!

Yes and no. I’m not saying that if you are actively making a bad decision you should stop, take a selfie to celebrate the moment, and then hang the framed photograph on your living room wall. I’m not saying you should make decisions without any real thought because either way it will lead to growth. I’m not saying you should consciously make bad decisions to see what kind of profound, existential awakenings you have as a result. I’m also not saying that when others make bad decisions that negatively impact or even hurt you, that it’s okay to stay in that situation or relationship because you will grow through it.

What I am saying is that hindsight is 20/20. We can look back on our choices, at the fork in the road where we went left instead of right, and say we made the wrong choice. We can also look back and say there would have been less pain if we had gone right instead of left, but we don’t actually know that, do we? All we know for sure is that we made a choice that forever impacted the direction of our life and it will ultimately make us into a more beautiful individual if we only embrace the challenges and grow.

This is a nice segue into showing off more of my new ink (I have to give ink credit to Johnny Tracey at at Elysian Ink in Des Moines. He’s an amazing artist!). I absolutely love everything about the Lotus flower. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful in nature, it’s symbolism is moving.

8C8D3491-F5E0-4175-941B-824EB0D258DC

In Buddhism, the Lotus represents enlightenment and spiritual awakening because “the wetlands flower begins life as a seed in muddy riverbeds, and must rise through muck before blossoming in the sunlight” (Mind Fuel Daily, 2018).

When we are in the grips of depression, an anxiety attack, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or any other emotionally traumatic situation, it’s difficult to picture surviving at all, let alone seeing beauty in the end. The Lotus reminds me that in the dark times – in those moments when I am surrounded by muck – it takes perseverance. It takes patience. It takes courage.


Perseverance: “Continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition” (n.d.).


My question to myself is this: when a regretted decision leads to painful experiences that in turn break me and make my soul a little more beautiful, can I appreciate the new me without also saying a prayer of thanks for the bad decisions? Can a decision actually be called “bad”…? I have regrets. I have lots of regrets. However, I am who I am because of what I could have done and did not. Those regrets are a gift in disguise. Maybe that Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda List should be renamed the Lotus List?

I leave you with wisdom from the Skin Horse.

Namaste.

velveteen

 

References

Mind Fuel Daily. (2018). Symbolism of the Lotus Flower. Retrieved from https://www.mindfueldaily.com/livewell/symbolism-of-the-lotus-flower/

Perseverance. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perseverance

Robinson, Katie. (2017, Apr 28). The Secret Meaning of the Lotus Flower. Town&Country. Retrieved from https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a9550430/lotus-flower-meaning/

I See You.

i see you

“The real warriors in this world are the ones that see the details of another’s soul. They see the transparency behind walls people put up. They stand on the battlefield of life and expose their heart’s transparency, so others can finish the day with hope. They are the sensitive souls that understand that before they could be a light they first had to feel the burn.” Shannon L. Adler


One of my favorite words of all time is Namaste. I wish it’s because I’m some super fit yoga master, but it boils down to a love of the concept. Namaste essentially means that my soul honors and respects your soul (Spiritual Science Research Foundation, n.d.). Regardless of your own spiritual persuasion, how simple and yet utterly powerful is that? What’s even more amazing is that it is a common greeting in India. Can you imagine someone coming up to you, looking you in the eye, and saying, “I see you. My broken and beaten spirit respects your broken and beaten spirit.”

Besides the fact that this would be way out of the norm and borderline creepy, think about the implications. That person is acknowledging that there is more to you than just skin, bones, and some gooey insides. You aren’t just social status, a political party, or a mental illness. You aren’t a religion, a sexual orientation, or even a gender. Strip all that away and you are a soul – a soul that deserves respect and love in equal parts. You deserve to be seen.

Here’s the kicker, though – the only way to truly see someone else is to look outside of ourselves. How true that “when we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle” (Brown, 2010, p. 68). We are all human. We are all stumbling around in the dark looking for meaning and hope. It should not be a solitary, lonely journey to find the light that does exist. If we hope to come together, this will require a great amount of respect, empathy, and compassion.


“When compassion wakes up in us, we find ourselves more willing to become vulnerable, to take the risk of entering the pain of others.” Sue Monk Kidd


give

Respect is a noun: “Esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person” (n.d.).

Empathy is a noun: “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation” (n.d.).

Compassion is a noun: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering” (n.d.).

We all learned in school that a noun is a person, place, or thing. I like to think of respect, empathy, and compassion as living, breathing things. They must be nourished, cared for, and exercised on a regular basis, otherwise they will become emaciated and possibly even die. This society is sinking fast because we have lost sight of the humanity – the souls – that surround us every day. We don’t acknowledge and respect each other. Empathic actions are few and far between, rarely without some sort of agenda.

The sooner we realize that life is a level playing field, the better equipped we will become to face our challenges together. Brené Brown says that “compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others” (Brown, 2010, p. 16). I love the almost negative vibe this statement gives off. It would be great if a little compassion would kick start a revolution that would make life happy and full of butterflies and unicorns. But we live in a broken, dank, stinking world full of lonely hearts. True compassion brings lonely hearts together. It may not bring happiness or even joy, but it will bring shared hurt and darkness to the surface so that status, income level, or politics are no longer a barrier to camaraderie.

Misery loves company. Empathy brings our miserable selves together so that we can face the uphill battle as a team. I may carry you today, but tomorrow you will need to support me.

love breeds love

Empathy breaks down walls. Whenever I am feeling upset or frustrated with someone, I try to take a step back and consider times in my life when I have behaved in a similar manner. Again – the key is recognizing that we are all fallible, imperfect humans…kindred spirits in our brokenness.

An everyday example is when someone makes a mistake while driving in front of, behind, or beside me. Instead of diving head first into road rage, I think about the time a few months back when I did something similar. I have failed to start right away at a green light. I have failed to use my blinker when changing lanes. I have unintentionally swerved into the lane beside me while fiddling with the radio. Who am I to get upset with them for doing something I myself have done (probably more than once!)?

Another example is if a server at a restaurant is running behind, seems distracted, or makes a mistake. I’ve noticed that people who tend to fly off the handle about these things have never worked in the restaurant business, so they don’t necessarily understand the many possible causes of a delayed order or a drink mix up. Also I/we don’t know what’s going on in their personal life. For all I know, they may be going through a particularly traumatic divorce, are mentally preparing for some grueling finals at school, or just had to put their pet to sleep. I know when I am stressed or just went through an emotional experience, my memory suffers and I have a more difficult time keeping track of things. Knowing how I feel when I’ve had a rough day/week/year, how can I judge someone else for not smiling or for taking 10 minutes to bring me my salad instead of five. Unless you know exactly what is happening in someone else’s life, it’s so much better to see the humanity in their actions and acknowledge that they are no different from you or me.

If you see a homeless person, a drug addict, or an alcoholic, don’t get on your high horse and behave as if they are a lesser human than you. Likely, whatever caused them to go down their chosen path is a combination of genetic disposition and some sort of traumatic life event. When stigma is placed and stories are forced underground, we end up alone and seeking out unhealthy coping mechanisms. Just because I am currently living with a roof over my head and don’t self-medicate with alcohol every night doesn’t mean my own coping mechanisms are any healthier. We can judge a person until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately, they are no different from us.

Another thing worth pointing out is that, just because you disagree with their lifestyle or don’t condone some of their choices, it does not give you the right to treat them with anything other than respect, empathy, and compassion. It’s like saying the color blue is better than the color yellow. Why? Because it’s my favorite color and I like it better. But yellow is just as beautiful a color, but because you are biased, you declare that blue is right and yellow is wrong. That may seem like an absurdly simple example, but it dumbs down a tragic epidemic that has been sweeping this nation for years – the loss of respect for every human’s beauty and the appreciation for basic human goodness. We are all in this together, folks. The sooner we as a collective group can see the beauty in that, the sooner our society’s rifts will start to heal.


“Allow beauty to shatter you regularly. The loveliest people are the ones who have been burnt and broken and torn at the seams, yet still send their open hearts into the world to mend with love again, and again, and again.” Victoria Erickson


I’ve felt a growing sense of urgency about this post over the last few days, especially going into Christmas. I challenge myself and everyone else to make a conscience effort to live in a way that spews forth love, not hate…mercy, not malice…forgiveness, not blame.

A message to the hurting (which is basically everyone): You are not alone. You don’t have to face your mountains and valleys by yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A little vulnerability has the potential to save lives. Don’t give up. Hold out your hand and someone will take it. I see you. Dear, sweet, struggling person….I see you.

Namaste.

References

Adler, Shannon L. (n.d.) Retrieved from Goodreads.

Brown, Brene. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Compassion. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/compassion

Empathy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/dictionary.cambridge.org/us/amp/english/empathy

Respect. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/respect

Spiritual Science Research Foundation. (n.d.). Definition and Meaning of Namaskar (Namaste). Retrieved from https://www.spiritualresearchfoundation.org/spiritual-living/how-should-we-greet/define-namaskar-namaste-meaning/

Photo credit: http://www.unsplash.com

“Cry that shame juice out!” (and other t-shirts)o

kristina-tripkovic-649227-unsplash

The other night I was thinking about how people must view me as a train wreck. Why would anyone want to be with someone who is such a disaster? If they could choose anyone in the world, why would they choose to join their life with mine, when I seem hell bent on setting the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of bad life decisions? I’m like a ticking time bomb. I should have a t-shirt made that says, “I am a bad decision…stay away.”

That was my oh-so-healthy internal dialogue. The more I beat myself up and degraded myself for my mistakes, the more I snuggled up with my old friends depression and despair. Then out of nowhere, a former therapist’s words poked through the unworthiness bubble I had created. It was during a session in which she and I were discussing my various fears that come up while out at social events with friends or strangers alike. I told her I am deathly afraid of spilling food on myself, throwing up if I get drunk, tripping over my own feet when I’m standing perfectly still, etc. She told me, “Do you think a single person you’re with has never once dropped food on themselves? Don’t you think the majority have at some point thrown up when drunk? I know I have. Many times.” She didn’t address the tripping issues, so I’m convinced that is a skill only a select few have mastered. She went on to remind me that every emotional and mental health struggle is collective. Humans experience these things together, yet think they are alone in their distress.

This all goes back to the idea of shame. Brené Brown (2010) describes shame as “that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough” (p. 38). And shame, as I talked about in my very first post, is what stops us from reaching outside of ourselves and realizing we aren’t alone. It’s scary to speak up. Terrifying, in fact. Brown says that “shame is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are when soaring (sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles)” (2010, p. 39).

fear

That hit me pretty hard, Brené, I’m not going to lie (side note…oh how I wish I was on a first name basis with Brené Brown). The fears she lists are exactly what had me spooning with depression a couple nights ago. I am so afraid that I will go on feeling worthless and insignificant as people continue to come into my life, learn about the darkness inside me, and then leave in search of greener pastures and light. Then, as life has a habit of doing, I received a message today. It came from the brilliant Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the main character in a novel by Louise Penny called Still Life. As I drove down the road listening to the audiobook, the Chief Inspector tells me, “This is the key: it’s choice. We choose our thoughts. We choose our perceptions. We choose our attitudes. We may not think so – we may not believe it – but we do. I absolutely know we do. I’ve seen enough evidence time after time, tragedy after tragedy, triumph after triumph. It’s about choice… life is choice. All day everyday… Our lives become defined by our choices” (Penny, 2007).

Ho. Lee. Crap. No one can make me feel ashamed but myself. Regardless of how others treat me, perceive me, or value me, I am the one choosing to let shame and fear rule my life. I’ve heard the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt many times that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” but for some reason the Chief Inspector put it out on the table in a way that leaves no room for argument…no offense, First Lady Roosevelt.

choice

I haven’t yet figured out how to choose to see my own worth, regardless of my mistakes, and to own the fact that if people don’t want me in their life, I don’t need them in mine. I know the choice needs to be made…and sooner rather than later. Brené Brown talks about an intriguing idea that she calls Shame Resilience – “the ability to recognize shame, to move through it constructively while maintaining worthiness and authenticity, and to ultimately develop more courage, compassion, and connection as a result of our experience” (2010, p. 40). The trick is learning to see and understand shame in the moment. That’s my new challenge: let shame wash over me, say hello and then a quick goodbye, and come out a better person on the other side.

Recently a friend of mine experienced something that she said brought her a great amount of shame. We talked about it for a while. She exclaimed, “I am a piece of s**t!” I told her, “Look. We all make mistakes. If making mistakes makes us a piece of s**t, then I’m a big one too. And if we’re all one, that means no one is. My piece of s**tness cancels out your piece of s**tness.” I quickly added that we needed to copyright that last bit and slap it on a t-shirt, like, tomorrow. But in all seriousness, “our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. Imperfectly, but together” (Brown, 2010, p. 61).

broken

Here’s the thing: my friend was brave enough to tell her story. She had the courage to stand up and say, “I feel ashamed and this is why!” If she hadn’t spoken up, the experience would have festered inside her and gained momentum until it pulled her under. Toward the end of the conversation she told me, “I’m going to cry myself to sleep tonight. I’ve been holding it in.” To which I replied, “Then do it! That’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself! Cry all that shame juice out.” And again quickly added, “OMG. Put that on a t-shirt too! Cry all that shame juice out!” If you need to get rid of some shame, talk it out and cry it out. There’s nothing wrong with that and it doesn’t make you weak. Plus, you might end up with some killer t-shirt ideas.

I tend to seek out the humorous side of anything serious or, conversely, to see poetry and metaphors within my own emotions and experiences. It’s a coping mechanism. Perhaps the way for me to beat shame each day is to come up with funny tag lines or descriptive imagery. For example, today I was mulling over the concept that overcoming shame needs to be a collective effort between all people. If we try to tackle it on our own, it’s like someone who is standing on ice and puts all their weight onto one foot, hoping and praying they don’t fall through. Compare this with the collective approach where we all share our stories and find strength in each other’s shared experiences and emotions. This is like someone who lays down on the ice and spreads out their weight onto multiple points. They are far more likely to make it to solid ground without falling through and plunging into the ice-cold water that wants nothing more than to drag them down into its darkness. Next time I’m feeling particularly alone or unworthy, I must remember to reach out for help so the person (or people) can help spread the weight and get me/each other to solid ground. We need one another.

“Feelings of hopelessness, fear, blame, pain, discomfort, vulnerability, and disconnection sabotage resilience. The only experience that seems broad and fierce enough to combat a list like that is the belief that we’re all in this together and that something greater than us has the capacity to bring love and compassion into our lives” (Brown, 2010, p. 73).

together

References

Brown, Brene. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Penny, Louise. (2007, May 1). Still Life. St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Mass Market Paperback.

If conclusions were a ledge, we’d all be jumping…

cliff

Big Trigger warning: Depression/suicide

There is a thought that has snuck up on me several times since I started entertaining the idea of this blog. Sharing stories about mental health can be risky for several reasons. My biggest perceived risk is that people will jump to two conclusions: 1) they think I’m being overly dramatic and am just looking for attention, or 2) they assume the only option is to send me away to the ER on a mental health hold, where I will be forced to ingest three-day old sandwiches and tiny cans of Shasta cola. (note: to anyone who ever has been on a mental health hold in the ER, I do not say that to make light of your experience. I worked in an ER for several years and saw so many kindred spirits – others suffering from mental illness who had nowhere else to turn or were hanging on by a thread. I see you.) (second note: to anyone who works in an ER: now would be a good time to check the expiration dates on the sandwiches. They’re gross. I don’t think that’s even real meat.)

Two memes popped up on my Facebook feed within a few hours of each other. I took it as a sign that I should share what’s on my heart regarding this topic. Both pictures hit close to home on so many levels. They are similar, yet different. Both have to do with our society’s affinity for jumping to conclusions.


not attention seeking

The first one speaks to me on a very personal level due to recent happenings in my life. It also speaks to me from the perspective of someone with a blossoming passion for mental health awareness and education. The subject of suicide is just about as welcome in everyday conversation as Lord Voldemort is at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter nerds…that is very unwelcome indeed. Psychotherapist Stacey Freedenthal (2018) states, “I don’t fault those who avoid naming suicide. Instead I fault society and social conditioning for teaching us to treat suicide as unspeakable. If we can’t acknowledge suicide when a person has died, then how can the living expect to talk openly with friends and family about their urges to end their life? It’s awfully hard to help suicidal people – and for them to ask for help – if we treat suicide as if it is a dirty word.”

A dirty word.Because I love the power of definitions, I decided to look up “suicide” in the oh so tactful Urban Dictionary. I was curious to see how Joe Shmoe off the street might define this concept. Definition #7 tugged at my heart strings because it addresses the emotional side rather than the physical act of permanently stopping one’s breath. It says that suicide is “what people do when they start to fear life more than they fear death” (Suicide, 2016). Take a moment to absorb that.

Now imagine that sense of fear and despair magnified a million times over because this society makes it nearly impossible to be open about our struggles – it pours stigma on top of shame on top pain. It is naïve and reactive, rather than educated and proactive. Our vulnerability backfires!  Instead of openly discussing depression, anxiety, PTSD, or any other illness that may lead to suicidal thoughts, society has done a damn good job of brushing feelings, and the people who feel those feelings, under the rug of social propriety. Then, when someone has the courage to ask for help, it’s far more comfortable for someone else to call 911 and have them carted off on a mental health hold than it is to see their pain…to feel their pain…to understand their pain. How tragic that “this silence about suicide can be deafening, making it exquisitely hard to hear those whose cries most need to be heard” (Freedenthal, 2018).

Obviously comments about suicide should not be taken lightly.Never assume they aren’t serious or that they are just looking for pity. By all means, call 911 if it is genuinely the right thing to do. But take a quick second to go back and reread that meme. Sometimes it’s a cry for help and empathy, so don’t jump to the conclusion that it is an egocentric plea for attention. Sometimes we just need to talk. Sometimes telling someone that you have entertained ideas or have formulated a plan provides the reprieve you need to NOT go through with it. Giving up that secret is a powerful motivator to survive, while harboring that secret only encourages it to grow and swallow you whole. If someone comes to you and says they are having suicidal thoughts, talk to them. Their fear of you jumping to conclusions may be what keeps them from asking you to pull them back from the ledge and to stop them from jumping themselves.


See the difference. See the similarity.

tell you about my past

In her 2004 article Coming out about Mental Illness, Sarah Albert shares a powerful quote by Joyce Burland: “Our cultural understanding of mental illness is that you are just not trying hard enough. We never say that about cancer or heart disease. America thinks mental illness is something that can get self-corrected, and that is a vast misunderstanding.” Misunderstanding stems from ignorance. You know how they say ignorance is bliss? Yeah…not so much. Ignorance and misunderstanding cause humans to jump to conclusions. If you don’t take the time to educate yourself on the impact of chemical imbalances in the brain, for example, of course you might conclude that depression or anxiety is just an excuse to be lazy or to seek attention.

More and more I am realizing that surviving my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression is part of my identity. I have battle scars that run deeper than any physical wound. Like that meme says, I want you to understand what has led me to become the person I am. It’s what is actively making me into the person I will become. This blog, and any conversation that requires me to open up and show those ugly scars, is NOT a pity party. Each day I survive brings me one day closer to the real me. I want to take pride in my scars. I want to help others take pride in their scars. That is the purpose of my exercise in risky vulnerability.

One of my recent favorite authors, Jenny Lawson, wrote this incredible book called Furiously Happy(2015). I am going to share a paragraph from that book that literally turned my life upside down several weeks ago.

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.”

Jenny Lawson’s words inspired me to permanently ink myself with the anxiety awareness ribbon. A lovely teal ribbon. It is a constant reminder that I am who I am because I have survived many battles and am surviving the war. I have some ugly scars because of it, but I would not be me without them. I am proud of who I am and want to share that.

tealribbon

You can jump to the conclusion that I’m crazy. You would be correct. But don’t jump to any other conclusions about people who want to – no, needto – feel they can safely talk about their suicidal thoughts or internal demons. It is risky. But you can make it worth their risk.


References

Albert, Sarah. (2004). Coming Out About Mental Illness. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/coming-out-about-mental-illness

Freedenthal, Stacey. (2018, June 14). Let’s (Really) Talk about Suicide. Speaking of Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/2018/06/14/lets-really-talk-about-suicide/

Lawson, Jenny. (2015, Sept. 22). Furiously Happy: A funny book about horrible things. Flatiron Books.

Suicide. (2016, August 18). In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Suicide

To overthink or not to overthink…not even a question.

I love definitions. They take words or concepts and turn them into living, breathing beings. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to overthink is “to put too much time into thinking about or analyzing something in a way that is more harmful than helpful” (Overthink, n.d.).

Overthinking is a finely-honed skill I have been perfecting for as long as I can remember. When the below list popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago, it kind of stopped me in my tracks. I am very aware of my tendency to overthink pretty much…well…everything, so it wasn’t a surprise to me that I am an overthinker. It was for some reason surprising that every single bullet point was ME. I am having a quiet night in with my pup, which means it is the perfect time to overthink the overthinker list.

overthink


  1. Second guess everything

I approach every decision assuming I will make the wrong choice, whether it’s moving to a different state or whether I want ranch or ketchup with my fries. I agonize over pros and cons, ask for advice from everyone I meet, brainstorm, journal, compare different options, review financial risk, think about how it will affect those close to me, print off a tree’s worth of papers supporting any outcome, make myself physically sick, and on and on and on. When I finally do decide, I then agonize about the fact that I probably made the wrong decision. Why on earth would I be so stupid to choose this option? Clearly the other was better.

  1. Analyze things to death

This is certainly a source of sleepless nights for me. What I analyze is myself – my actions, my words, my behaviors, my abilities, my shortcomings. I share this trait with many kindred spirits who also deal with social anxiety. It’s common to hear people say things like, “I thought of the perfect response 10 minutes later.” Imagine thinking of every possible response (perfect or otherwise) for days or weeks afterwards. I wonder constantly if I said the right thing or behaved in a socially acceptable manner. The world is so full of normal people, which means I don’t fit in. I study every minute detail of my day to see if I’ve made a fool of myself at any point or if I have made a passable attempt at pretending to be normal. I still have many situations or conversations that come back to me years after the fact. There is always something I could have differently…could have done better.

clingy

  1. Catastrophize or expect the worst

Anyone who knows me will tell you that saying I “expect the worst” is the greatest understatement of this entire century. I function (using the word “function” a bit loosely here) with the constant assumption that something devastating is going to happen to me or anyone I know at any given moment. Here are a couple recent examples:

Friend: “S took her husband to the ER because he’s coughing up blood.”

Me: “OMG. He’s dying of tuberculosis.”

Friend: “Um…no. He probably has pneumonia.”

Me: “Has he spent any time in prison? It’s a huge risk factor for TB. Has he been having night sweats?”

Friend: **laughs**

Me: “What’s so funny? TB is not funny!”


After leaving my groceries in the car for a couple hours on a cool fall day, I threw everything away because I couldn’t risk the inevitable botulism. I don’t care that it is extremely rare. “Extremely rare” means it happens.


I always put the parking brake on in my car just in case I forget to put the car in park. I suppose this habit comes from driving a manual Jeep for nearly a decade. Forgetting to use the parking brake genuinely can lead to disaster in a manual. I now drive a vehicle that will not let me remove the key from the ignition if it is not in park. But there’s always a chance that will fail. So…parking brake it is.


Good time for PSA: medication can be of great benefit if used as directed by your physician.

  1. Have insomnia

Some of my best overthinking is done at 2:30 in the morning. It’s not uncommon for my friends or family to wake up to text messages sent at some ungodly hour of the morning. I take enough sleeping medication to knock myself out for a couple hours early on, but inevitably find myself awake and searching my own head for answers to the universe’s greatest mysteries. I’ve probably solved one or two of them, but was so tired the next day that I forgot. The most tragic part of it all is that I usually fall into a deep sleep about three and a half minutes before my alarm goes off. Moral of the story is…if you are having a bad time and need someone to talk to, I’ll probably be awake.

  1. Hate making decisions

See point 1.

  1. Would rather someone decides for me

Wait…this is an option?!

  1. Regret often

When I was younger, I always swore I would live with no regrets – to see every mistake as an opportunity for growth and personal development. I failed at that life goal (yes I have spent far too much time analyzing that perceived failure). Regret is a natural part of life for most people. When you spend as much time as me questioning decisions and examining behavior with a microscope, it’s a very slippery slope towards continuous regret. There are things I have done or said that I will regret for the rest of my life. I know I should let these things go. I know I am only hurting myself by dwelling in that regret. However, it is so much easier said than done. To let go of regret, one must forgive themselves. That is not a skill I have spent my life honing and will likely struggle with it for the rest of my life.

  1. Can’t let things go

See point 7.

  1. Take things personally when they aren’t

In the process of analyzing every little detail, I often get lost in this fog of irrational fear that I have in some way caused everything to happen. So-and-so hasn’t responded to me because they can’t stand me and are just too nice to tell me to go away. That other person quit working for our company because I wasn’t pulling my weight. Someone else is embarrassed to be seen in public with me because I’m wearing the same shoes I wore yesterday. In reality, So-and-so has their own crap going on and may be busy slaying their own dragons, that other person simply had a better opportunity at a different company, and someone else hasn’t noticed my shoes in weeks. When it comes down to it, other people pay far less attention to us than we think. What we do has far less impact on someone else’s decisions than we care to admit. Unfortunately points 2, 3, and 7 make it difficult for me to not see every potentially negative change or outcome as my fault.

  1. Are a perfectionist

It’s amazing how our own expectations can cause an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety. My mom jokes sometimes that if I say I failed a test, that means I received 98% instead of 100%. In fact, the lowest grade I have received on an exam was a C+ and it almost did me in. This C came hours after finding out my husband had a girlfriend on the side and they had a baby together, but even then I was unable to cut myself any slack. The amount of pressure that comes with demanding perfection from yourself is immense. To make matters worse, I generally do not expect perfection from those around me. I beat myself up for every little thing, but do not hold anyone else to the same gold standard, which means every disappointment is somehow my own fault. See points 2, 7, and 9. I share in Brené Brown’s struggle: “…There are days when most of my anxiety grows out of the expectations I put on myself” (2010, p. 37). She goes on to say, though, that “perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight” (Brown, 2010, p. 56). Someday I hope to fly. It won’t be today. But maybe someday.

  1. Criticize yourself a lot

See point 10.

  1. Never feel 100% certain

See points 1, 2, 5, and 6

  1. Feel tense

I was once told that I guppy breathe on a regular basis and am visibly in fight or flight mode most of the time. A massage therapist once commented that one shoulder was sitting at least a couple inches higher than the other because of how tense the muscles were on that side of my body. I must remind myself constantly to relax my jaw, lower my shoulders, unclench my fists, and to stop pushing my tongue to the roof of my mouth. I am so frequently lost in thought that I don’t realize my whole body has become one big clenched muscle. It’s physically exhausting. Deep breathing helps sometimes, but I usually am so easily distracted by anxious thoughts that the deep breathing ends before it really gets started.

  1. Feel like you can’t turn your brain off

I recently found this magnet and it instantly became my favorite. With so much to agonize over, so much to analyze, so much to internally debate, I sometimes feel like I don’t even know which tabs I have open in which browsers. It’s incredibly easy and dangerous to get lost in my own mind. No wonder I don’t sleep and have difficulty with word recall and short-term memory.

brain tabs

 


These are all difficult things see in myself. To me they are weaknesses. I am imperfect. Someday soon I hope to learn that it is okay to be imperfect. I am who I am. I worry. I overthink. But at the end of the day I am me. And that’s okay.


 

References

Brown, Brené. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.

Overthink. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overthink