Will you be my Valentine?

“They say love is blind. I disagree. Infatuation is blind. Love is all-seeing and accepting. Love is seeing the flaws and blemishes and accepting them. Love is accepting the bad habits and mannerisms, and working around them. Love is recognizing all the fears and insecurities, and knowing your role is to comfort. Love is working through all the challenges and painful times. Infatuation is fragile and will shatter when life is not perfect. Love is strong and it strengthens because it is real.” – Unknown

 

I have very mixed feelings about today. It is the first Valentine’s Day I have spent alone in a very long time. There has always been someone special by my side. Or at least someone pretending to be special. The above quote made itself known to me earlier today and it both inspired me and broke my heart. It inspired me because that is what real love is. It’s out there. Maybe I’ll experience it someday. It broke my heart because clearly none of my romantic relationships have been based on mutual love and support. I don’t know that any of my partners have actually loved me, and that is a hard pill to swallow considering how much love I feel I gave.

 

While reading an Elephant Journal article called I didn’t Quit My Marriage. I survived It., I came across another quote: “When we realize that we can’t single-handedly make a relationship with another person work, we have to choose ourselves. We begin to hear our hearts screaming for us to get out. We begin to honor our intuition, which tells us that this situation isn’t healthy for us, that we must do whatever it takes to make our lives better. We figure out that we cannot save our partners when they choose not to fight for the relationship” (Jackson, 2016). As you can imagine, this spoke to me on a number of levels. It seems like I’ve needed constant reminders lately that I’m not a failure. My divorce does not mean I am broken, used up, or that I have nothing left to offer anyone or anything. As difficult as it is to make myself believe it, I am not a failure. Another reason that quote spoke to me is because I need to remember that I am not responsible for saving everyone else or picking up their slack. I can only do so much. I can only fight so hard. I can only give up so much of myself before the other person has to start giving just as much. Both parties have to want to make it work for the right reasons, otherwise it is a lost cause. Finally, those powerful five words: we have to choose ourselves. I can’t control anyone but myself. I can beg and grovel until I’m blue in the face, but I simply cannot force someone else to love me. Ouch. Believe me…I have done some begging and groveling. A lot of good that did me, huh? In the end is has left me alone. And perhaps that is the best place I could possibly be. I am forced to choose myself.

 

“A few bad chapters does not mean your story is over.” – Unknown

 

I’m sitting here in quiet contemplation. I have a candle burning, but no music. I have one small light on. How many others are out there spending Valentine’s Day alone, wondering why they don’t deserve someone by their side. I know that thought has crossed my mind several times today. For those of you out there like me, this is the conclusion I’ve come to: today is a Thursday. That’s all, folks. I am no more or less alone today than I was yesterday or will be tomorrow. I am no more or less deserving of love today than the next person. The difference is, their time and their person came. I am still waiting for mine to come. There’s no shame in that. A little patience never hurt anyone, right?

I don’t have a lot to say tonight. I mainly wanted to reach out because I know there are plenty of people out there like me. Pick yourself up, go look in the mirror, and ask yourself to be the best Valentine you’ve ever had. You know yourself better than anyone. You will never abandon yourself. You, like me, just need to learn to love that person in the mirror just as much as you love anyone else. You have a lot to give. Don’t let that love go to waste on someone who will never give it back. Instead, learn how to love yourself so that you know how to let someone else love you in the future. You’re always there for everyone else…it’s time to be there for you.

 

Dear self, will you be my Valentine?

 

References

 

Jackson, C. (2016). I Didn’t Quit my Marriage. I survived It. Elephant Journal. Retrieved from https://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/08/i-didnt-quit-my-marriage-i-survived-it/

 

 

One Obstacle at a Time: Overcoming the fear of healing

“It just occurred to me that many people are actually afraid to heal because their entire identity is centered around the trauma they’ve experienced. They have no idea who they are outside of trauma, and that unknown can be terrifying.” – Unknown

According to my favorite source, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an obstacle is “something that impedes progress or achievement” (2019). What an interesting concept that an obstacle to healing is fear of healing itself. I totally buy it. I, for one, have achieved a sense of identity in the fact that I have three failed marriages. Whatever emotional or mental trauma led to each divorce is unique, but the fact that all three marriages ended ties them together into a package with an ugly little bow called pain. It is terrible that I would find identity in that pain, isn’t it? My past experiences helped to make me who I am, but they aren’t who I am, right? Try convincing my heart of that. Good luck – I’ve been trying for years. That would require healing.

The other day, my Uncle shared some thoughts with me from a book he is readying called  Healing for Damaged Emotions by David Seamands. He said that the point made in the book that really hit home for him is this: “Ask yourself if you want to be healed. Do you really want to be healed, or do you just want to talk about your problem?” Wow. I really do believe that God brings about quotes and conversations exactly when they are needed.

I think back over my adult life and see many partnerships with people. I see betrayal. I see fleeting moments of love. I see some good times. I see an ocean of tears. I see brokenness. I see extreme highs and extreme lows. I see depression. I see a lack of empathy. I see selfishness. I see too many chances given.

How on earth am I supposed to separate all of that from all of me – the person who is deep down inside me somewhere? It’s difficult to say “He didn’t love me” without also thinking “No one can love me.” It’s hard to accept “He didn’t understand my anxiety” without also accepting “My anxiety makes me unworthy.” How do I leave “I loved you until I got to know you” in the past and only see “Someone will love all of me someday”? I am the common denominator is all my failed marriages. How can I not take that and make it part of my tainted being? How do I not see myself as a blemish on the face of love? I am a failure on so many levels.

There is my trauma: That I was denied the love and acceptance I have so desperately been seeking from a life partner. To heal from this trauma means that I am willing to dry my tears, pick up the pieces of my heart, and either go it alone happily or try another partnership one day. Both options terrify me. Both options depress me. I have no confidence in myself as part of a healthy relationship, but the idea of spending my life alone is almost enough to do me in. I don’t believe God made me to be alone, yet alone is where I keep finding myself. I am afraid to heal because none of the options seem sustainable to me.

While I have been struggling with this off and on for years, it has been in the forefront of my mind and heart this week. While feeling particularly down and anxious today, I came home with the intention of sitting down and trying to wade my way through some of these emotions. As so often happens, I came across someone else’s beautiful and tragic words just as I sat down to start this blog post. It hit me right in the emotional gut. It’s a short article by Kate Rose called All She Ever Wanted to be was Someone’s First Choice (2016). These portions in particular made me ache.


“Sometimes she was partially chosen, in pieces and bits for those parts of herself that they loved to taste. But regardless of how sweet her smile, or how hot her bare skin burned, no one’s ever stayed and said they wanted more.

Perhaps if she’s honest, she’ll admit that sometimes she’s wondered if she was unlovable – that maybe it was her lot in life to remain without someone to hold her close during the dark nights that sometimes seemed too long.

She doubted her truth and wondered if there was something wrong with her – if she just loved too strongly or too differently. Possibly she was just a little too passionate, or maybe it was just that the fire burned so bright behind her eyes that anyone who dared to come close enough feared they’d be burned up within the flames.

Yet even on occasions when she’s wondered what was wrong with her that no one ever chose her, she knew deep down it had nothing to do with her at all.

She doesn’t doubt her worth anymore, and instead she knows that it’s just going to take someone truly spectacular to understand the song her heart sings.”


Reading this makes me want to not fear healing. I want to get to the point that I know deep down that my failed relationships are not all because of me and my shortcomings as a human being. I want to give myself permission to love passionately and not be afraid that I will scare someone off or get my heart broken again. I desperately want to be that confidant woman who knows what she deserves and will accept no less. I am worthy…aren’t I?

“Stop apologizing. You don’t have to say sorry for how you laugh, how you dress, how you make your hair, how you speak. You don’t have to be sorry for being yourself. Do it fearlessly. It’s time to accept, this is you, and you gotta spend the rest of your life with you. So start loving your sarcasm, you awkwardness, your weirdness, your unique sense of humor, your everything. It will make your life so much easier to simply be yourself.” – Unknown

In an effort to feel better about myself and more confident, I have been trying to put my very best foot forward each day this week. I have put a little more thought into what I’m wearing, doing a little makeup, and recognizing that I am beautiful on the inside and out. The trouble is, by the end of the day, I come home exhausted. Am I trying too hard? Am I being fake? Am I just pretending? And then my buddies Anxiety and Depression sidle up next to me and settle in for the night.

Going back to the idea of being afraid of healing, I must confess that part of me is afraid that true healing means I will indeed be alone for the rest of my life. And that thought breaks my heart. I just can’t wrap my brain around having so much love to give, but no one special to whom I can give it all. Regardless of faith, friendships, and family, I just don’t know how I would get through life as a single person. I can’t face growing old with Depression as my only soul mate. Clearly I have a long way to go down the road that is hopefully leading to healing. My first obstacle to overcome is fear of what healing may bring.

References

Obstacle. (2019). In online Merriam-Webster dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obstacle

Rose, Kate. (2016). All She Ever Wanted to be was Someone’s First Choice. Elephant Journal. Retrieved from https://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/04/all-she-ever-wanted-to-be-was-someones-first-choice/

Expectation versus Reality: Am I here to love without being loved in return?

I have had many conversations of late with my loathsome friends, Anxiety and Depression. They like to present to me all the reason I am not good enough for anyone. They enjoy mocking the goodness in me. They seem to thrive on reminding me that I am full of love, but still can’t find someone who will accept that love. I know this has been a common theme in some of my blogs. Hopefully it’s not too repetitive. I just know that if I struggle with it so regularly, there are others out there feeling the same things too, so I might as well continue to write about it.

The crux of my ongoing dilemma is this: If I can accept the fact that not all people have the same love language – the same way of showing they care – then why shouldn’t I go on loving people without expectation? As long as I take care of myself along the way (this is the piece I have been missing up until this point), is it really that terrible to give without receiving in equal quantity or quality? Yes, boundaries need to exist. But maybe I can find a balance. It’s hard for me to not take on an “all or nothing” attitude about everything – either I give all of myself or I give none of myself. Considering how much joy I feel when I perform random acts of kindness or help someone in need, why should I rob myself of that simply because I don’t know if the sentiment will be returned? It’s like a dance – without the right balance between expectations, boundaries, and self-care, I will topple over regardless of who my partner might be. (note: if you know me, you know I’ll likely topple over anyway due to my extreme lack of delicate grace or lightness of foot)

Henry David Thoreau says that “there is no remedy for love but to love more.” That tells me that if I have been hurt as a direct result of loving someone, the only way to overcome that pain is to continue loving others. It’s the same idea as getting back on the horse when you’ve been thrown off. If you don’t get right back on, you may develop a fear of riding. I don’t want to develop an aversion to loving others. To not love others would be to deny the very core of what makes me who I am.

Author and life coach Gary Bishop tells us, “The expectation of people loving you or respecting you is a pointless exercise, too. Be free to love them the way they are and be loved the way that they love you. Free yourself from the burden and melodrama of expectation; let the chips fall where they may” (2016, p. 183). I had to read that several times over when I first came across it in Bishop’s book Un#@%! Yourself. I love that he uses the phrase “be free” – the idea of loving someone without expectations really does seem liberating to me. It is also incredibly liberating to give myself permission to accept the ways in which someone shows me that they care. Just because it is different to the way in which I would show love to them, this does not mean they don’t care. To expect something means “to consider reasonable, due, or necessary” (Expect, 2019). Who am I to think it is necessary for someone to show me love in a specific way, and to then refrain from showing them love because of that unmet expectation? Dr. John Johnson explains that “if I believe that my expectations alone will bring me what I want, I am using magical thinking and setting myself up for disappointment” (2018). Johnson goes on to say, “What happens if the other person has no interest in living up to that expectation? We feel shocked, morally indignant, and resentful. Expectations are premeditated resentments.” What a powerful perspective. If I expect someone to show me love in a certain way, all I am doing is setting myself up to be disappointed. Whereas, if I offer love with no expectations one way or another, I will be pleasantly surprised if they care about me in return, but will not be disappointed if they do not. In the case of the latter, I can go on my merry way with the knowledge that I showed love and appreciation to someone else. That is enough. That is what I’m here for.


“What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.” – Unknown


With all of these epiphanies happening in my mind right now, it doesn’t change the fact that I feel lonely and wish for my person. I would be naïve to think that I can go flitting around like a fairy, throwing love on other people like fairy dust, without feeling alone in the dark times. While I throw expectations out the window, I recognize that I must also keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. The reality is this: if I don’t show myself as much love as I am showing other people, expectations and weariness will climb back through the window and pounce when I least expect it. Depression and anxiety will not be far behind. All that to say, I want to love without hesitation or expectation, but I also want to respect myself and make sure my cup is constantly being refilled. That is the key to making peace with my loneliness.


“Sometimes I worry that I won’t find someone. That the person who deserves all this love I have to give is out there with someone else. I worry that I won’t find a love to believe in, that I won’t find a hand that fits with mine. I don’t know how I can miss someone I’ve never met, but I do” (Peppernell, 2018, p. 92).


If I let myself focus on what I don’t have, how will I not become depressed? I don’t have the one person by my side who has my back and will be with me until we’re both old and grey. I don’t have someone to snuggle with at night. I don’t have someone to talk to about my day. I don’t have someone with whom I can go on adventures, eat dinner, or share in this crazy roller coaster called life. But what are all of those? EXPECTATIONS. I realize more and more with each passing day how devastating expectation can be. So get rid of them. Or expect the worst case scenario (my friend Anxiety likes this idea). If I expect to spend the rest of my life single, showing myself and others love, while never finding that one person to love me wholly in return, then I won’t be disappointed when it happens. On the other hand, if I assume I will be alone for the rest of my life, I will be ecstatic if I do happen to find someone. It will be a happy and unexpected blessing. I think there’s a reason that thesaurus.com lists “amazing” and “wonderful” as two synonyms for unexpected (Unexpected, 2019).

Another gem from Gary Bishop is that “the only thing that’s guaranteed in life is that it’s uncertain” (2016, p. 113). I interpret that in this way: life is short and nothing is promised. Each day could be our last. Each hug could be our last. Each compassionate word could be our last. Each random act of kindness could be our last. Each intentional act of love could be our last. Why waste time wondering if we will receive any of those in return? Just do it. For God’s sake, just love others without an agenda. Don’t let expectations get in the way of your purpose. That is my challenge to both myself and to you today.

 

References

Bishop, Gary. (2016). Un#@%! Yourself. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Consumed. (2019). In online English Oxford Dictionary. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/consume

Expect. (2019). In online Merriam-Webster dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/expect

Hollis, Rachel. (2018). Girl, Wash Your Face. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.

Johnson, John. (2018). The Psychology of Expectations. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cui-bono/201802/the-psychology-expectations

Peppernell, Courtney. (2018). Pillow Thoughts II: Healing the Heart. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Strayed, Cheryl. (2015). Brave Enough. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Unexpected. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/unexpected

Quicksand: When depression sucks you in

Trigger warning: depression

Depression is sneaky. Just when you think you have it right where you want it (controlled and behaving itself), it comes out of nowhere and sucks you back in. Depression and quicksand have a lot in common – “with quicksand, the more you struggle in it the faster you will sink. If you just relax, your body will float…” (Bonsor, 2001). After weeks of putting on a brave face, trying positive self-talk, and pretending like things were good again, all that struggling and false positivity made me sink faster and faster.

I’ve been thinking today about how dangerous it can be to pretend like nothing is wrong. I’ve exhausted myself and now I have no energy or spark. I’m fine – I’m not a danger to myself or others – but my motivation is at an all-time low. While I’ve been talking a big talk about learning to love myself and not wanting anyone else until I’m ready, the loneliness has been eating me alive inside. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not a loneliness that can be eased by friends or even family…rather it is a deep, gut-wrenching ache for my person, who may or may not exist.

My motivation is low because it seems silly to work hard and perform great self-care, when at the end of the day it’s just me. As crazy as it sounds, it’s exhausting to not have someone else to love, care for, and do things with. It’s exhausting listening to audiobooks just so I feel like there is someone else here with me. It’s exhausting to figure out how to cook dinner for only one person. It’s exhausting to have so much to share at the end of the day, but no one to share it with. It’s exhausting to have love and passion building up in me, yet no one to share it with.

I came across this audio clip on YouTube. Based on some of the comments, it is from a show called Teen Wolf. I’m not cool enough to own a TV or watch TV shows, but I’m sure other people have heard of it. Anyway, the video is stunning because it is just audio set to melancholy music. I imagine drowning in water would be very similar to suffocating in quicksand.

I also love this dialogue because it shows the difference between someone going through [insert whatever illness here: depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.] and someone who has probably never been to that level of emotional and mental distress. Watch, listen, or read with an open mind. Feel what many of us feel on a daily basis. The female speaker makes some great points, but it can be extremely hard to reach out and grasp that kind of hope when you’ve been sucked into an invisible brain sickness. One might argue that the male speaker comes across as stubborn, fatalistic, and pessimistic. I call him honest…and a kindred spirit.

“I’m Fine” – Stiles Stilinski (acciostilesx, 2017)

“You know when you’re drowning, you don’t actually inhale until right before you black out. The instinct to not let any water in is so strong that you won’t open your until you feel like your head’s exploding. Then when you finally do let it in, that’s when it stops hurting. I’m fine. Yeah…aside from the not sleeping, the jumpiness, the constant overwhelming crushing fear that something terrible is about to happen.”

“It’s called hypervigilance. The persistent feeling of being under threat.”

“It’s not just a feeling, though, it’s like it’s a panic attack. You know, like, I can’t even breathe.”

“Like you’re drowning?”

“Yeah…”

“So, if you’re drowning and you’re trying to keep your mouth closed until that very…last…moment… what if you choose to not open your mouth? To not let the water in?”

“You do anyway…it’s a reflex.”

“But if you hold off until that reflex kicks in, you’d have more time, right?”

“Not much time.”

“But more time to fight your way to the surface.”

“I guess…”

“More time to be rescued.”

“More time to be in agonizing pain. Did you forget about the part where you feel like your head’s exploding?”

“If it’s about survival, isn’t a little agony worth it?”

“What if it just gets worse? What if it’s agony now and then it’s just hell later on?”


 

I also came across this video, which is similar to the one above in that it is just audio and music. It touched me because I can relate on so many levels to this woman, whoever she is. Depression is devastating. I guess that’s what I want people to understand. Listen to these words. I hope they open some eyes and hearts to understand that mental illness is real…it’s powerful…it’s hard. This post in general is not me crying for attention. It is rather me crying for understanding. Try to suspend any judgements that she should be trying harder or should just pick herself up by her bootstraps. It doesn’t always work that way. Notice how she constantly refers back to sounding crazy…that’s because this society stigmatizes a very real struggle. That’s why I’m putting myself out here like this…not for the praise or compliments on my writing skills, but rather to help other understand that 1) you aren’t alone, 2) we should not be ashamed to tell our story, and 3) we aren’t crazy. If you know someone struggling with depression, give them a hug. It might be the one thing that gives them something to hold on to.

I’m Not Okay (Emotionless, 2017)

Why is this so hard?

This is so sick.

Like, why is this so hard?

Just say it.

I’m not doing great.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I felt THIS BAD.

I think I’m having…I think I’m going through…

Why is this so hard?

I think I’m going through another depressive episode.

Why am I getting so emotional? Like, nothing has happened.

Literally overnight I went from being completely fine

To feeling really, really low out of nowhere.

And…I…it’s not…I’m not sad.

I know it’s not just being sad, because

Nothing in my life has happened

For me to be sad.

My life is good.

Nothing bad has happened.

There’s nothing that’s changed in the last two days

That’s caused me to feel this way.

And I recognize these feelings.

These feelings are the feelings I had when back when I was really depressed.

And it scares me.

There was always that fear in the back of my head that it would come back,

But I guess I just wasn’t prepared for it.

I don’t feel good about myself.

I feel really unconfident, let’s say.

I don’t want to show myself to the world.

It’s almost like a switch has gone off in my head.

I think so low about myself.

And I don’t know where it’s come from.

And I know it’s just in my head.

And I know that I sound really crazy right now.

But this is how I feel.

Like I’m always on the brink of crying.

I’m always really emotional

And I don’t know why!

Literally three days ago I was fine.

Which makes me sound so crazy!

And the sad thing is,

I know exactly what I’m feeling

Because I’ve been through this before.

If I need to fix this,

I need to fix it myself.

For me.

And I don’t know how to do that.

You know I hear words in my comments sometimes like

Oh, you’re so inspirational or You’re a good rolemodel.

And I think that’s why I made this video,

Because as much as that is incredibly flattering

And thank you for feeling that way,

I can’t help in my brain, read that

And feel pressure.

I read that and I think,

Okay, I need to be someone worth being a rolemodel.

I need to be, like, up here

So that I can justify people feeling that way about me.

And sometimes I don’t feel up here.

Sometimes I feel really down here.

And I feel like I can’t live up to that standard.

And I know no one’s forcing me to be a certain way

And that it’s me putting that pressure on myself.

But I think that’s why I’m making this video…

To show you guys that, you know what?

I’m not okay.

I’m not doing great.

And it sucks.

I hate that I cry all the time.

Every one of my videos I’m just crying all the time.

You know what?

This is the reality of having mental health issues.

This is how you feel sometimes.

I don’t even know what to say, other than,

This is how I feel right now.

And I don’t feel very good.

I just feel like I want to hide.

I want to hide.

I want to stay in bed all day.

And I want to hide away from the world.

If I’m to describe this feeling,

It’s like this sinking feeling inside.

And it’s just weighing me down.

And it’s just like this sad, sinking feeling

That eats away at you all day.

No matter what you do to distract yourself,

The feeling always comes back.

And it just eats away at you

And makes you feel so small.

A week ago I was this happy, confident,

Like, I was so passionate. I was happy.

I was loving life.

And now it’s just flipped. Like that.

And it just controls your life like that.

And I realize when I’m saying that, I sound crazy.

Because if you don’t have mental health issues,

You’re not going to get it.

And it does sounds crazy, I know.

If you said a week ago I’d feel like this, I would say no.

I don’t know.

This is…I’m just a mess.

What am I?

I’m so all over the place.

Yep…this is real life.

This is me being honest.

 

References

Acciostilesx. (2017). I’m Fine – Stiles Stilinski. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC48yGWuVNY

Bonsor, Kevin. (2001). How Quicksand Works. HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/quicksand.htm

Emotionless. (2017). Free audio – I’m not okay. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVa4xJtrvtQ

 

 

 

An Arduous Journey: Letting go of what should be and loving what is

not broken

“Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.” – Joubert Botha

 

You could beg someone to heal you

In all the ways you can’t heal yourself.

But other people are not bandages.

You are your own journey.

The pain belongs to you.

(Peppernell, 2018, p. 72)

The most common definition of the word Journey is simply “an act of travelling from one place to another” (Journey, 2019). There is a secondary, weightier, definition: “A long and often difficult process of personal change and development” (Journey, 2019). Change is never easy. There are always growing pains, the fear of the unknown, grief for what may be lost in the process, and a constant ache for that which is familiar and comfortable. Physical journeys, as in travel or change in residency, can be challenging; however, I would argue that personal journeys are the most difficult. Like the above quotes suggest, what can be most difficult is the sense of aloneness when others don’t quite get it or simply can’t help. But they have their own journeys that they should be worrying about. What is important in personal development is you.

So what do you do when it’s you who doesn’t understand your journey? It is for you, so clearly you should understand it, right? Not so fast. I think if we fully understand the why and how of personal development, it wouldn’t be difficult. We would just do it and call it a day. For me personally, my lack of understanding stems from my inability to let go of what I think should be so that I am free to love what is. I view myself, in particular, as I feel I should be. This makes it impossible to cherish all aspects of myself. My goal this year is to learn how to let go of how perfect I feel I should be, while learning to love the imperfections that make me the unique human I am.

I explained to my therapist this week that I know where I want to be as far as self-love and a greater appreciation for my own worth, but I don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. I see Point B, but don’t have the roadmap to get there. She encouraged me by saying, “Recognizing point B is an important first step. However, don’t discount the journey from one point to another. You figure it out as you go.” We talked about how the journey along the way is what teaches us, stretches us, and grows us into the person we want to become. If we rush the journey, we may miss many important and fulfilling growth opportunities – some may be more difficult than others, but they will all be vital in allowing our personal development to take place.


“I know this transformation is painful, but you’re not falling apart; you’re just falling into something different, with a new capacity to be beautiful.”     – William C. Hannan


My Point B looks a little bit like this: I have achieved a level of self-love and self-esteem to either embrace being single and enjoy being alone with myself, or to have the tools and self-respect I need to be a contributing partner in healthy relationship. Note: by “healthy relationship” I mean one that involves equal amounts of give and take from each partner. Ideally, I would love to say I end up in a wonderful relationship with someone who, for once, respects and love every side of me. I am realizing, though, that I would again be getting stuck in what I believe I should be doing. That may never happen. If I am looking for it to happen, I will be more likely to force something that isn’t meant to be. I believe this would continue the cycle of broken and unhealthy relationships, which is the last thing I want right now or in the future. Enough is enough.

I keep coming across sayings about love and relationships. It’s almost like life is throwing my new goals back in my face. It’s saying, “You think you can learn to love being single, well here…have this to think about what you’ll be missing.” I have been able to take these sayings, however, and really dissect their meanings. I see bits and pieces of my own journey towards self-love.


“It’s all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self-love deficit.” – Eartha Kitt

This one definitely hit home. It literally is my journey. My entire adult life has been spent trying to invent a sense of self-love and self-worth through my relationships with others. Obviously this is not healthy or successful. The definition of insanity, which may or may not have come from  Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (brainyquote, 2001-2019). I know I am a little bit crazy, but I’d like to think I’m not insane. Having three sets of divorce paperwork in my possession, as well as my bad habit of jumping straight into another unhealthy relationship, would suggest otherwise. My desire to find identity in who I can be for someone else, instead of finding my own identity and then going into a relationship with self-confidence, has simply not been effective. Unless I want to go on with this insanity, I need to stop doing things backwards. That is why this journey is so important. If I can learn to love myself – the good, the bad, and the ugly – then it won’t matter if I end up single for the rest of my life. If that ends up being the case, I will spend the rest of my life with the one person who loves and appreciates every aspect of me. What more could I ask for?


“I don’t want my idea of you. That’s too easy, and it isn’t real. I want you, faults and all. And I want you to want me, faults and all, not any ideas you have about love.” – Waylon H. Lewis

I’d love to say this to someone special, but for now I need to learn how to look in the mirror and say these things. I will never find happiness in the quite moments with myself if I am unable to let go of who I wish I was and embrace who I am. Until I can say this to myself with confidence, it will never be an honest statement to anyone else.


“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” – Thomas Merton

Much like the quote before this, these words resounded with me because it involves embracing how perfectly imperfect we are. If I am to accept others and love them because of their imperfections, not in spite of them, I must first learn to do the same with myself. My struggle in the past is that I have always been very forgiving and accepting of my significant other, but do not demand the same in return. The reason I do not demand the same in return is that I do not see myself as worthy of forgiveness and acceptance. My mindset has always been that other people make mistakes because they are human, but how dare I make any mistakes. It’s not that I don’t view myself as human – that truly would be insane – but rather I do not view myself as worthy of love because I am not perfect. I had a conversation with someone the other day in which she said her goals for 2019 are to be more empathetic and to show more forgiveness. I told her I am able to offer that to others, but not myself. As my therapist told me later that same day, realizing that is half the battle.


“You must remember that you are human. Filled with thoughts and feelings that will make you ache until the pain feels it might stay. But it is not here to ruin you. The ache is here to remind you that you will survive, in anything you do” (Peppernell, 2018, p. 82).

 

“You aren’t the things that haunt you. You aren’t the pain you feel. You aren’t defective or broken. You’re human, you’re doing the best you can, and you have so much more to offer the world than the demons you’re fighting.” – Daniell Koepke

I am doing the best I can. I’ve always hated that statement because it feels like an excuse. I didn’t manage to meet that deadline, but I did the best I could. I didn’t get 100% on that test, but I did the best I could. I couldn’t save my marriage, but I did the best I could. In my mind, doing the best I can is just a cop out – it’s an easy way out when you simply don’t want to put the effort in. Christina Perri’s 2014 song Human reminds me that “I’m only human and I bleed when I fall down…I’m only human and I crash and I break down.” Why is it okay for me to accept that of others, but not of myself? If someone asked me to describe myself and my life right now, I would probably say, “I struggle with anxiety and depression and have been divorced three times.” But that’s not who I am! I am a human with struggles that have broken me down, but I am also kind, compassionate, and have a heart big enough to swallow you whole. Why do I not automatically include that in a description of myself? Because 1) I haven’t figured out my identity, 2) I focus on all the negative things, and 3) I don’t love myself enough to give myself a little credit. I am not defined by my mistakes. I truly am doing the best I can. Sometimes that takes more effort than anything else.


Her Time

She has been feeling it for awhile now – that sense of awakening. There is a gentle rage simmering inside her, and it is getting stronger by the day. She will hold it close to her – she will nurture it and let it grow. She won’t let anyone take it away from her. It is her rocket fuel and finally, she is going places. She can feel it down to her very core – this is her time. She will not only climb mountains – she will move them too.

Lang Leav

I am a firm believer that God and the universe place you exactly where you need to be. Whether or not you then take your first step forward is up to you. The option to turn around and run back in the direction of the familiar is an option as well. There may be nothing but regret and discouragement there, but hey…at least it’s familiar. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right? I realize that it’s time to stop running back to the familiar. It’s my time to climb mountains. I’d love to get to the point where I can move them as well, but for the first few steps of this difficult new journey, just climbing a mountain will be difficult enough. I don’t know that rage is the right term for what’s simmering inside me. I would rather replace that word with hope. To have a gentle hope bubbling inside me sounds so much more powerful to me. I have hope that I will learn to embrace my anxiety, and in doing so, love myself a little more. I have hope that I will learn to value my depression, and in doing so, love myself a little more. I have hope that I will learn to love others without sacrificing my own body, mind, and soul in the process. I have hope that I can somehow learn to love all aspects of my mind – if I cannot do that, the fear of those aspects will allow them to control my life. Hope and faith are, to me, essentially the same thing. Matthew 17:20 reminds us that even just a tiny amount of faith can move mountains. So I am acknowledging that with hope and faith simmering away in my heart, I will someday be able to move mountains.

Finally, I am leaving you with two quotes that give me goosebumps. Having such a big heart has unfortunately come back to bite me several times over. That being said, I don’t feel that is a good enough reason to shut that part of me down. Instead, I am hoping that a byproduct of this arduous journey towards loving who I am, rather than who I feel I should be, is that I can love those around me with an even greater passion and effectiveness. If I can learn how to protect myself from being used and abused, my compassion will be able to reach out and touch even more people. It’s exhausting to have my cup emptied time and time again. That exhaustion steals me away into a depression that tells me repeatedly that I am not good enough…that I don’t deserve to be happy…that I am the reason the relationships fail. I begin to believe those words and tell myself that I should be more giving, that I should be more accepting of the abuse that I receive in return for my acts of generosity and kindness. As the below quotes suggest, I am beginning to realize that being a good and loving person does not mean being a sucker. I realize that I can give of myself freely, but must understand that others should be giving to me in the same manner. Relationships are destined to fail if one gives all and the other gives little or none. Maybe someday I will find my person. But until then, I am going to do my best to find myself. And in finding myself, I hope to be able to give of myself to others in a more natural and healthy manner. How exciting this journey will be.

“Be the love you never received. Be the acknowledgment you never got. Be the listener you always needed. Look at the younger versions of yourself within you and give yourself what it is you always needed. That is the first step of healing. If you want others to see you, you must see yourself.”  – Vienna Pharaon

“Be the person who cares. Be the person who makes the effort, the person who loves without hesitation. Be the person who bares it all, the person who never shies away from the depth of their feeling, or the intensity of their hope. Be the person who believes – in the softness of the world, in the goodness of other people, in the beauty of being open and untethered and trusting. Be the person who takes the chance, who refuses to hide. Be the person who makes people feel seen, the person who shows up. Trust me when I say – be the person who cares. Because the world doesn’t need any more carelessness, any more disregard; because there is nothing stronger than someone who continues to stay soft in a world that hasn’t always been kind to them.” – Bianca Sparacino

 

 References

BrainyQuote. (2001-2019). Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/unknown_133991

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

Journey. (2019). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/journey

Peppernell, Courtney. (2018). Pillow Thoughts II: Healing the Heart. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Perri, Christina. (2014). Human. Head or Heart. Lyrics Retrieved from https://genius.com/Christina-perri-human-lyrics

Cold, Lonely Nights

It’s not actually cold in my apartment, but “cold, lonely nights” sounds better than “lonely nights.” Might as well be dramatic about it. The “lonely nights” part is certainly true. Weekends are difficult for me because it’s me spending time with me. To mix it up a little bit, sometimes I hang out with me. I don’t say this because I don’t have friends. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who would likely spend some time with me if I asked. I had an offer to hang out with a couple friends tonight and turned it down in leu of spending a quiet evening at home. I am not referring to the loneliness associated with being the only person in a room or house. I am talking about the loneliness associated with feeling alone when in a room full of people. I’m talking about the loneliness that comes from not having a person…my person.

If you are having your own cold, lonely night, you have some time to spend with me. Come on a word adventure with me — see if you can follow my train of thought by reading these definitions. On their own, they are just words. Once the concepts are put together, they tell a story.


Lonely: “Producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation” (n.d.).

Desolate:Joyless, disconsolate, and sorrowful through or as if through separation from a loved one” (n.d.).

Joyless: “Not experiencing or inspiring joy” (n.d.).

Inspiring: “Having an animating or exalting effect” (n.d.).

Animate: “To give life to; make alive” (n.d.).


The story is this: When I am without my person, I am missing the piece that enables me to really experience life. Again, this sounds a little dramatic. Okay…it sounds a lot dramatic. But it begs the question: can we as human beings be truly happy alone? Can I be happy as a single person? “There seems to be a strong stigma about loneliness,” says Dr. Karyn Hall. “Not feeling free to talk about loneliness adds to the problem and to the judgments of the experience” (2013). Hmmmmmm. This sounds strangely familiar. Stigma…shame…not being able to tell our story. Sounds a little bit like our societal struggle with mental illness, right? In an effort to bash one more stigma to pieces, I want to tell you a little bit about my loneliness.

I like how Karyn Hall (2013) describes loneliness as an experience. Yes, I experience the emotion of loneliness…I feel lonely…but I also am in the midst of an experience or journey. It is so much more than just a feeling. It is a living, breathing companion who at times seems to physically smother me like a heavy, wet blanket. When it comes down to it, though, loneliness is a pretty crappy companion.

I have a tendency to jump into relationships with users. Because of my empathetic nature, I give and give, which attracts people who take and take. I have very low self-esteem or appreciation for my own worth, which subsequently leads to relationships in which I give much and receive little. I tolerate them for way too long because of my perception that I don’t deserve any better. If I see a need, I try to meet the need, regardless of the toll it takes on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. The vicious cycle inevitably leaves me burnt out and alone, while my so-called partner is off looking for their next giver.

Once again, I bought myself a one way ticket to Loneliville. My goal with this post is not to have a big, elaborate pity party. However, I do feel a need to acknowledge my loneliness. It’s awful. When I hit rock bottom several weeks ago, it was largely due to the fact that I know how much love I have to give, yet so far no one wants me enough to honor the commitment they have made to me. It is devastating to realize that I have so much to give, but no one to give it to. I feel like the opposite of a panhandler – instead of standing on a street corner begging for money, I am standing there trying to shove $100 bills into passing hands.

Part of me wants to scream, “LET ME LOVE YOU!!!!” I shouldn’t have to do that, right? All this love should attract other people who have equal amounts of love to give and equal amounts of respect for other human beings. In a perfect world, maybe. Unfortunately, that’s not how this world works. Goodness attracts exploitation. Generosity attracts profiteers. Empathy attracts emotional/physical/financial capitalists who only want to know what’s in it for them.

A friend of mine recently helped me see my pattern in a different light. Instead of seeing only good in my endeavors to make another person’s life better by showering them with love, kindness, and generosity, I am actually in the throes of an addiction that could very well cost me my life if I’m not careful. To be an addict means “to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively” (Addict, n.d.). To be addicted to something means to have “repeated involvement with a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it now causes, because that involvement was (and may continue to be) pleasurable and/or valuable” (MentalHelp.net, 2019). I am addicted to the false sense of identity that is achieved by being the person who would do anything and everything for someone else. I have convinced myself over the years that if I can give of myself to another, even to the point of being completely used up, then I have worth. I am never just Amber…I am so-and-so’s wife/cook/cleaner/landscaper/[insert whatever else fits]. I put a positive spin on it and say that I am doing so much for someone! Yet, I don’t see the “substantial harm” it is doing to me, myself, and I. I am willing to sacrifice my very sanity and emotional health so that another might be happy.

So here I sit on this not-so-cold cold, lonely night, pondering ways in which I can break this cycle without being consumed by the loneliness necessary to break the cycle. Unfortunately, I only know how to attract people who do not have the ability to give back to me all that I am willing to give to them. In order to learn how to attract a better sort of person, I have to develop an understanding of my own worth. I know that. I see that. I understand where I need to be…I just don’t know exactly how to get there. The rational part of me knows I have worth and that I don’t deserve to be used or treated like my own needs are not important. The emotional (the slightly irrational) part of me aches to feel wanted and needed again. I was made to love others. How do I turn that part of me off while I learn to love myself?

You might think it would be easy to just replace “my person” with a whole bunch of friends who also need love and kindness. But there is something to be said for having someone to come home to after work and vent to about the day’s silly issues. There is something to be said for having someone to sit with while you each read a book or watch TV. There is something to be said for having a person to snuggle up to when it legitimately is cold in the apartment and your freezing feet need a warm place to rest. I miss those parts of a relationship. It’s hard to deny myself those wonderful things in an effort to save myself from the other stuff…the damaging stuff.

My good friend, Amy, wrote some wonderful thoughts about dating and relationships. She suggests that “we need to let go of our expectations and hold on to the reality of what our lives have become… I’m not going to say smile about it, because really, it’s not always easy to be alone” (Thompson, 2015). It’s not easy. But not all things are meant to be easy. I strongly believe that I deserve happiness. My goal now is to believe that personal happiness is not a byproduct of sacrificing all for the sake of another’s happiness. There’s no such thing as second-hand happiness.

Every time I hear the door of my apartment building open, I hope for just a second that it’s my person coming to save me from the demons of loneliness. I envy my neighbors who have more than just their own self to keep them company in the evening or on the weekend. Maybe someday I will have that. Maybe someday I will love myself enough to realize I deserve someone who wants my happiness as deeply as they want their own. Maybe someday.

 

References

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

Animate. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/animate

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

Hall, Karyn. (2013). Accepting Loneliness. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201301/accepting-loneliness

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

Joyless. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/joyless

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

MentalHelp.net. (2019). Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/definition-of-addiction/

Thompson, Amy. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/Goombasmom/posts/10157179571807845?comment_id=10157180441362845&notif_id=1546607601861178&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic

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

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

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