Adversity: Is it necessary?

Several days ago, I came across a thought provoking quote (I know…I know…me and my quotes). I have mixed feelings about the quote – part of me wishes for what it’s saying, yet part of me disagrees completely.

“The New Age belief that we need pain to grow is one of the most harmful concepts we’ve been taught. It keeps people caught in perpetual cycles of abuse. We can learn and grow so much more with love. We just need to open to it.” – Alex Myles

Read that over a few times if you need to. I certainly did.

The idea of not needing adversity to grow and be molded into the person I am meant to be…well…it sounds too good to be true.  If the world was able to get over itself – to see the futility in its constant cruelty – perhaps we would all be able to grow into ourselves based on the loving encouragement we receive from our family, friends, society, and world. Love and support go a long way to make us better people.

That being said, here is my problem with that statement: pain is part of life. Pain will never go away. Even if humans came together in love and embraced each other as never before, there would still be natural disasters, devastating health diagnoses, accidental and natural deaths, etc. My problem with that statement is in the fact that love does not make pain disappear, no matter how much we try. Sure, one might say that we need pain and love to foster growth and maturity, but I don’t agree that saying we need pain to grow is downright dangerous or harmful. We can’t have light without the dark.

The concept of growth through adversity is found in all walks of life, spiritual beliefs, and scientific research.

  • Definition of resilience: “Recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyant” (2019).
  • The Bible instructs us to “consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you can become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4, MSG).
  • The American Psychological Association on Post-traumatic growth: “Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is a theory that…was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990’s, and holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward” (Collier, 2016).
  • Life Coach Tiffany Mason states, “Your adversity is a blessing in disguise. You may not think so at the moment, but it will eventually make you stronger and wiser” (2018).
  • Psychiatrist Larry Culliford says of spiritual growth through adversity: “Stripped naked of all we hold dear, if we can somehow bring ourselves to submit rather than resist the inevitable, we may be forced – by the circumstances of having nothing else left – to make contact with our true selves; to get in touch, we might say, with our souls. When everything we try to hold onto is taken from us, we are left with something yet, something true and pure. We are left in the present, moment by moment, with conscious awareness: with physical sensation, with emotional feeling, and with the powers of thought, imagination and creativity. Through a spiritual kind of awareness, we may be left too with a source of calm, of courage, of inspiration and hope” (2011).
  • Reflections from Sylvia Huynh: “I never imagined that I could learn from my own pain. It is not the pain my body is going through that I am listening to, but it is my mind that I need to pay attention to. Giving my physical body rest and taking the time to take care of myself can give me the opportunity to become aware of myself and helps me determine what my next step will be. Since I still have pain after I started practicing Buddhism, I have gradually started meditating longer daily and used that time to calm my mind down. It is funny how my whole body feels much lighter and the pain does not linger on as long now that I think about it differently” (2019).
  • From author Sarah Krill Williston, M.A.: “…While individuals will never be able to go back to exactly how they were before a trauma, they can recover, and grow and find meaning in many areas of their lives, and that experiencing some level of distress is a very normal part of the process, not only of recovery, but also of post-traumatic growth” (2017).

The consistent affliction of adversity to all humans may not be fair, but I do believe it is necessary to obtain a higher degree of personal understanding, growth, and development. For example, I look at my divorces and think back on the extreme heartbreak and emotional trauma that went with each one. Was it enjoyable? No. Did any of them come about because of love? Obviously not. However, that does not mean they didn’t play a critical role in shaping me into the person I am today. I don’t feel that it is dangerous to say I needed those experiences to make me a better person. I would argue that I am just being a realist. Pain is reality – we must use it or be destroyed by it.

I look at my struggles with mental health. My depression and anxiety have plagued me for many years. Has it been easy? No. Does love from other people make it easier? Yes. However, because they are genuine medical conditions caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain, no amount of love will actually make them *poof* disappear. Survival and growth has come about through learning how to be a better person because of those illnesses, not in spite of them. Just as someone who survives a battle with cancer or a devastating auto-immune disease, I will come out stronger on the other side only if I recognize and respect my ability to do so.

If I did not have routine adversity (some small, like being stuck in a traffic jam, or large, like the emotional trauma that comes from abuse), I believe I would live in la la land. I would not be grounded in reality. If my only source of growth was love, I would be unprepared for the inevitable misfortune that comes to everyone at least once at some point in their life. I am stronger today because of what I went through yesterday. Because I am stronger, I will be able to face any adversity tomorrow with more courage and a greater willingness to learn from the pain.

I honestly suspect it would be equally dangerous to say that we do not need pain to be redefined and reshaped into better people. To say that implies that pain is optional, when it most certainly is not. I agree that someone should not use “this is making me stronger” as a reason to stay in an abusive relationship, to not seek necessary medical assistance, or to let their life slide into ruin. That being said, any of those things will indeed make them stronger when they find the courage to jump out of the situation and into a healthier and more stable story. Life is hard. There is no denying that. But what matters is what we make of it, and ourselves, along the way.

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

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” – Charles Bukowski

 

References

Collier, L. (2016). Growth After Trauma. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma

Culliford, L. (2011). Spiritual Growth Through Major Adversity. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/spiritual-wisdom-secular-times/201104/spiritual-growth-through-major-adversity

Huynh, S. (2018). When Adversity Knocks On My Door. Buddha Gate Monastery. Retrieved from http://buddhagate.org/when-adversity-knocks/

Krill Williston, S. (2017). Experiencing trauma can eventually result in positive personal changes. Anxiety.org. Retrieved from https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-post-traumatic-growth-ptg

Mason, T. (2018). 4 Proven Ways to Overcome Adversity. PsychCentral. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/4-proven-ways-to-overcome-adversity/

Resilient. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/resilient

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/

 

 

Prioritization: Putting aside the feeling of failure

I had my first panic attack in a while last night. In general, it was triggered by my intense fear of failure. Specifically, it was triggered by the fact that I was pushing myself to go back to school when I am not in an emotional or mental state that is conducive to learning. I’ve been planning to go back to school for a while now. I’ve been registered and set to start, yet have still been trying to convince myself it will be a good thing. I talked to my psychiatrist about dropping the classes, but she cautioned to not make any big decisions when I’m depressed…so I decided to try and stick with it.

 

My online class started yesterday. I jumped online after work, feeling much trepidation. The more I read the syllabus, homework assignments, and other class content, the more I dug my heals in. All in an instant I realized this: I have been working so hard on making time for myself, learning about myself, and for once in my crazy life, doing things that I actually enjoy. Why on earth would put my current personal growth on hold for a certificate that likely would not lead to career advancement? Simple solution, right? Drop the class and call it good, right? Ahhh…but then I started thinking about all the people who know I’ve been planning to go back to school. I started thinking about the projects at work that would be easier with the knowledge gained. I started to think of myself as a quitter…a failure…a piece of crap human being who has always struggled to finish what I start. And that’s when the panic attack set in.

 

Panic attacks are different for everyone, as are all things mental illness related. For me, a panic attack usually starts with a small thought, like a tiny crack in an enormous dam, then suddenly the dam splits wide open and it’s game over. I go from one thought to one hundred thoughts at once (all worst case scenario), I get a ringing in my ears, I have a hard time catching my breath, I start to cry, and then I just shut down. It’s not an enjoyable experience. And so exhausting. It’s hard to explain the complete loss of both physical energy and mental function post panic attack. It’s like someone has taken the world’s largest syringe and sucked all the life out of me. So in spite of the early hour, I took my sleeping pills and went to bed. Life seems a little less scary when I’m sleeping.

 

As I fell asleep, I couldn’t help arguing with myself over what I should do. Me #1 made the following arguments:

  1. Go back to school while you’re still single and you only have your dog to worry about.
  2. Go back to school so your education and skill set makes you more valuable at work.
  3. Go back to school so you have another item with which to pad your resume.
  4. Go back to school while you can take advantage of tuition reimbursement at work.
  5. Don’t be an idiot. Just go back to school.

 

Me #1 had some incredibly persuasive and valid points. But then Me #2 came in, a bit more shy and timid. Me #2 asked me questions instead of making demands.

 

  1. Will you lose out on valuable personal growth because you will have less time to devote to self-discovery?
  2. Will you have less time to enjoy the company of your puppy?
  3. Will you have less time to paint, crochet, or write?
  4. Will you have less time to commit to learning about mental health advocacy?
  5. Is that education really necessary, or are you just trying to find ways to distract yourself from the demons that need to be faced?

It was like having two good angels fighting. Both had valid points. Both had my best interest in mind. One was just more focused on professional goals, while the other was focused on personal growth. So what on earth am I supposed to do? I believe that God (or the universe or whatever you believe in) offers plenty of signs. We just have to open our eyes and see them. As silly as it sounds, my signs often come in the form of memes on my Facebook newsfeed. The first couple quotes that popped up on my newsfeed this morning were these:

 

“Enjoy your life. (It’s happening right now)” – Unknown

 

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

 

I fortunately no longer have a lawn to mow, so I easily replaced that with “going to class”. I saw this as God’s way of reminding me that staying busy or only focusing on work and career advancement isn’t necessarily what is going to bring happiness in life. Money is only money. But mental health and personal development? That’s a whole different story. In the past I have committed far too much time and energy to both my career and education. I firmly believe that it negatively impacted my relationships to an extent I will likely never know or understand. I am tired of missing out on life because I get myself roped into expensive and lengthy commitments that do little to actually advance myself or my career. My mountain is more of a proverbial mountain. I have demons to face. I have struggles to overcome. Does it make sense to divert energy away from those tasks and instead focus on busy work? Then I see this:

 

“Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place.” – Unknown

 

The next quote that pops up as I’m scrolling through a million pictures of babies (ew) and Valentine’s Day posts (gross):

 

“Find out what makes you happy, then figure out how that is of service to this crazy, sad, wonderful, fun world.” – Waylon Lewis

 

This one kind of slapped me upside the head. I’ve always heard variations of the saying “Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life,” but I’ve not been faced with a variation that takes that internal joy and pushes it outward again. Will going back to school make me happy? Probably not. Will the specific area of study help me better the world and society around me? Probably not. Then why the heck am I even having this conversation? So I started thinking about what makes me happy.

 

  1. Writing
  2. Reading
  3. Art
  4. Making a difference in a dark world
  5. Fighting to end mental health stigma

 

I can tell you right now that none of those things would have been fostered or encouraged within the program for which I was registered. I realized there would be little value added to my life by robbing myself of time that I could be spending doing a combination of all of those things. I then came across this quote:

 

“Reflect on what triggers you so you can be free from overreacting and overthinking. Sometimes you can be giving away so much of yourself mentally and emotionally to something that only leaves you feeling depleted. Be more centered. Prioritize your inner peace and mental wellness.” – Unknown

 

If going back to school, which in and of itself is an admittedly unnecessary venture at this point in my life, triggered the worst panic attack I’ve had in months, should I really be doing it? I have found so much peace and satisfaction and growth while writing my blog, dabbling in art, and reading self-help or mental health books. I again questioned the wisdom in taking time away from that. One might argue that education and career should take precedence over everything else, but that’s the perspective I’ve held up until this point. Yes, I have a degree that no one can take away from me. Yes, I have a job that I genuinely enjoy. But I think it’s time to start focusing on myself when I’m not at work.

 

It’s probably pretty obvious at this point, but it didn’t take me long to get online this morning and drop the class that started yesterday. It was difficult, because Me #1 did have good points. But I foresee more benefits from focusing on my mental health, personal discovery, and what those two things combined can mean for those around me. I have a lot to give. Each day could be my last. I don’t want to regret not making myself and others a priority.

 

I hope no one reads this and takes it to mean that education isn’t important. If you are in school and are furthering yourself and your career, stick with it! The amount of satisfaction earned from a degree is incredible. Just don’t forget about yourself in the process. Commit time to bettering yourself, letting yourself have some fun, as well as maintaining the relationships around you that might suffer if you focus solely on education or career. Don’t let good things fly past you because your time is spent looking down instead of around.

The Semicolon: Choosing to live

cropped-semicolon2.pngpainted by me

Trigger warning: depression, suicide

 

The semicolon, a form of punctuation whose use is not well understood by many (myself included), is used “to make a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop” (Semicolon, 2019). In recent months, I have come to appreciate the semicolon for a reason that is related to, yet different from, the original definition. Have you ever seen someone with a semicolon tattoo? Chances are there is a more meaningful reason than because that person just adores punctuation and grammar, right? That’s correct – the semicolon is “about mental health and destroying the negative stigma attached to it. If you’ve seen a person with a tiny semicolon on their wrist or arm, you’re facing someone who has overcome serious mental health issues – from depression and anxiety, to schizophrenia – and has chosen not to end their lives, but rather to move forward anew” (Bushak, 2015). Put in even simpler terms, “the semicolon is intended to encourage people to keep going in life” (Grisham, 2015).

 

The reason I am so passionate about this topic right now is because I have struggled with depression the last few months at a depth I have never before experienced. To say I hit rock bottom is an understatement. To say I have had no energy to climb out of that hole is an understatement. To say I have wanted to close my eyes and never wake up is an understatement. It’s an ongoing struggle as I work my way through one of the darkest times of my life. I don’t bring this up looking for attention or a pat on the back for getting out of bed this morning – I bring it up to communicate that this is real life for many, many people. We paste on a smile each day so we can go into work or school and act like a normal person (whatever “normal” means). We splash our faces with cold water to reduce the swelling from a night of hopelessness and tears. We put on makeup to draw attention away from the dark circles under our eyes.

 

To those who may know someone experiencing the suffocating effects of depression, check up on them. Don’t let the makeup and cheery smile fool you into thinking they’ve “gotten over” depression. I’m a firm believer that depression never truly goes away. It’s more of a remission, or “a period of time when an illness or disease becomes less severe” (Remission, 2009-2019, emphasis mine). It seems like it’s gone, but there’s always a high chance that it will come back bigger and meaner than ever before. Make sure you check up on the people in your life who may or may not be in remission.

 

To those who are the ones lost in the deep, dark forest of depression…I SEE YOU. You are not alone. I know it seems like life isn’t worth living. I know it seems like God has abandoned you. I know it seems like you don’t serve a purpose. I know it seems like no one would notice if you just disappeared. I know it seems like you will never be yourself again. I know it seems like your life is meaningless. I know it seems like you don’t have the strength it takes to get out of bed and shower. It seems like it. But it is a lie that has been woven and spun to perfection by the demons inside your mind and heart. It simply is not so. Remember the semicolon…I beg of you.

 

Remember the semicolon. It is so simple, yet so profound. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important the “low lows” of our life can be. They can literally either make or break us. If they break us completely, we may end up choosing a period instead of a semicolon. But, my dear, how I do hope you choose the semicolon. I don’t say all of this flippantly as someone who has never struggled between a period and a semicolon. I plead with you not to choose a final and irrevocable period, but know I am pleading because I too have to beg of myself to choose the semicolon. If we give ourselves permission to keep fighting, to keep holding on for one more minute, and then another and another, we can experience transformation.

 

“Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

“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. Hennan

 

Transformation is hard. Transformation down right sucks. They don’t call them growing pains without reason. We know where we would like to be – happy, motivated, energetic, making a difference – but first have to cross the hot coals that stand between us and our destination. Would it be easier to give up and end it all? Yes. Would it be selfish to end our suffering? I honestly don’t believe so. HOWEVER, just because something is easier doesn’t make it right. You will get through this day, just as you’ve gotten through each day leading up to this one. Sometimes getting through the day is all in the little things. Taking a shower. Eating a lunch that we love. Taking an extra five minute break or two to walk outside and soak up the sunshine. When you are at your lowest low, try to focus on the little things. I certainly understand how overwhelming it can be to focus on other, bigger matters – you can deal with those later.

 

You will make it.

 

Let me tell you one other thing that has made me realize the importance of the valleys and facing difficult transformation. I. Have. Worth. So do you. Just because every significant other I have ever had has treated me in a way that makes me believe the opposite, this doesn’t mean I am worthless. Start every day by looking at yourself in the mirror and telling yourself that you are a beautiful person, that the world is a better place because of you, and that you were put here for a reason. That reason is not to take the easy way out. That reason is to face your demons, become who you need to become, and maybe even help those around you who are unable to face or fight their own demons.

 

“The softest people I know are the strongest people I know. They have stories that could have broken them, but they manage to take all of those pieces and reinvent themselves.” – Unknown

 

Your scars, whether physical, emotional, mental, or all of the above, make you the unique and special person you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Above all, don’t let yourself tell you otherwise. Don’t listen to yourself on the days that you want to give up. Tell that still, small voice to go take a hike when it whispers that you would be better off dead. It’s simply not true.

 

A friend encouraged me the other day by telling me that all this pain and heartache is not reducing who I am, but rather building me up and turning me into a stronger person. This can only happen, though, if I grit my teeth, roll up my pants, and walk my way across those burning coals toward the future I want for myself. If I shut myself inside and do nothing to better my mental state, I will surely succumb to the wishes of those demons. Thankfully, I have wonderful friends, an incredibly supportive family, and an amazing psychiatrist who understands the power of the right combination of medication.

 

Let’s talk about medication for a minute. There are definitely two opposing views – people either have faith in medication or people stay as far away from it as possible. Let me share from my own personal experience. I have been on and off antidepressants for my entire adult life. The reason I go off of them is usually because I feel a sense of weakness because I have to rely on my “happy pills” (or “crazy pills”…I call them both names, depending on how I am feeling). I want to be able to get up in the morning and be able to get through a day without needing pharmaceuticals. But I always go back to them. Is it because I am weak? Is it because I am a lesser person than people who can manage life without medication? Certainly not. My psychiatrist told me something that really made any aversion to medication crumble for good. She told me, “When you are depressed, you aren’t thinking rationally. We need to get your brain chemistry stabilized so that you can go to therapy or practice self-care and actually be in a place to experience the benefits.” It’s not a sign of weakness to take medication. I believe that if you are facing a period or a semicolon, and medication is all that might stop you from choosing the period, go get on some GD medication! People tell me they don’t want to deal with the side effects or remembering to take a pill every day. So you’re telling me that killing yourself is a good option, but taking a pill that might cause a little weight gain is just not worth the risk? Read that again. Isn’t life, and serving your purpose in that life, more important? That’s my take on it. I’m not saying the only option is medication. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t discount the benefits. For me, medication has given me the fireproof boots I need to begin walking across those burning coals. Once my brain chemistry is a little more stable and I have more than one serotonin molecule hanging out in my brain, I will be in a better place to recognize how much I really do have to live for.

 

“Depression is not selfish. Anxiety is not rude. Schizophrenia is not wrong. Mental illness isn’t self-centered, any more than a broken leg or the flu is self-centered. If your mental illness makes you feel guilty, review the definition of “illness” and try to treat yourself with the same respect and concern you would show to a cancer patient or a person with pneumonia.” – Unknown

 

My final thought on this topic is simply this as: you are beautiful because of (not in spite of) both your light and your darkness. As the above quote suggests, you shouldn’t be any more ashamed of your mental illness than you should be of a broken bone or the common cold. It may be a little gross when you accidentally sneeze bright green snot all over yourself when you have a cold, but no one can judge you for being sick. It happens to everyone, right? What I so desperately want to communicate is that there is nothing wrong with having depression. There is nothing wrong with having chronic anxiety. There is nothing wrong with struggling with PTSD. In fact, I would argue that you are stronger than the majority of people out there who have never experienced mental illness. You are made of bold stuff, my friend. Take that strength and devote it to the sentence that comes after the semicolon. You are not alone. You are beautiful. I see you.

 

“At any given moment, you have the power to say: this is not how the story is going to end.” – Christine Mason Miller

 

References:

Bushak, L. (2015). ‘Project Semicolon’: How a punctuation symbol came to represent Mental Health. Medical Daily. Retrieved from https://www.medicaldaily.com/project-semicolon-how-punctuation-symbol-came-represent-mental-health-341916

 

Grisham, L. (2015). Semicolon tattoos raise awareness about mental illness. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/09/semicolon-tattoo-mental-health/29904291/`

 

Remission. (2009-2019). Retrieved from https://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/remission

 

Semicolon. (2019). In online English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/semicolon

 

Thinking Outside the Box: Learning to love everyone…I mean EVERYONE

Trigger Warning: Self-harm, depression, suicide

 

Birds of a feather flock together, right? Or so they say (whoever “they” might be).

 

We as people like everything to be organized by any number of qualifiers, whether it be size, color, species, etc. – “the tendency to classify and categorize objects is a deeply ingrained aspect of human nature” (Kaufman, 2012). If it is so deeply ingrained, it must serve a purpose, right? If I didn’t know how to categorize colors, I wouldn’t know how to put a cute outfit together. If I didn’t know how to categorize animals by “safe” and “not safe”, I might bring home a poisonous snake as a pet instead of a loving puppy. If I didn’t know how to categorize food by “healthy” or “not healthy”, I might end up eating junk all the time. (We’ll ignore the fact that I do eat junk all the time. It’s an example, people!) The reason we have communities, clubs, churches, and work organizations is because unique individuals find something in common with others and they choose to build on those similarities. Countries are based on shared national pride. Support groups are based on a shared need that would otherwise go unmet. Categorization can be a very good thing!

 

However… “this fundamental skill can also be extremely damaging, especially when it comes to categorizing people” (Kaufman, 2012). A fact of human nature is this: people or things that are different scare us. Have you ever had someone come up to you who doesn’t speak the same language? It’s absolutely terrifying (maybe not for everyone, but certainly for someone with Social Anxiety like me). This person doesn’t communicate like I do. While I don’t see it as a bad thing, it’s still scary. It makes me uncomfortable. I start to panic and wonder how on earth this is not going to end in disaster. Are either one of us right or wrong? No. We’re just different. I should rejoice in those differences, but instead they make me shake in my boots.

 

That is a very literal way of saying someone scares me because I don’t understand them. I actually cannot understand the words coming out of their mouth. What’s the solution to this? If I am never going to interact with this person again (or anyone else who speaks that language), I might do my best to draw or mime until we get somewhere. Or I might just pretend I’m about to miss the bus and go running in the other direction as fast as I can. It’s hard to say. On the other hand, if I am going to spend time around this person (or others who speak this same language), it would be in my best interest to quickly devote some time to learning not only the basics of the language, but also build some general knowledge of their social customs and culture. Why are both important? First, learning the language will obviously foster communication and make interactions a little less scary. In addition to this, learning a bit about their culture will help me move forward with communication and interaction in a way that hopefully won’t come across as offensive or ignorant. The only thing I would ask from the individual(s) is that they have a healthy dose of patience and the ability to forgive as I inevitably make mistakes throughout the learning process.

 

I used to be very involved with the Deaf community. I was going to school to be a sign language interpreter, spent most of my time around Deaf people (including my then boyfriend, who was born profoundly deaf), and was planning a career around this beautiful language and culture. To become fluent in the language and comfortable with various interactions, I chose a total immersion approach. Besides interacting with my family and coworkers, I devoted all my free time to putting myself in potentially uncomfortable situations in which I would gain experience and exposure to the Deaf world. I put aside the idea that Deaf people need a hearing person’s help – I realized quickly that this perception would get me nowhere in such a tight knit community (never mind the fact that it is 100% false). Instead, I took on the mentality that I had a chance to grow as an individual and expand my comfort zone by mega proportions. Not only did I meet wonderful people (my best friend of 12 years is a perfect example!), I learned how to be comfortable with a form of communication that requires expressiveness to the extreme. Without dramatic facial expressions and big sweeping gestures, the meaning of some statements or words may be completely missed. This forced a very shy and introverted girl to become more comfortable in her own skin and with her own facial expressions. The amount of patience I received from Deaf individuals made my learning experiences far more positive than they could have been. This is a perfect example of how stepping out of our comfort zone can lead to incredibly valuable (even necessary!) personal growth. Although I did not complete the interpreter program, those experiences forever shaped my life and my ability to express myself in a more meaningful manner.

 

Now let’s take that concept and apply it to a different form of not understanding someone. Whether it’s because of differing faiths, cultures, health circumstances, political persuasions, sexual orientation, etc., there is no shortage of ways in which I may not understand someone’s experiences or their chosen lifestyle. Does that mean I should pretend they don’t exist or even demand that they change who they are so I feel more comfortable around them? No! If someone is different or I don’t understand them, it just means I have been given a wonderful learning opportunity. Instead of building walls and sticking within my very limiting comfort zone, I must learn as much as I can about whatever difference may exist between us. Hopefully they will return the favor, along with respect, patience, and understanding as I try to bridge the canyon that separates us.

 

I am specifically thinking about how we as a society and as unique individuals interact and react to individuals who suffer from mental illnesses. We all know there is stigma. We all know there are many mental health needs that go unmet or unnoticed. I’m sure we would all love to say that we would never treat someone with a mental illness any differently than any other person with whom we might cross paths. But if you think long and hard, this might not be the case. I struggle with Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and Social Anxiety, but even I react poorly to others with mental illnesses I don’t understand. I say this to point out that we all struggle, whether we have personal experience with mental illness or not. Let me give a few common examples – think about how you would likely react (not how you should react…how you would react). Think about the thoughts that would immediately jump into your mind.

 

  1. You are out to dinner and your server reaches for you glass to refill your water. You notice an abundance of scars on her wrist. She clearly was, or perhaps still is, a cutter.
  2. You just parked your car and noticed an individual kissing the roof of his car, walking away, then returning to do it again before finally entering the store.
  3. Your seemingly happy cousin attempts suicide.
  4. You invite a coworker to your Fourth of July BBQ, but they refuse to stay for the fireworks. They get sweaty and start acting strange when you insist.
  5. You overhear a girl who looks to be about 90 pounds complain that a certain dress makes her look fat.
  6. Your colleague brings their brother to a work-sponsored softball game. The man will neither make eye contact with you or shake your hand when you first meet, then later tells you that your hair cut is sloppy.
  7. You are at the store and witness a mother walking down the aisle while her child repeatedly kicks at her and tells her how much he hates her.

 

Are any of those scenarios similar to something you have experienced? If so, did you laugh or go home to tell your spouse or friends about the crazy person you saw or met? Do any of those examples make you feel uncomfortable by simply reading them? I’ll be the first to raise my hand. For the sake of conversation, let’s expand on each example.

 

  1. You are out to dinner and your server reaches for you glass to refill your water. You notice an abundance of scars on her wrist. She clearly was, or perhaps still is, a cutter.

When people see another person with cutter scars, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that they must have gone through a broody phase as a teenager during which they hurt themselves for attention. In some cases this might be true, but not in most cases. Self-harm is an extremely common coping mechanism. According to Psychology Today (2019), “self-harm, or self-mutilation, is the act of deliberately inflicting pain and damage to your own body and can include cutting, burning, scratching, and other forms of injury.” That means a cry for attention, right? Not necessarily. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explains that “hurting yourself – or thinking about hurting yourself – is a sign of emotional distress”  and that “when a person is not sure how to deal with emotions, or learned as a child to hide emotions, self-harm may feel like a release” (NAMI, 2019). You might be asking, “How on earth could cutting, burning, or any other form of self-harm be a release?” Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that physical pain can go a long way toward relieving emotional pain. I thankfully never got into cutting, but I was a burner and have always been a skin picker. As someone who has always struggled with healthy coping mechanisms for emotional pain, I found relief in self-harm because 1) physical pain is something I can understand and 2) I was controlling what was causing me pain, which is typically not the case when it comes to emotional pain or trauma. I have found more socially acceptable forms of causing physical pain (i.e. tattoos), but that doesn’t mean I am not still tempted by other forms of self-harm. If you know someone or come across someone with scars, don’t judge them. Understand that they have been through things you can probably not comprehend and that they need kindness and support more than anything. Don’t treat them like they are lesser individuals. Encourage them to get help – therapy is a great way to learn healthier coping mechanisms. Sometimes even just providing them with a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on provides enough of an outlet that they don’t feel the need to hurt themselves. You may not understand it, but acknowledge their pain without being one more judgmental person in their life.

  1. You just parked your car and noticed an individual kissing the roof of his car, walking away, then returning to do it again before finally entering the store.

Lets talked about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It’s not uncommon to hear people say “I have OCD” just because they like their Tupperware organized or their piles of paper neat and tidy. This is not OCD. True OCD “is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over” (NIMH, 2016). I dated someone who had severe OCD. He was literally unable to walk away from his car without first holding his arms out to the side, leaning over, and kissing the room of the car. Likewise, he could not leave his apartment without kissing the door frame on the way out. When he would try to practice self-control and walk away from his car or apartment door without doing the kissing ritual, his subsequent anxiety was debilitating – he would either have to return to the car or return home to complete the ritual so he could continue with his daily life. He also struggled with obsessive thoughts about taking a large kitchen knife and stabbing himself. Look back at the NIMH definition, though – these behaviors and thoughts are uncontrollable. Can you imagine knowing how ridiculous you look kissing your car, but being unable to control the need to do so? Take care when flippantly saying you have OCD or laughing at someone who appears to be doing something bizarre. Remember that it is a truly life-changing struggle for many people – as many as 2.5% of our adult population have this illness (BeyondOCD.org, 2018).

  1. Your seemingly happy cousin attempts suicide.

How many times do you hear it said of people who attempt or commit suicide that “they seemed so happy and normal”…? Does this mean they were liars, really good actors, just seeking attention, or possibly so emotionally distressed that they couldn’t bring themselves to open up to anyone about their struggles? According to the World Health Organization, “close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds” (WHO, 2019). Do the math. How many people have died just while you’ve sat here reading this blog post? They may be strangers to you, but it is still a devastating loss of human life. Here’s the deal, though – “people can be so quiet about their pain, that you forget they are hurting. That is why it is so important to always be kind” (Unknown). Seriously…telling someone who feels suicidal or has attempted suicide that they shouldn’t be so selfish or that they have a lot to live for will only make them feel guilty and put them into even more emotional turmoil. Suicidal ideation is a very real thing, whether you have been personally touched by it or not. My best suggestion is to look beyond someone’s outward behaviors and words. Really look them in the eye. When you ask someone how they are doing, listen to their answer. You might be thinking to yourself, “How the heck am I supposed to know someone is depressed if they don’t come out and tell me?” I have news for you – people who are truly depressed and suicidal likely won’t come out and tell you. That’s why we need to be so in tune with those around us and learn how to see the signs – withdrawal from social interaction, absences from work, extreme pessimism, maybe even frequent references to death. And remember: just because someone has started seeing a therapist or taking medication, this does not mean they are out of the woods. Always keep an eye on people. Your kindness might just be what gives them enough hope to carry on for one more day.

  1. You invite a coworker to your Fourth of July BBQ, but they refuse to stay for the fireworks. They get sweaty and start acting strange when you insist.

It may very well be that your coworker has severe Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is triggered by fireworks or other loud noises. This disorder “can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault” (Psychiatry.org, 2017). Perhaps they are a war veteran who does not speak of his experiences because they had such a profoundly negative affect on his life. Perhaps he was a gunshot victim in a terrorist attack. Perhaps he was beaten by his father during a fireworks show. It could be any number of things. What’s important to remember is that people have a reason for declining invitations or saying they need to leave early. If they want to share those reasons, great. However, if they are clearly uneasy about doing something, don’t force them to do it if you do not know or understand their background or experiences.

  1. You overhear a girl who looks to be about 90 pounds complain that a certain dress makes her look fat.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “there is a commonly held view that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are actually serious and often fatal illnesses that cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors” (February 2016). Let me drawn your attention back to the words often fatal. I was surprised to learn that “anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder” (NEDA, 2018). Instead of judging someone for being too thin or self-absorbed, remember that true eating disorders can be incredibly dangerous and life-threatening. If you have children or are around children, look for the signs early. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that “the best-known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness,” and lists bullying/weight shaming as a huge issue (NEDA, 2018). Teach your children to be kind to other children, regardless of how they look or how much they weight. Teach yourself to be kind. Yes, it is someone’s own choice to go down the road of an eating disorder, but if we aren’t teaching our kids to not bully others, aren’t we as much to blame as that individual? It is our responsibility to change the societal view that both women and men must be a certain pants size to be appreciated, valued, and loved. No one deserves to feel less than perfect.

  1. Your colleague brings their brother to a work-sponsored softball game. The man will neither make eye contact with you or shake your hand when you first meet, then later tells you that your hair cut is sloppy.

I came across this incredible meme about autism the other day:

autism

It moved me. It reminded me that just because I don’t understand what it’s like to have autism (or any mental health disorder or illness), doesn’t mean I should call someone weird or crazy for their exhibited behaviors. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) “refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication” (AutismSpeaks.org, n.d.). If you know or find out that someone has ASD, this doesn’t mean you should avoid them. This means you should pay close attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues. If they don’t feel comfortable shaking your hand, don’t force them to shake your hand. Also, remember that ASD is 100% unique to each individual – it’s called a spectrum for a reason. The Autism Speaks organization (n.d.) has this powerful quote by Dr. Stephen Shore on their website: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Read that again. Think about how that applies to ASD or to any other mental illness. You might know ten people with ASD, but that doesn’t mean the 11thperson you meet will have the same needs as any of the other ten. Doesn’t that apply beautifully to humans in general? We simply cannot generalize, regardless of the disorder – especially if it has anything to do with the human mind!

  1. You are at the store and witness a mother walking down the aisle while her child repeatedly kicks at her and tells her how much he hates her.

This example hits home for me for a number of reasons. I have witnessed this in the store before. If I hadn’t known someone who has a child with similar behavioral tendencies, I probably would have thought the boy was abused and/or the mother simply didn’t pay him enough attention. The mother I witnessed was simply continuing her shopping, despite the stares coming from all directions, and she kept telling him “I know” every time he stated that he hated her or that she was a horrible mother. So whose fault is this? Instead of jumping to the conclusion that the child is either spoiled rotten or completely neglected, could there be another explanation? I’ll give you a little hint: there can always be another explanation. Any number of mental illnesses could cause that kind of behavior. In this case, my heart goes out to both the boy suffering from something, as well as the mother, who has probably tried just about everything to get her little boy back – psychotherapy, psychiatric care, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, etc. Mental illness is particularly challenging with a child. How long should one experiment with medication dosages and combinations? How far should one push the child with therapy? How does one deal with the behavioral outbursts at school? How can one cope at home when there’s no escape for anyone involved? My point with this example is as follows: don’t assume the child is a spoiled brat and don’t blame the parent. You have no idea what they might be going through. You have no idea what measures they have taken to try to get any sort of behavioral issues under control. Show some grace. Show both the child and the parents that grace. They are trying and they didn’t choose this.

 

I hope you’ve learned something, as I did during my research for this post. I hope you remember that categorization and labels don’t always improve a situation. What improves already difficult circumstances is education. Learn about the disorder, illness, etc., and learn how to talk about it and interact with those affected. Putting yourself out there in a non-offensive way will result in more kindness toward others, as well as increased personal growth and understanding. I hope that next time you are in public and see someone “different,” that instead of pointing and laughing, you hold out your hand, an open mind, and a willingness to learn about what makes them special and unique. Think outside the box. Celebrate the differences and the light we each bring to this world.

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegrut

“…every single person on this planet has their own unique combination of traits and life experiences” (Kaufman, 2012).

 

References

AutismSpeaks.org. (n.d.). What Is Autism? Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

 

BeyondOCD.org. (2018). Facts about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved from http://beyondocd.org/ocd-facts

 

Kaufman, S. (2012). The Pesky Persistence of Labels. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/201210/the-pesky-persistence-labels

 

NAMI. (2019). Self-Harm. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/related-conditions/self-harm

 

NEDA. (2018). Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders. The National Eating Disorder Association. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders

 

NIMH. (2016). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

 

NIMH. (February 2016). Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml

 

Psychiatry.org. (2017). What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

 

Psychology Today. (2019). Self-Harm. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/self-harm

 

WHO. (2019). Suicide Data. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/

 

When Playing the Blame Game, No One Wins.

How many of us blame our job troubles, financial instability, broken relationships, or other negative life situation on our family, loved ones, or anyone else but ourselves? At some point we all do it. Unfortunately, there are those who never acknowledge that they can only blame others for so long before it’s obvious who is responsible for their current situation.

“One of the most destructive human pastimes is playing the blame game. It has been responsible for mass casualties of war, regrettable acts of road rage, and on a broad interpersonal level (social, familial and work-related), a considerable amount of human frustration and unhappiness. The blame game consists of blaming another person for an event or state of affairs thought to be undesirable, and persisting in it instead of proactively making changes that ameliorate the situation” (Cohen, 2012).

I think back on many different conversations that took place with my second husband after finding out about his ongoing affair and secret family with another woman. There are a few statements I want to dissect, all of which illustrate the thoughts above. Before I delve into the things he said to me, put yourself in my shoes for a minute – imagine the sense of betrayal I am feeling at this point. Imagine having your entire world turned upside down in a matter of seconds. Imagine what a situation like that does to someone with extreme anxiety, not to mention the depression that was lying in wait for the opportune moment to pounce. Now imagine listening to these words coming out of someone who had just been caught in his own web of lies and deceit:  

“I never wanted any of this to happen. I believe she intentionally got pregnant so I would leave you. She tried to railroad my whole life, and has now ended up succeeding.”

First, he very clearly believed one of two things: 1) that he genuinely was her victim, or 2) that by making me believe he was her victim, I would have pity on him, forget it ever happened, and move on with our life together. I am honestly inclined to think that he believed both to be true to some extent, but his history of gas lighting clearly points to the latter as the belief with deeper roots in reality. Either way, he actually thought those words would help his case. Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne states, “Blame is an excellent defense mechanism. Whether you call it projection, denial, or displacement, blame helps you preserve your sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of your own flaw or failings” (2015). I sprang the news on him that I knew, so he went into defense mode. What better defense than to say it was all her fault? Never mind the fact that it obviously takes two to have an affair, to continue having an affair, and then to make a baby after two years of said affair. It’s not like she can intentionally (or even unintentionally) get pregnant without his help. Last time I checked, it takes more than eye contact to make a baby.

To railroad someone means “to force someone to do something before they have had enough time to decide whether or not they want to do it” (Railroad, 2019). I would argue, dear sweet ex-husband, that there is no such thing as railroading someone’s life when you’ve made the conscious decision to sleep with that person for years on end.

“I couldn’t trust her any longer after she told me she was on birth control and then got pregnant intentionally.”

First of all, birth control isn’t 100% effective. Condoms aren’t 100% effective. The only effective way to make sure someone who is not your wife does not get pregnant is to…I don’t know…may not sleep with someone who is not your wife? Just a suggestion.

Second, what a lovely use of projection, which “is a psychological defense mechanism in which individuals attribute characteristics they find unacceptable in themselves to another person” (GoodTherapy, 2016). Place yourself in my shoes again. I just found out that this man – a man I trusted with my whole heart – has been cheating on me for years. In his hurry to paint himself as the victim, he tries to earn pity by saying she betrayed his trust. Really? In that moment I found it unbelievable that he would seek to make me feel sorry for him by bringing up a term as volatile as “trust” in that moment. Especially after years of gas lighting me by making me feel crazy when I would question why he went somewhere or came home so late. It was all a big blame game so everyone was at fault except himself.

“She is a pathological liar. Don’t believe anything she tells you.”

Again with the projection. This statement came hot on the heels of me informing him that I had spoken with her before I confronted him. I had her side of the story, though he did not know this until I also had his side of the story. This might come as a surprise, but the only thing their stories had in common was the fact that the child was his. All other details (time frame, activities, etc.) were completely different. After lying to me for nearly our entire marriage, he expected me to disregard her side of the story because she makes things up. Apparently they were a match made in heaven.

“I hate who I am. But I am the way I am because my parents never wanted me.”

This was coming from a 51 year old man who left home when he was 17. After 34 years of making his own decisions, fighting in two wars, and moving to the other side of the world, he thought it was still acceptable to blame his parents for his low self-esteem. His rationale was as follows: “My parents had me late in life, they both worked and were never home, they didn’t spend time with me when they were home, and I had a rough child hood because of it.” He stated that this led to low self-esteem, which in turn caused him to behave in ways that he hated (including, but not limited to, his affair). After sharing this lengthy sob story with me, he asked me to move to a different state and start over with him. His goal was again to win my pity by blaming his parents for a childhood that apparently directly caused his infidelity. He even managed to squeeze out a few tears for effect.

He is a narcissist who has clearly perfected the skills necessary to play the blame game. That being said, “unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose. Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships” (Krauss Whitbourne, 2015). He sought control and blamelessness by pointing his finger at other people each step of the way.

“Please don’t tell our friends why we are really getting a divorce. I would like to save face as much as possible.”

In the end, he still wouldn’t be honest with some of our closest friend. He proceeded to tell them that our divorce came about because we simply “grew apart.” I did not provide the truth, though I still wonder if I made the right choice. He acted in a despicable way, but still wanted to come out of it clear of fault in the eyes of others. I chose not to tell the truth to several people because I didn’t see the point in ruining his reputation. Our life together was over, so it was time to focus on myself and not cause additional pain for either one of us. I can’t help feeling, though, that if he was truly sorry for his actions, he would have owned up to them before everyone. Let me give anyone reading this a piece of advice: if you ever hurt your significant other by choosing someone else over them, don’t make things worse by trying to pretend it never happened. It’s like spitting on someone after running over them with your car. Do the world a favor and take responsibility for your actions.


I’ve spent a lot of time and energy (this is a very emotional topic for me) talking about how someone else plays the blame game like a strategic chess match. However, I am not innocent of the blame game. Although I learned the value and freedom of forgiveness after that experience, I struggled (still struggle!) with a couple different things as a direct result. The first is that I habitually play the blame game with myself. Although my ex and his girlfriend were the individuals who chose to behave as they did, to this day I battle the idea that if I had just been a better wife, if I had just been a little less anxious or depressed, if I had just given a little more physically, he never would have sought comfort or passion in someone else’s arms. He even told me that the reason he looked elsewhere was because I wasn’t meeting his needs. That almost did me in. For someone who has an chronic issue with overthinking and taking things to heart, these were some of the worst words he could have said to me. I am one of those people “who blame themselves for everything, even when they’ve had nothing to do with an unfortunate outcome. This isn’t just false modesty or fishing for reassurance; some people do believe that they cause every bad thing all or most of the time” (Krauss Whitbourne, 2015). In much the same way that it takes two people to have a long affair and two people to make a baby within that affair, I also believe that it takes two people to let a marriage get to the place where one feels the need to find someone else. The rational part of me chides myself for believing that, but the emotional part of me will always believe it to some extent. This has bled into many different areas of my life and will probably be an ongoing internal battle. I take responsibility for too much, even when I am not at fault. Whether it’s healthy or not, that is part of who I am.

The second way that experience forever changed me is how I perceive my relationships with other people. Trust does not come easily, small things are blown out of proportion, and motives are misjudged. That’s all on me. I cannot say that I do those things or think those things because of my ex’s actions. His actions scarred me, yes, but they do not rule me unless I allow them to. I make the choice to not trust someone’s actions. I make the choice to blow something out of proportion. I make the choice to misjudge someone’s motives before I give them a chance to explain themselves. My own struggle with the blame game lies in my desire to blame past experiences for current and future responses to others. To say that I can’t trust someone new is no different than my ex saying that the way his parents treated him as a child caused him to shatter my heart. It’s just not true. By forgiving my ex on a daily or hourly basis, I am setting myself free of the excuse that he is to blame for any relationship issues since our divorce.

It’s hard to trust again, but trust I must. It’s hard to forgive him, but forgive him I must. It’s hard to forgive myself, but forgive myself I must. The game of life does not need to be synonymous with the blame game. Take responsibility for your own actions and hold others accountable for theirs. Pointing fingers unjustly serves no purpose in the end.

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” – Mary Oliver

 

References

Cohen, Elliot. (2012). Stop Playing the Blame Game. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-would-aristotle-do/201207/stop-playing-the-blame-game

GoodTherapy. (2016). Projection. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/projection

Krauss Whitbourne, S. (2015). 5 Reasons We Play the Blame Game…But Rarely Win. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game

Railroad. (2019). From online Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/railroad_2

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/