Grief, Depression, and Love

Grief has been on my mind lately. Specifically, I have been thinking about how grief plays a part in mental health. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist this last week and she mentioned something interesting during our discussion about my ongoing struggle with depression. She said, “This is all part of your grieving process.” Up until that point, I hadn’t really considered myself as still grieving the loss of my marriage. I felt the depression was due mainly to the loneliness that plagues me day and night. However, upon further self-examination, I believe she is correct. I am not just grieving my broken marriage – I am grieving for the life I had envisioned for us, as well as for the person I thought I was.

While these thoughts were swirling around in my head this morning, I came across this quote:

“Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.” – Glennon Doyle Melton

This reminded me of the saying that “it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” I have questioned the truth of this thought many times over the last few years. In my experience, the love I have given so fully in my relationships has always led me to a place of grief. I have certainly not been convinced it is worth it. Finding that quote this morning put a different spin on things for me. I would not go so far as to say that grief should be worn as a badge of honor. However, grieving for a lost relationship shows how much I cared…how much I loved…how much I gave.

That is no small realization.

Grief is a part of life. Bad things happen to everyone: a relationship breaks, a loved one dies, or the rug gets pulled out from under us in some other monumental way. These experiences affect us on so many different levels – emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically. For me, my grief over a deep love lost spiraled me into depression. My depression is centered around 1) not having someone to love and 2) not knowing who I am without having someone to love. That self-discovery piece, according to my psychiatrist, is part of my grief. It makes sense. I am grieving the life I expected to have as a wife and care giver. I was stripped of my identity the day I was stripped of my marriage.

This new way of looking at grief, and its subsequent manifestation in my depression, has reminded me that I did not lose myself. I did not lose my ability to love someone else. I did not lose my ability to love me. I know I have not lost that part of me because I have evidence that I have loved greatly in the past. I will only lose that and become bitter and jaded if I allow myself to do so.

I know there are so many people out there who have experienced far greater losses than my own. We all have our crosses to bear. My encouragement to myself and to anyone out there is this: Don’t give up. When you feel that your grief will swallow you whole, remind yourself that you are grieving because you loved. That loving person is still in there. I am not so foolish as to think or say that your lost loved one or relationship will be “replaced” someday. Nothing and no one can replace the loss of a dear one. However, if nothing else, allow that loving person inside you to show some grace and compassion to yourself.

My marriage failed miserably, but it was not for lack of trying. I gave everything I could. That is something no one can take away from me. I know I tried. I know I loved. Just because I wasn’t enough in the eyes of someone else, does not mean I don’t have worth. The other piece of my depression that I mentioned is not knowing who I am without having someone to love. I found a piece to that puzzle this morning. I am someone with a great amount of love to give. That is who I am. I have to give myself permission to accept that.

Grief does not mean the end. Depression does not mean the end. Keep going. Keep loving. Keep fighting.

I see you.

What does it mean to heal?

I am realizing that learning who I am is the greatest form of healing. As usual, I have multiple quotes that illustrate my thoughts, emotions, and overall journey. I suppose you could say I have been meditating on the concept of healing and what it means for me. I have felt beaten, broken, and like I have been used up and tossed aside. I’m tired of feeling this way. I’ve been tired of feeling this way for my entire adult life. I have found that there are two parts to the pursuit of healing: recognizing patterns and recognizing that I am a real person.

“You will not heal by going back to what broke you.” – Unknown

“We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” – Max Depree

I have a pattern. We all have patterns if we really stop and think about it. I like the two quotes above because they show the importance of recognizing a couple different types of patterns. The first one is key because it refers to patterns we have in the way we let people treat us. I didn’t read that quote so much as going back to the same person or situation repeatedly (though that is a thing for many people), but rather the same type of person or situation. For me, I find myself drawn to broken people because I feel that all the love I have to give might make them happier or more stable. What I ignore is the fact that the people I find are users who will suck that love out of me until I have nothing left to give. I will never find healing or fulfillment by repeatedly stumbling back into that same pattern of infatuation, giving too much without receiving in return, and then ending up alone. It’s a dangerous cycle and can quickly spin out of control.

The second quote refers to another pattern: inability to face personal change. We get comfortable. We feel safe. We become stagnant and start to suffocate. For me personally, giving of myself to others is where I am comfortable. It makes me feel needed, even if I am not receiving the same level of commitment or love in return. This last divorce made me realize that the only way to find true healing is to force myself out of my comfort zone. Instead of always looking after others, I also need to look after myself. If I don’t learn that skill – and learn it quickly – I will burn out completely and be of use to no one. Instead of throwing myself into another relationship to distract me from the heartache and loneliness, I am going way outside my norm and taking art classes, spending more quality time alone, and trying to become comfortable with me. I will never find healing if I can’t be alone with myself.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” – C.G. Jung

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.” – Unknown

I am becoming. I cannot define myself, or let others define me, by my circumstances. Sure, I’m divorced, single, lonely, and have been through some real crap, but that is not who I am. By acknowledging that, it takes power away from the hurt. It by no means diminishes how much something hurt, it just diminishes my ability to make excuses for myself based on that hurt.

A year ago I broke my wrist. It was my first broken bone and is certainly one of the most painful things I have experienced. That pain was real. To this day I still have some pain. I would be lying to myself if I said it was false or nonexistent. However, I pushed through physical therapy and am a better person because of it. Yes, I walk more gingerly on ice when I’m out with the dog, but that’s because I learned a lesson that will stick with me for the rest of my life. In the same way, I have to take emotional or mental trauma, acknowledge that the pain is real, but then push through the healing process and come out on the other side having learned an invaluable lesson. If I let myself forget the pain or the lesson that came with it, I will likely repeat the behavior that caused it in the first place. See my thoughts on patterns. To truly heal is to break the pattern.

“Trust issues have everything to do with trusting yourself and nothing to do with trusting someone else. Because when you trust yourself, you’ll never entertain someone who makes trusting him or her an issue.” – Kyle D. Jones

My ability to trust has taken a real beating over the years. Once you have been betrayed on as many levels as I have, there’s no real going back. It has been a struggle for me for many years now. I honestly don’t believe that I will ever be able to blindly trust anyone again, and that makes me sad. I remember my most recent ex-husband saying to me once, “We’ve been together for six months. If you don’t trust me by now, there’s something wrong.” He was very aware of the fact that my husband before him had kept up a secret life for four years and had been an expert in the mental abuse technique of gaslighting. I tried unsuccessfully to explain my trust issues, but he thought I was just worrying to much. He admitted, though, that he had never been cheated on, so he didn’t quite understand how significantly that experience changes you.

I bring this up for two reasons. The first is this: trust your own instincts. Like the quote suggests, until you can trust yourself and have confidence in your own insights and intuition, it may not be possible to trust anyone else. I currently don’t trust myself to not mess up another relationship, which means I have no ability to trust someone else. Most people deserve to be trusted. Give yourself a chance so you might give them a chance. This is the difficult challenge I am facing right along with you. Big time growing pains associated with this one.

The second reason I bring up that story about my ex is this: be understanding. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you have a difficult time with trust. There are a lot of people who deserve trust, but there are also an awful lot of people who don’t. Be wise. Again…trust your instincts. And if you happen to be with someone who has been cheated on in a previous relationship, give them time. Unfortunately, you have to earn back trust that someone else lost. Don’t take it personally. It’s easier said than done, but please try.

“Your healing is about you. It doesn’t need a stamp of approval. Don’t worry about how long it takes or how ugly it may seem. It’s about you.” – Unknown

Healing is like anything else – it is unique to each individual. It looks different for everyone because we all process and perceive things differently. The way I feel about betrayal is vastly different to how you might feel during the same exact situation. If the manifestation of our individual grief and pain can be so unique, how can we expect any different of our individual ability to heal? Give yourself some credit. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It’s impossible for us to really know where anyone else is at with the healing process, so comparisons make absolutely no sense. I appreciate the use of the word “ugly” in this quote. The healing process can be extremely ugly. But there is nothing wrong with that. You’ve been through something ugly. Let yourself feel that ugliness so that you might release it, all the while remembering that the ugliness is not a reflection of your beautiful self.

“She once believed that the damage to her mind and heart was permanent, until she met wisdom, who taught her that no pain or wound is eternal, that all can be healed, and that love can grow even in the toughest part of her being.” – Yung Pueblo

I love this quote. I love it because I can relate to it on so many different levels. In the moment, it can feel like healing will never happen. It can feel like the agony will swallow you whole. I know how easy it can be to sink to a place in which you wish the agony would swallow you whole. But nothing lasts forever, right? I’ve learned that even in the darkest and most lonely nights, the morning light usually brings hope and some sense of healing.

The love that is growing in the deepest, hidden corner of my being is a love for myself. Some people might say that’s just arrogance or selfishness. But I disagree. When I say I am learning to love myself, I do not mean that in a conceited way. I mean that I am learning to embrace who I am at my core. I am learning to embrace who I becoming as a result of all I have been through. I am not my experiences…I am not my pain…but I am becoming a new and better person because of those experiences and that pain. I have a greater capacity to love because I know what it’s like to be hurt so deeply. I have a greater capacity to extend grace and acceptance because I know what it’s like to have conditions put on love. I have a greater capacity to offer those things to others, but only if I am able to first offer them to myself. I will only truly heal if I can acknowledge that I deserve healing and deserve to be loved for all parts of me.

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

A Thousand Words (Part 2)

I realized the other day that I am not the only collector of sayings. I was reading a book that my best friend gave to me – Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed. In the book’s introduction, the author put my exact feelings about quotes into words. She says, “I think of quotes as mini-instruction manuals for the soul… I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads” (2015, p. X). Besides the fact that this is in and of itself a wonderful quote, it explains why I insist on taking pictures and making notes when I see or hear a meaningful quote. To hear my own heart’s contemplations in another’s words reminds me that life is a collective struggle. Obviously someone didn’t write a quote for me…they wrote it because their own heart is feeling its way through this ugly thing called life. You are not alone. I am not alone. We are in this together.


“Tears are words that need to be written.” – Paulo Coelho

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

I paired these two together because, in my mind, they are essentially saying the same thing. As someone who has always best expressed herself through the written word, I can very much relate to the idea that my writing is simply my emotions and internal battles laid out using letters, words, and sentences. My best writing usually comes when I am the most emotional. I often cry as I write. It’s like my tears are crying out to be heard. They have a story to tell. Who am I to not tell it? I also believe that in order to write well, I must be willing to open up emotional wounds and poke at bruises on my heart. I write to dissect my spaghetti mess of jumbled up thoughts and feelings. For anyone out there who doesn’t trust their ability to write or think they will do it wrong, I’ll tell you what I tell myself: Be real…be honest…be kind. Close your eyes and compose a masterpiece.


“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been there. Oh, how I’ve been there. The is an almost indescribable moment when the penny drops – when you know that your life will never be the same. Regardless of inklings or evidence to that effect, there is that one moment when you realize the truth of your situation. Fitzgerald is right – in that moment, the rest of the world seems to fade away as you are faced with something coming to an end. It might be your job, your health, a relationship, your living situation, or the life of someone you care about. It might be a million other things.

For me, I think back to the time I found out that my husband of five years had been cheating on me and had a child with her. It was complete coincidence that I found out – a friend of a friend was taking a class with her. My friend opened up Facebook to show me a picture of my husband with her. I remember feeling like I was in a tunnel. There was a roaring in my ears, yet everything seemed silent. I remember holding my breath. I remember focusing on that picture, while the rest of the world faded away completely. I remember thinking, “This is who he really is. I’m married to a monster. I am now free.” It’s strange that I vividly remember that thought: “I am now free.” It was like I replayed our entire relationship in that millisecond – our life together literally did flash before my eyes. All the signs I’d been avoiding were brought to the forefront. His behavior suddenly shone with clarity. It’s bizarre how the rest of the world truly does disappear in a moment when you receive such devastating news. I remember my friend saying, “Will you please say something or cry or get angry? Do something!” That’s when I stopped holding my breath, looked away from the picture, and told her I needed to go home. I knew I had to start over and that it had to happen that day. Life would never be the same. I would never be the same.


“I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames with buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.” – Unknown

I value the idea that, while struggles are there to make me stronger as an individual, they are also there to make me more empathetic and kind toward other people going through something similar. Consumed means to “completely destroy” or “use up” (2019). Not only have I felt consumed by anxiety, depression, and grief, I feel consumed by them. I am not out of the woods yet. The most important thing I have learned is that my struggles with anxiety and depression are worth it if they teach me to look outward instead of focusing on myself. By recognizing that I am not the only one who suffers from a chemical imbalance in my brain, I also recognize that I am not the only one who wonders if I am going to survive one more day. With that recognition comes a sense of faith in the power of solidarity. Who am I to mope around when so many thousands of other people are feeling similar thoughts and struggling with similar fears. Why not use my experiences to reach out to people and remind them that they aren’t alone. And in doing so, I remind myself that I am not alone either. We’ve all been to hell and back as a result of some experience or situation. Let’s acknowledge that fact and use it to positively reinforce a community of support. My pain may be different from yours, but we are both experiencing pain. Let’s help each other out. I’ll douse you with buckets of water, but only if you douse me as well. We’re in this together, friend! Don’t ever forget that.


“Have a heart soft enough to give love and mercy, but that is wise enough to know boundaries.” – Kayil Crow

This quote resounds with me for a number of reasons. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a pushover. I go above and beyond to do anything for anyone, even to my own detriment. I am realizing, though, that to show true love and true mercy, it is not necessary to sacrifice myself. If I don’t protect myself, I will be unable to continue showing love and mercy in the future. True kindness does not come at the cost of self. It’s taken me a long time to see the wisdom in the establishment of boundaries – I still struggle with it on a daily basis! At least now I see that having boundaries can make me an even more loving and kind individual. Only when I take care of myself can I truly take care of others. I’ve always hated the saying “Look out for number one,” but it might actually be the best advice out there. If number one gets burned out, loses faith, and dies a painful death of the spirit, there will be no other number anything to watch out for. It’s okay to tell people you aren’t up for hanging out. It’s okay to tell someone you can’t afford to go to dinner with them. It’s okay to say no! Believe it or not, the world won’t fall apart, implode, or go into civil unrest. (I know! I was shocked to find that out too!) Be good to others by being better to yourself.


“The broken will always be able to love harder than most. Once you’ve been in the dark, you learn to appreciate everything that shines.” – Unknown 

“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.” – Hafiz

Realizing how well these two quotes go together kind of blew my mind. Read them over again a few times. While we are lost in darkness, other people see this vibrant light that somehow still manages to break through all that black fog. As long as we are surrounded by the right people – the people who are willing and able to remind us that we have goodness and light that outshines the dark – we will not only learn to recognize and appreciate the light in others, but also in ourselves. I firmly believe that the true lesson in many struggles is to learn and respect how strong we are because of (not in spite of!) all we go through. We do shine bright. Everything, including ourselves, will seem so much more brilliant and beautiful after dawn finally breaks. If you have been trudging through the dark, feeling lost and alone, let me be the first to tell you that you are beautiful…you are brave…and your light is showing! I see it. I see you.


“You have to meet people where they are

and sometimes you have to leave them there”

– Iyanla Vanzant

The first part of this quote is important. It is the definition of empathy. Regardless of where we are at, we have to be able to walk up, down, backwards, or sideways to get to someone right where they are. As soon as we stand up and act all high and mighty, that person is going to be running the other direction. By getting on eye level, offering unconditional love and acceptance, we may find the opportunity to make a rare difference in someone else’s life. That being said, the second part harkens back to that other quote about setting boundaries. Sometimes, no matter how hard I want to make a difference in someone else’s life, I just can’t. Regardless of how much love, empathy, or respect I feel I have to offer, they do not return the sentiment. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that if you just keep trying and trying and trying, they will eventually cave and let you love them. Some relationships, whether platonic or romantic, just aren’t meant to be. And it’s 100% okay to accept this and move on. Don’t burn yourself out trying to prove to someone that you empathize. Don’t put your own mental, emotional, or physical health on the line to love someone who doesn’t want or appreciate your love. It’s just not worth it.


“Finding your passion isn’t just about careers and money. It’s about finding your authentic self. The one you’ve buried beneath other people’s needs.” – Kristin Hannah

Hmmmm. I’m starting to see a pattern in my own collection of quotes. Clearly I have had (still have!) boundary issues. I have a tendency to put aside my own hopes, dreams, and aspirations so that I might help someone else realize theirs. Now that I am once again single and trying to start life fresh, I am for once seeking my own personal passion. For far too long I have tried to find joy and meaning in someone else’s passion. I lose myself in whatever hobby or interests my significant other or friends might have. I think that if I mirror their passions, I will possibly feel more whole or complete. I also have let the opinions of others influence whether or not I do more of what I love. I’ve never been with someone who likes wine, so I’ve always confidently said that I dislike wine. Well, guess what? Now that I don’t have anyone else’s opinions to hide behind, I’m realizing that I love wine! Now that I’m not spending every weekend with someone else’s friends or at whatever sporting event I’m expected to happily attend, I’m realizing that I love to paint! I’m realizing that it’s okay to work on a craft for myself. The world doesn’t come crashing down around me if I don’t gift everything I make. Now that I am able to manage my finances in a way that is both responsible and wise, I was able to quit my second job and focus on pursuing my new interests. What I’m getting at is this: your identity and your passions matter too. Don’t hide behind what everyone else wants, needs, or desires. You. Matter. Too.


“You can survive losing a piece of your heart without losing the core of who you are” (Hollis, 2018, p. 157).

Not to sounds dramatic or pathetic, but I feel like I have lost way too many pieces of my heart. I give them away like I give away almost all of my crafts. I have always done that because in my heart of hearts, I believe that people are basically good. I have faith that they will take that piece of my heart and be kind to it. Unfortunately, not everyone has good intentions. Also unfortunately, never once has my piece of heart been returned to me so that my heart becomes whole again. There are quite a few people walking around this planet with a part of me forever in their grip. Here’s why I love this Rachel Hollis quote: each little piece of my heart does not make up who I am. When you pull a grape off a big cluster of grapes, yes you have one less grape, but you still have so many more. Who you are is not defined by the small pieces you relinquish to other people. Your identity is not tied to that tiny bit of you that you will never get back. You are a vibrant, resilient individual. Hey…you heard me…your resilience is showing.

 

I see you.

 

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

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

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

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