Warzones and Gollum: Anxiety on a good day

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block, mainly because the last few days have been decent for me. It probably sounds crazy, but it is easier to write – to pour my heart out – when it seems like everything is going wrong. It’s borderline scary when I have more than one good day in a row because I am waiting for it all to come crashing in on me again. What does anxiety look like on a good day? Maybe a little more like pick up sticks than a plate of spaghetti. Dark gray mixed with a little light gray, instead of just black. That awful prickly sensation once circulation is restored, instead of having a foot that is completely asleep. Driving with the Check Engine light on, instead of trying to start a car with a dead battery.

I came across an interesting quote earlier today:

“Mental illness is like fighting a war where the enemy’s strategy is to convince you that the war isn’t actually happening.” – Unknown

I’m still trying to decide what this even means. There are probably several different interpretations. The first one that came to my mind is this: if mental illness is the enemy, its goal is to sneak up on you when you least expect it. If you have been lulled into a false sense of security, it can come out of nowhere and really do a number on you. This is what makes me paranoid, even when I seem to be having a great day. The enemy is waiting for me just around that corner, behind that bush, or under that rock. It’s only a matter of time. Wouldn’t it be better to realize this problem is never going away, that there’s no way to fix me, and that I will always be fighting this gruesome internal war?

However, that is not the most meaningful interpretation I have come up with. The longer I thought about it, the more I decided that the enemy is the stigma and judgement that surrounds mental illness. If I had a penny for every time someone said “You just worry too much” or “can’t you just stop worrying for once in your life”, I would be a rich woman. What these statements communicate to someone with anxiety is this: It’s all in your head…what you are feeling isn’t real…what you are feeling doesn’t matter…you are choosing this.

Imagine sending an army of soldiers out into the middle of a war zone, then saying, “None of us believe those enemies are real. We aren’t going to support you in any of this. Stop acting like you are going to die. It’s all in your imagination.” All the while, those soldiers are trying to find some sort of cover from the flying bullets, grenades, and whatever other weapons the opposition might have. How long do you think the soldiers will be able to fight without reinforcements, supplies, and support from home? The answer is obvious: not very long. So how much do you think the opposition is benefiting from the lack of awareness or intelligence, not on the part of the soldiers, but on the part of their commanders and society?

Welcome to the warzone that is my head. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it’s dark, it’s scary, and it’s ridiculously hard to go it alone without backup and support. I imagine two different individuals living in my head – one looks just like me, talks like me, thinks like me. The other looks more like Gollum from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This creature stays in the shadows and torments the other me. It is cruel, obsessive, and doesn’t know when to stop.

Even on the good days, my internal Gollum reminds me that anything could go wrong at any minute. I might remind it that my antidepressant and antianxiety meds seem to be stabilizing me, but it would come back with, “Well what if something clicks in your brain and they start causing seizures?” I might remind it that I am thankful for the roof over my head and the good job I have, but it would come back with, “What if your neighbor starts a fire and you can’t go to work because you couldn’t escape the flames?” I might remind it that I am working on my self-esteem by exercising, dressing a little nicer, and putting on some makeup, but it would come back with, “You’re fighting a losing battle…no one likes you anyway…why feel good about that?” I might remind it that I am intelligent, but it would come back with, “Then why do you struggle with so many different irrational fears or simple problems?” I might remind it that I am eating healthier to get my body back on track, but it would come back with, “You can’t afford to eat healthy.” My point is…there is always something. Even on the best of days, my own personal Gollum is pointing out how futile my attempts are when I try to live a normal, rational life.

Now let’s go back to the warzone example. I have all this going on in my head, but people I think I can trust are assuring me that I can simply stop worrying if I really put my mind to it. There is no way to truly describe what that feels like, but there are plenty of words that, when combined, come pretty close. Below are just a few examples. All of these definitions come from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2019).

  • Discouraged: “To deprive of courage or confidence”
  • Broken: “Not working properly”
  • Foolish: “Having or showing a lack of good sense, judgment, or discretion”
  • Alone: “Without aid or support”
  • Lack/Lacking: “The fact or state of being wanting or deficient”
  • Betrayed: “Treacherously abandoned, deserted, or mistreated”
  • Small: “Of little consequence”
  • Crazy: “Full of cracks or flaws”
  • Ashamed: “Feeling inferior or unworthy”

What if someone with diabetes told you they felt all these things because you kept telling them that insulin is overrated and they should just will their blood sugar to normalize on its own. Wouldn’t you feel like a bit of an a-hole? Why is it so acceptable, then, for people to have this attitude towards those with mental illnesses? Whether you believe it is all made up or not doesn’t change the fact that a chemical imbalance in my brain has made me a unique, over-thinker who assumes the worst will happen in any situation. I don’t see the world like you do. I see the world as a dangerous, evil place where disaster is waiting just around the next bend.

I definitely feel like I’m rambling. I guess the point I am trying to come to is the fact that stigma and denial do a huge disservice to anyone suffering from a mental illness. There is nothing that makes me feel more alone than someone I care about telling me I should just stop worrying. Don’t ask me why I’m worried about something – BECAUSE I HAVE ANXIETY…THAT’S WHAT I DO. If it was as easy as flipping a switch and turning that Gollum part of my brain off, I wouldn’t be taking medication and wishing I could afford therapy! While on the one hand, I acknowledge that no one forces me feel any of those words I defined above because only I allow myself to feel anything. On the other hand, we owe it to each other to be supportive and kind. A lack of support for those soldiers we talked about doesn’t mean they can’t try and defend themselves and maybe even succeed, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier if they have all the support their country can muster. Why would anyone ever ask a soldier to fight alone? So why do we ask each other to fight our own personal battles alone? Don’t let your own ignorance rob you of the opportunity to be the life raft someone so desperately needs. Don’t let your fellow human being sink.

Stigma comes from ignorance. Ignorance often comes from a lack of exposure. If you have questions about anxiety or depression, but don’t know how to ask your loved one, send me an email! I’m happy to be a sounding board. I have a lifetime of anxiety and depression experience to pull from. I understand that this post was a little unorganized and random, but that is how my anxious brain works, even on a good day. I’m all over the place all the time. So is your loved one who suffers from anxiety. Please realize that they are fighting an internal battle that you may know nothing about because they have been burned so many times by people in whom they thought they could confide.

Let’s light a fire and start a revolution. We need to stop sending soldiers into a warzone without support.

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

When Life Gives You Lemons: Dealing with disappointment and defeat

We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes, though, the bad days seem to stretch into bad weeks, months, or even years. Even the most positive of people can be brought down by their circumstances. Whether we like it or not, bad things happen to us. Sometimes they are the consequences of our own actions, but sometimes they are a direct result of someone else’s actions. The former I get (karma, baby!), but the latter is a bit more difficult to swallow.

I love the definition of Karma as “an echo of the past [that] creates the future” (Dadabhagwan, 2000-2019). Regardless of your spiritual belief system, I think most people agree that eventually we all get what’s coming to us. What goes around, comes around. Your actions will catch up to you. You get a taste of your own medicine. And whatever other sayings come to mind. I don’t necessarily believe in a past life influencing a future existence, but rather see a pattern in actions and consequences. Sometimes the consequences are immediate and sometimes they happen years down the road. The point I’m getting at is that if we behave badly, hurt someone else, or make incredibly unwise decisions, it will come back to bite us eventually. Even if no one finds out about our actions or behavior, we spend the rest of our life ruminating over what we did that one time to that one person.

When our own actions cause us pain or unfortunate circumstances, I think the best thing we can do is acknowledge that we messed up, appeal for forgiveness from whoever was negatively impacted by our actions, and try to forgive ourselves so we don’t spend the rest of our life in misery.

What are we supposed to do when our life is turned upside down, or even just minorly inconvenienced, by another person’s actions? Can we play the victim? Yes. But not so fast. Should we play the victim? That’s a different story. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a victim as “one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment” (Victim1, 2019). Sure, that sounds like what a few of us have been through. I continued reading, though, and was decidedly put off by the fact that a victim is also “a living being sacrificed to a deity or in the performance of a religious rite” (Victim2, 2019). Scratch that…no victim here.

Gary John Bishop explains perfectly why we should not play the victim, regardless of who has hurt or wronged us. He says, “While there are things that have happened in your life that you had no say in, you are 100 percent responsible for what you do with your life in the aftermath of those events” (2016, p. 31). Even if hardships come into our life at no fault of our own, we are still responsible for our own reaction. I used to know someone who would routinely say, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Granted, this is the same man who cheated on me for four years and had a secret family with another woman. I would argue that karma was at work there, not just good or bad luck. But the point is, regardless of what or who we want to blame, the amount of grace with which we face adversity rests solely on our own two shoulders.

That can be bitter medicine to take, especially when one thing keeps happening after another. I, for one, have felt like life has been out to get me for the last three years. On top of all my relationship trials and tribulations, little things seem to just keep stacking one on top of the other. A neighbor has been making my life incredibly unenjoyable with illegal activity in his unit. I’m faced yet again with uprooting my life because one person won’t follow simple rules and the people in charge won’t do anything about it. Just today the actions of an unknown and unseen stranger left me feeling violated, exposed, and borderline unsafe. Sometimes all these things leave me wondering what I did to deserve them. But in the end, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is my ability to stand strong and move forward in spite of what other people are doing around me to tear me down.

I’m not saying this to sound all high and mighty…like I’m some strong person who isn’t fazed by anything. Clearly my depression and anxiety are evidence of how far that is from the truth. My hope is that by acknowledging my own reactions to events, I can make a conscious decision to not play the victim. The more I can learn to monitor and control my reactions, the less power other people (and their actions!) will have over me.

The other difficult lesson I am faced with at the moment is not letting all the minor things snowball together and overwhelm me. It’s so incredibly easy for the bad to overshadow any good that is happening simultaneously. Whether each major or minor event is self-inflicted or caused by another’s thoughtless actions, they are still individual events. This seems so much less overwhelming than looking at the all contributing factors at once. Dealing with individual situations changes my perspective of my pain, grief, or loneliness. The world is not ending.


“Face your problems as they come, one by one; give them the attention they need and move on. Bundling them all together into a morass of confusion and letting them overwhelm you just won’t help. It takes precision, patience, and discipline of thought. Work through each item pragmatically and with a solution in mind. Remember, everything is solvable, and if you can’t see a solution, it only means you haven’t worked it out yet” (Bishop, 2016, p. 89).


A few months ago, my mom sent me one of the more brilliant Hallmark cards I’ve seen. See below. What I love about this is it drops the sickeningly optimistic verbiage that makes it seem like life is made of butterflies and unicorns. It simply is not. It’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s messy. Yet we can still acknowledge that all our struggles, despite their source, are an opportunity to become a better person. If we play the victim card all the time, we rob ourselves of a valuable opportunity to change for the better.

reason

While venting to my aunt a few days ago about my crazy neighbor, I confessed to her that I am discouraged by the fact that so many big life changes (moving, career changes, financial status) have come as a result of someone else’s actions. Sometimes I do get stuck in the victim rut and feel like I am the one dealing with their consequences. I’m over here trying to be a good person and minding my own business, and then out of nowhere…BAM! I get hit with some other struggle while the offending party continues living and behaving like nothing happened.

I quickly realized how pathetic I sounded. I added, “But I suppose that’s just life, right?” And she said something so profound that it will probably stick with me for the rest of my life. She said, “Yup. Doesn’t mean you have to like it.” Stop and read that again. It made me realize that taking responsibility for my own reactions does not mean I have to roll over and accept everything. I can react in a way that will help me grow, but I can also acknowledge that life just plain sucks sometime. It was such an epiphany. When life gives you lemons, it’s okay to not have the energy to make lemonade. It’s okay to want to cry. It’s okay to shake your fist at whatever higher power you believe in. Give yourself permission to feel disappointed. Give yourself permission to feel defeated. Give yourself permission to cry over spilled milk. If we don’t, that’s when all the bad stuff starts to build and build and build until the weight is too much to bear. Just don’t stay disappointed. Don’t stay defeated. Dry your tears.

I feel like I’ve been rambling, so I will leave you with the following quote. Even when we’re slogging through the gunk and muck that is life, remind yourself that your reaction to that gunk and muck will determine your future. Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you should wallow in the muck until you drown. Pick yourself back up, learn something new about yourself, and face the next batch of lemons with coping skills you would never have learned otherwise.

“Trust me when I say – when it is right, everything that you love ruthlessly, will love you back with the same conviction. Trust me when I say – when it is right, the things you reach for in life, the things you deeply hope for, they will reach back. And I promise you, when that happens you will understand, that all of the things you ached for that did not work out, all of the hearts that failed to appreciate the home you made for them inside of yourself, they were not the things that broke you, or ruined you, or made you less worthy. No, instead, you will see that they built you. They taught you about yourself. They led you to the person you were born to be, and they guided you to the person you were meant to be with. They shaped you. They challenged you. They grew you.” – Bianca Sparacino

 

References

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

Dadabhagwan. (200-2019). The True Definition of Karma. Retrieved from https://www.dadabhagwan.org/books-media/spiritual-articles/definition-and-theory-of-karma/

Victim1. (2019). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/victim

Victim2. (2019). In online Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/victim

Mental Health: Get your FAQs straight

I appreciate people who ask questions about mental health struggles – it shows that they care enough to dig a little deeper and are trying to understand. I should clarify here that I know some people ask questions because they are fed up or at their wit’s end. I would argue that as long as they have the patience to listen to the answers, those are still valuable questions.

Why is it important to ask questions? Because mental illness affects everyone. It affects those on the inside, as well as those on the outside looking in. In 2017, 43.7 million adults in the US suffered from some sort of mental illness (MHA, 2018), which means that chances are pretty high that if you don’t suffer from one, you know someone who does. According to a journal article from World Psychology, “Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness” (Corrigan & Watson, 2002).


Misconception: “A conclusion that’s wrong because it’s based on faulty thinking or facts that are wrong” (n.d.)


You might argue that a journal article from 17 years ago isn’t relevant anymore. Coming from someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I can tell you that statement is still incredibly relevant. Stigma is a toxic byproduct of misconception, which is the direct result of lack of education. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that “stigma and misunderstandings about mental illness prevent families from facing the problem and seeking help” (NAMI, 2019). On the other hand, “education provides information so that the public can make more informed decisions about mental illness” (Corrigan & Watson, 2002). How does education happen? By asking questions.


Question: “A sentence or phrase used to find out information” (2019).


With all this in mind, I thought I would share some of the questions that get asked of me. Some I hear on a regular basis…some I’ve only heard once or twice. All are welcome. I urge you, though, to always consider how you pose your questions. You know the old adage – it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness, it’s easy for some people to get defensive. This is due to the fact that they have likely been bullied growing up or have experienced less than compassionate interactions with the public and health providers as adults. The uneducated masses can be horribly unkind. If someone doesn’t seem comfortable answering questions, don’t push the matter. It might be a trigger for them. I would like to think, though, that open minded people would be willing to share their experiences for the sake of education. As mentioned before…that is the only way to end the stigma. It can all start with one person asking one question and waiting to hear the answer.

These FAQs are in no particular order. I am typing them as they come to mind. Bear with my stream of consciousness.


Is it okay that I don’t know what to say?

This was asked of me very recently by two different women who mean the world to me (my mom and my aunt). It was striking to me how similar and genuine the sentiment was in each separate conversation. The answer is quite simple: Yes, it’s okay that you don’t know what to say. No, it does not add to my anxiety that you don’t know what to say.

One of the difficult lessons I have learned over the last few years is that if someone has never experience anxiety or depression (or any other mental illness, for that matter), they will never truly understand. By this I mean truly empathize. You can still try to understand what I’m going through from an education standpoint, without actually knowing how it feels to be depressed or so anxious you don’t even want to leave the house.

It’s okay to not fully empathize or understand exactly what I’m going through on an emotional level, which means it’s okay to not know what to say. Most of the time I don’t even know what to say, so how could I place different expectations on anyone around me? Compassion and a little grace are all I ask for when words fail. Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with some Hallmark greeting card sentiment. And certainly don’t put pressure on yourself to say something that will make this whole thing better – that’s what medication and therapy are for!


Is it okay for me to laugh while reading your blog or is that insensitive?

Please laugh! I deal with stress, pain, and general unease with humor. I’m sure it’s hard sometimes to know exactly how to take some things I pen, especially if you don’t know me on a personal level. But if I’m making fun of myself, I am doing so to show the world that life is too short and too important to be taken seriously. Some days, poking fun at my own depression is all that gets me through the day. Laugh with me…just don’t laugh at me. There’s a difference.


Have you thought about seeing someone for this?

I get this one ALL. THE. TIME. Here’s the thing: therapy is expensive. If I could sit down and talk to a professional once a day, I would. We live in a society that doesn’t take mental health coverage seriously. We live in a society where 3 therapy sessions are considered adequate for many Employee Assistance Programs. For someone with chronic mental health, routine therapy sessions can be very unkind to the pocket book. Although I just started seeing a new therapist a month ago, I realized it’s not a financially viable option for me long term. This is the world that we live in. When therapists charge $100/hour (as they should…they have so much expertise and education backing them up), but insurance waves my high deductible in my face, guess who doesn’t go to therapy?

That was a long, somewhat bitter way of saying that yes…I have thought about seeing someone. I’ve thought about it a lot throughout some of my emotionally traumatic experiences in the last few years. When you think about bringing this up to someone, do so with sensitivity and keep in mind that it’s not as easy as finding a therapist you mesh with and having coffee with them. Oh how I wish it were that easy. Remember that there are often extenuating circumstances that prevent ongoing therapy. If someone isn’t going, don’t assume it is because they are lazy or in denial. Maybe someday mental health benefits will be where they need to be. Until that day, I fight my battles without the help of a professional counselor.


What do you do when you are stuck obsessing over something?

When I begin to experience obsessive anxiety, it can quickly spirals out of control. It sometimes gets to the point that I can’t focus on any task at hand. My mind goes into hyper-analysis mode and starts exploring all the worst possible outcomes to whatever situation has caught my eye so thoroughly. Often I know that I am being irrational, but by then it’s too late. Usually, the key for me is to pull someone I trust aside, explain to them what I’m worrying over, and let them talk me off the proverbial cliff. Sometimes it takes talking to a “normal” person (i.e. someone who doesn’t have irrational, obsessive anxiety) to realize that everything will be okay.

I’d like to quickly draw your attention back to the phrase someone I trust. I have learned over the years that not everyone is willing to talk you down. Not everyone is capable of understanding what obsessive anxiety is. They don’t want to acknowledge that, while I know my fears are unfounded and irrational, I can’t stop the invasive thoughts that interfere with just about everything except breathing. Sometimes even breathing is threatened! The trusted people in our lives are often family members, significant others, or close friends. It becomes easy to go to these people over and over, which can unfortunately become frustrating for them. In my experience, my significant others are the ones who become most hard on me and tell me to “just stop worrying” or that “obviously that won’t happen…forget about it.”

In those moment of blind panic, having someone say “you worry too much” is the most defeating answer to my cry for help. What I need is this: don’t point out how crazy I am. Instead, walk me through the reasons that the expired macaroni and cheese I just ate isn’t going to kill me. Walk me through the reasons why driving up over a curb unintentionally isn’t going to cause Armageddon to fall down upon us. Although my extreme anxieties may seem silly and irrational to you, please acknowledge that for me, they are very, very real. When everything is out to get me, a patient person who is willing to talk me off the ledge is the most helpful thing I can ask for.


Does it help to talk about it?

See above. For me, it helps for a number of reasons. 1) It gives someone the opportunity to talk me down, 2) it helps me feel like I am spreading education, and 3) it is an outlet when I have been bottling up emotions and fears.

One thing I will add here is that I am a much better communicator through the written word. Talking in person can be incredibly difficult for me. I fumble for the correct words, forget what I am saying mid-sentence, and trip over my own tongue. This generally triggers my social anxiety and things just go downhill from there. If I struggle to express my feelings to you verbally, don’t think it’s because I don’t know what I want to say. It’s usually because I need to write it down first.


Is all that medication really necessary?

For some people, medication works better than any other forms of treatment. If you remember that mental illnesses are due to genetic makeup and chemical imbalance in the brain, you have to view it as a physical disease, not just an emotional disorder. Would you go up to someone with cancer and say, “Do you really feel that chemo is necessary? Have you tried meditation instead?”

So my educational takeaway is this: I wouldn’t put chemicals into my body – chemicals that have almost certain side effects – if I didn’t feel it was necessary for my sanity and survival. My psychiatrist started me on a mood stabilizer a couple months ago. I can quite confidently say that it saved my life. I take antianxiety/antidepressants so that I can go out in public and function on a daily basis. I take sleeping medication so that I can get a decent night’s sleep, which raises my threshold for both anxiety and depression. There is a method to the madness. Instead of asking someone if all that medication is necessary, it might be better to ask what the medication is for. You might be amazed by how much you learn!


Are text messages an impersonal way to check in on you?

I hate talking on the phone. The awkward silences (most often caused by my verbal constipation) generate an insane amount of anxiety and distress for me. I most certainly do not consider it impersonal to reach out to me via text. Just the fact that you are reaching out is enough to bring some light to a potentially very dark day.


Can’t you just stop worrying?

Let’s talk about this one. I get it a lot. I mentioned earlier that it is usually the people who are closest to me – who live with me on a daily basis – who start to push this question to me. My very first serious boyfriend gave me a book on my birthday about how to stop worrying. Each significant other after him proceeded to tell me to just stop worrying so often that it got to the point that I felt I couldn’t talk to them about anything. I felt shut down inside a relationship that should be a safe place.

That being said, this can still be a valuable question…but only if you listen the first time or two it is answered. Try to keep in mind that I don’t choose anxiety for the sheer joy I get out of it. No. It is a devastating illness that spreads into every area of my life. If I could just flip a switch and turn it off, I would do that. As you seek to further educate yourself and ask more questions about your loved one’s mental illness, this question should answer itself. It is not a choice.


Does being around other people help?

It depends on my mental state, so that answer may change from one hour to the next. Sometimes I want to be in the company of people I care about for an afternoon or evening. Sometimes I want to barricade myself in my apartment and not come out for days. If you ask someone with anxiety or depression to come out with you and they say they aren’t feeling up for it, it doesn’t often help to say something like “Oh come on…it will make you feel better.” I can tell you that in my experience, depression and chronic anxiety are EXHAUSTING. There are times where the mere thought of going out in public brings me near to tears because I don’t have the energy. I’m not saying no simply because I’m feeling antisocial or don’t like you anymore. I’m saying no because my very sanity depends on it. The same applies if I come over and end up leaving after only an hour or so. I get overstimulated and anxious, even when I’m with people I know and love. If I suddenly stand up and say I need to get going, don’t try to change my mind. Instead, acknowledge that I know my limit and I have reached it. The only thing more exhausting than facing the world is feeling guilty for not having the energy to face the world.


How are you today?

I can never actually tell if people ask this because they genuinely want to know or if it’s just to be polite. I fall into the category of people who tends to say “Fine, how are you?” instead of being honest. It causes me a lot of anxiety to think about opening up to someone in the elevator when all they were doing was acknowledging my presence.

When it’s obvious that someone is asking because they genuinely want to know, sometimes it’s enough to make me cry. If you are honestly worried about someone and are concerned that they are a danger to themselves or others, try to press a little bit when they only want to give you the standard “I’m okay” answer. Don’t be bossy. Just encourage them that you are there for them. It may be the tree root that that person is able to grab as they plummet off the cliff.


Have you considered [insert diet or health trend here]?

I think even the most sane and mentally healthy people would tell you that diets are difficult to follow. They would also tell you that if you stick to it, they can be wonderful stepping stones to a healthier you. I’ve considered a couple different diets recently, based on the positive results people experience on a physical, mental, and emotional level. While I am of average build and don’t necessarily need to lose a lot of weight, it’s the lifestyle change that appeals to me. So why didn’t I do it? I realized that the diet plans I was looking at involved strict self-control, a ton of meal planning, and denying myself some of life’s simple comforts. Pretty much describes any diet, right? Exactly.

What I realized is this: my perception is that I have failed at so much leading up to this point, so why would I set myself up to fail something else? One of the diets allows no alcohol, but I’ve learned that every now and then a glass of wine is exactly what I need to take the edge off. I am not an emotional eater, so why should I put so much added pressure on myself when I am in such a delicate emotional state? It was an important lesson is acknowledging and respecting the fact that there is a time and a place for everything. Maybe in a year or two I can say goodbye to alcohol and carbs for 30 days. Until then, my self-care inner voice is telling me to enjoy a piece of cheese, savor a Dr. Pepper, or nibble on an Almond Joy if I need to. All good things in moderation, right?


You know you can call anytime, right?

Depression does not foster a proactive mentality. I understand that I am surrounded by people who are only a phone call away. However, usually when I am in a bad enough place that I truly need to talk to someone, I have become numb to that option. If I am in a bad place, I don’t deny that I can call people. What my mind and body deny me is the energy to do so. The idea of explaining my mental state seems like too much to bear. Just picking up the phone seems exhausting.

On top of that, I don’t want to be a burden. I know that everyone has their own struggles. I often don’t feel that I am worthy of placing more to their list of worries. That does nothing but make me feel guilty, which pushes me deeper in depression and higher into anxiety. Sometimes it is easier to just curl up in a ball and cry my way through it.

Thank you to everyone who remains just a phone call away, though. I hear you.


How do you put yourself out there like you do in your blog?

It’s all for the sake of education for every player in this elaborate story that is mental health. I don’t do it for attention or pity or accolades. One of my new favorite quotes is this: “I hope that if you read yourself in my story, it will hold up a mirror for you” (Hollis, 2018, p. 53). If putting myself out there for all the world to see – the good, the bad, and the ugly – helps one person realize that they have worth because of their unique struggles (not in spite of them!) or helps one family member better understand what their loved one is experiencing, then it is worth it. Ending stigma and misconceptions are worth it.


 

References

Corrigan, P. & Watson, A. (2002). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/

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

MHA. (2018). 2017 State of Mental Health in America – Prevalence Data. Mental Health America. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/2017-state-mental-health-america-prevalence-data?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIyvvR-I-A4AIVj8DACh0BhAzkEAAYASAAEgILffD_BwE

Misconception. (n.d.). Vocabulary.com. Retrieved from https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/misconception

NAMI. (2019). Family Education and Support. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Public-Policy/Family-Education-and-Support

Question. (2019). In online Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/question

The Oxygen Mask Theory: Why self-care can make or break you

flight attendant

Trigger warning: depression

People who fly frequently can probably recite the flight attendant’s safety spiel by heart. They always talk about how to properly use the oxygen mask “in the event of a decompression,” then remind people that “if you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person” (Halsey, 2018). This concept seems so counterintuitive – why would anyone put their own mask on before helping anyone else, especially their own child? The answer is logical: if you fail to put your mask on as soon as possible, you will fall victim to a nasty little thing called hypoxia. Hypoxia, which does not take long at all to set in, “is a condition or state in which the supply of oxygen is insufficient for normal life functions”…and symptoms include “shortness of breath, the inability to communicate, confusion, possible coma or death” (Davis, 2018). Obviously these symptoms would completely eliminate your ability to help those around you.

The Oxygen Mask Theory applies that same concept to emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. A former therapist referenced this theory all the time when discussing self-care. What is self-care and why would it be compared to life-saving oxygen? I’m glad you asked, because I’m learning too. It is “the mindful taking time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you” (Baratta, 2018). In her 2018 book Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis states, “You should be the very first of your priorities! You cannot take care of others well if you’re not first taking care of yourself” (p. 31). Sounds a little like the flight attendant spiel, right?

I am drawn to this topic for a couple of reason. First, it is an area of my life that has some room for improvement. Okay, fine…it’s basically non-existent. Second, it seems to be a difficult concept for a lot of people – I would go so far as to call it a universal struggle. For the sake of solidarity, I want to share my own struggles, as well as some recent epiphanies. On this subject, I think it’s important to note that “the particularity of our problems can be made bearable only through the recognition of our universal humanity. We suffer uniquely, but we survive the same way” (Strayed, 2015, p. 97). We each have our own life to live. Within that life, we each have our own custom set of experiences, blessings, losses, traumas, victories, and painful events to deal with. What I love about the above quote is the very last part – just because we all have different experiences, we survive the same way. Apparently, self-care is one of the very first chapters in the Surviving Life Tactical Manual. Yes, I know that isn’t a real thing, but someone should totally make it happen. (Lynette, Heidi, and Emily…I dedicate that imaginary book to you)

What life looks like without self-care

I have spent my entire life making sure everyone around me is happy, cared for, and following their dreams. I am passionate when it comes to loving other people. However, focusing solely on other people, and never turning that passion inward, is what led to my current place in life. I am alone. I am depressed. I literally have no idea who I am. I have the emotional stability of a very small and scared thing that’s small and scared because it is so very small and so very scared. (if you didn’t get the hint…I’m not very emotionally stable)

I mentioned in a previous blog post that during a core value exercise several months ago, I realized that my core values revolve 100% around compassion and service towards other people. Do the math. This leaves 0% of my energy available to show compassion towards myself. That was the beginning of the life overhaul I am currently experiencing (more to come on that later). Once I realized how little regard I have for myself, I have been able to look back on my failed or strained relationships and recognize how my lack of self-care has not only burned me out, but resulted in the end of many relationships.

As I said before, I am passionate about loving others. Like, to the extreme. I believe great love can be shown in both big and small ways – it might be committing the rest of your life as a care giver to your family member or it might be buying someone a Pepsi because you know it’s their absolute favorite. I have spent my life allowing my great love for others to manifest in all sorts of ways, regardless of the mental, physical, and emotional harm it does to me. That’s pretty much the opposite of self-care.

An example is this: my most recent marriage ended because he desperately wanted a family, while I have never once thought being a mom sounds like a good idea. Although he initially thought he was willing to give up that dream to be with me, he later had a change of heart. Because I loved him fiercely and wanted him to be happy, I told myself, “Who am I to deny him the fulfillment of a life-long dream? Why does it matter that I do not want a child?” And so, we proceeded to try off and on to get pregnant. I say off and on because after a few weeks of trying, I would panic and try to stand my ground that I wasn’t ready or that I just couldn’t do it. That was my inner self fighting to the surface and trying to scream that it wasn’t right to compromise over such a life-changing decision. But then I would feel guilty for being so selfish and we would try again. The more we tried, the more depressed I became. I was at the point of feeling that the best possible outcome would be for me to get pregnant and then experience some complication during child birth that would cause the baby to survive, while I passed on. My rationale for this was that he would end up with his child, but I would be out of the picture. Suicidal thoughts increased as well. As I didn’t want to go through another divorce, I started to think that I could “set him free” by taking my own life. Can we all agree that this is not a healthy mind-set? Yeah. I was in a bad place.

I might be classified as a workaholic. A full time job usually isn’t enough for me. I often have a full time job and a part time job – and frequently take classes on top of that! Up until recently, I was working two jobs, which only allowed me one day off a week. Naturally, that one day off was spent running errands, doing laundry, cleaning, and doing whatever else I hadn’t had time to do that week. I had no social life, but more importantly, I had no me time. Fits in with the rest of my life, right? Why should I make time for myself when I could be working hard and serving other people?

Now that I’m thoroughly saddened by the obvious lack of self-compassion I have shown myself, let’s talk about what I’m doing to change this pattern.

What life looks like with self-care

My struggle with self-care is this: isn’t it selfish? According to Karyl McBride, a doctor of psychology, “There is a difference between self-absorbed, narcissistic behavior and sound internal self-care. Self-care is about taking good care of our own feelings so we don’t project them onto others, act badly, or cause problems in relationships. Being in touch with our own feelings and embracing them is one of the healthies things we can do” (2013). Bam. How can such endeavors be considered selfish? They may appear selfish to people who are on the outside looking in, but as long as our heart is in the right place, their opinion doesn’t matter.

My first act of self-care transformation was quitting my part time job. It has made finances much tighter, but I have two full days off and all my weekday evenings. Now I have the time to run errands, cook, and clean in the evenings. I can literally lock my door on Friday night and not leave the house again until Monday morning. I do occasionally spend time with friends and family, but my social anxiety causes me to prefer less of that and more alone time. Granted, the more alone time I have, the more loneliness I feel. To combat this, I am finding the value of filling my time so that I’m not just sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

Thanks to the local library, I have rediscovered my love of reading. I am currently well on my way to reading all of Stephen King’s books. I feel so much accomplishment every time I check another book off the list. I have found self-help books that offer some insight. My aunt recommended Louise Penny’s books to me and I’ve fallen in love with those as well. Reading allows me to step out of my depression and into a whole different world. I also find that by reading memoirs and self-help books, I give myself the chance to see that I am not alone.

I have always been a big fan of both knitting and crocheting. Fitting in with my previous inability to show myself any love or compassion, I’ve never actually made myself anything. I work hard on projects and then give them away as gifts. Well…I decided that it was time to change that. For the last month I have been working on crocheting a blanket for myself. I read a quote by an unknown author the other day that said something along the lines of “I won’t spend $7 on a blanket at the store, but I’ll make my own with $92 in craft supplies.” That’s essentially what this blanket has turned into. But that’s not the point. The point is that I am pouring blood, sweat, and tears into something for myself. I chose yarn that love. I chose colors that love. When it’s cold and I am able to wrap myself in this blanket, I can do that in the knowledge that I made something for myself.

Painting. That is the new skill I am trying to learn. I am trying to take a class each month, then take each newly learned technique and apply it to projects at home. I went out and bought painting supplies with the intention of gifting whatever I painted. But the first time I sat down to paint something for someone else, I stared at the blank canvas for a while, then put my Pinterest ideas away and just painted from my heart. That painting is mine. That painting has meaning. That painting represents that I am a warrior. This one little painting has revealed the power of not just copying someone else’s design. Instead, I took nothing and created something with deep meaning…something beautiful. What a great metaphor for what I’m going through at the moment, and what a great lesson in self-care. I do not need to try to be what someone else wants or even needs me to be. Instead, I am taking my nothingness – my blank canvas – and creating someone meaningful. I am learning who I was made to become. That person is inside me, crying to be heard and understood. Who I am meant to be is not determined by those around me. Once I can dig down and reveal that innate being, I can discover just how much love I have to give both others and myself. I will have the confidence put a brush stroke in the middle of the canvas if I want to. I will no longer compromise my own wishes and needs to try and satisfy the needs of people who don’t even appreciate the sentiment. I am becoming.

semicolon2

I have read many definitions of self-care while working on this post. I came upon the best definition on UrbanDictionary.com: “Self-care is putting absurd amounts of Parmesan cheese on your spaghetti” (Croissantboy, 2018). The reason I love this so much is because it shows that it is often the little things that make all the difference. It’s not going out and buying a new car, blowing $500 on new designer jeans, or spending a small fortune at some exotic spa. Rather, it’s figuring out what you love, and then doing it. If you love Parmesan cheese, put a little extra on your spaghetti! If you love wine, treat yourself to a nice bottle of wine every now and then. If you love crochet, make yourself a blanket. If you love to paint, paint yourself a picture. If you love to travel, take a day trip to somewhere you haven’t been before. If you love to exercise, make time for it. If you love animals, rescue a dog or cat. Whatever you love, do it for you…not solely because someone else will benefit. Learning new skills will increase confidence, which raises self-esteem, which results in a better understanding of the fact that you don’t have to tolerate mistreatment from others. You are better than that. You deserve more than that.

I hope that sharing my story helps others understand how important self-care is in the grand scheme of things. Don’t burn yourself out by telling yourself it’s selfish to practice self-care. Don’t sacrifice yourself to put someone else’s oxygen mask on first. The world needs you and all the love you have to offer. If you burn yourself out quickly and aren’t emotionally stable enough to offer your great love, the world is robbed of the gift that is you. Take care of yourself. Fill your empty cup. Remember that no one else can do it for you.


“Don’t be ashamed of seeking help on your road to recovery. As recovery is remembering who you are and using your strengths to become all that you were meant to be. By seeking help through self-care and therapy, you will begin to find yourself again. Mental health is as important as physical health and both your mind and body will thank you.” (Divinity, n.d.)


 

References:

Baratta, Maria. (2018). Self Care 101. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/skinny-revisited/201805/self-care-101

Croissantboy. (2018). Self Care. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Self%20care

Davis, Charles. (2018). Hypoxia and Hypoxemia. MedicineNet. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/hypoxia_and_hypoxemia/article.htm#hypoxia_and_hypoxemia_facts

Divinity, Jeremy. (n.d.). Never Be Ashamed of Seeking Help. NAMI. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Personal-Stories/Never-Be-Ashamed-of-Seeking-Help#

Halsey III, Ashley. (2018). Flying and that oxygen mask: Here’s the correct way to use it. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2018/04/18/flying-and-that-oxygen-mask-heres-the-correct-way-to-use-it/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d4336258129e

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

McBride, Karyl. (2013). Is Self-Care Selfish? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201302/is-self-care-selfish

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

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

Semicolon painting: painted and photographed by me

Kintsukuroi: When being broken doesn’t make you trash

Photo retrieved from: shewalkssoftly.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/kintsugi-collage-bis.jpg

I’ve been beat down and defeated of late. I’m emotional. I’m anxious. I’m worn out. I’m depressed. My medication is causing more problems than it’s fixing. My dog won’t stop peeing in the house. I can’t afford my therapy sessions. I feel so discouraged. If I was a piece of pottery, life has dropped me more times that I can count…just let me free fall straight onto a concrete surface. It. Just. Keeps. Happening. Does that mean my shattered pieces should be swept up and discarded? Am I broken beyond repair? Am I unlovable? Am I still worthy to be looked upon with appreciation and respect? Can I still be viewed as beautiful?


“In Japan there is an art form called kintsukuroi which means “to repair with gold”. When a ceramic pot or bowl would break, the artisan would put the pieces together again using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger, more beautiful, than it was before. The breaking is not something to hide. It does not mean that the work of art is ruined or without value because it is different than what was planned. Kintsukuroiis a way of living that embraces every flaw and imperfection. Every crack is part of the history of the object and it becomes more beautiful, precisely because it had been broken” (Doyle, 2015).


Ummm. Okay. But how does this humpty dumpty ceramic bowl feel through all this? I bet pretty crappy. Is it all worth it in the end? Does bedazzling broken pieces back together make it feel whole again or does it just feel like a dressed up piece of trash? I don’t care how much gold you cover me with…I don’t feel worthy of a second look right now, let alone being called a beautiful work of art.

The other day someone very important to me said, “I don’t know whether I am just completely obtuse or you are an incredibly good actor, but it is hard for me to see all of this going on inside you.” I assured her that I am a good actor – I have spent my entire life learning how to hide my broken pieces. Robin Williams, a master comedian who eventually took his own life, said, “All it takes is a beautiful fake smile to hide an injured soul, and they will never notice how broken you really are” (NBPTS, 2017). Why do people with broken spirits feel the need to hide behind smiles and laughter? Because there is stigma. There is shame. There is an underlying fear that people will not see the gold lacquer holding the broken pieces together. I am guilty of this. I am guilty of internalizing these powerful emotions and not letting others know I am not actually doing as well as I make it seem – that I’m tired of being strong and am just barely holding on by a thread.

Writer Laura Greenstein (2018) shares that “people will show endless compassion to a person experiencing depression due to the passing of a loved one, but not to a person who just can’t help but feel sad all the time… Keep this in mind when you’re interacting with a person experiencing Depression: Don’t judge or stigmatize them for not knowing the root of their symptoms. Telling someone they ‘don’t have a reason to be depressed’ is the same as telling a person with asthma: ‘The air seems fine to me.’” I found this to be incredibly profound. Comparing mental health issues with other physical diseases sometimes brings it home for people. That’s when they get it. Psychologist David Burns actually suggests that “depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem” (BrainyQuote, n.d.). (note…I feel the key phrase in that statement is “can seem worse” – I would never say my depression is actually worse than terminal cancer). What makes it seem worse is that depression is a disease that is not strongly supported and certainly not socially acceptable…it is most often experienced alone and behind closed doors.

And yet…people suffering from depression or any other mental illness may have more shimmering, beautiful gold holding them together than actual pottery. Their original pattern may be barely recognizable. Again, I ask: Does bedazzling broken pieces back together make the bowl feel whole again or does it just feel like a dressed up piece of trash? I believe the answer is quite simple: both. There are days that I feel like I have come through so much and conquered so many demons. Then the very next day I feel that I am in pieces again, worthless and unlovable. I think it is a very fluid and volatile process. We do not get broken once, repaired with gold, and shine for the rest of our lives. We are bashed apart repeatedly. Life isn’t fair. People will always stigmatize mental illness. Some people will never acknowledge that my scars don’t make me a monster. Sometimes I won’t acknowledge that fact. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hold a mirror up to my soul and glimpse the brilliant gold. Even if it only last for a few minutes before I am shattered again, at least I know it’s there.

Over the last couple months, I have been faced with the fact that I have true, clinical depression. I don’t just feel sad every now and then. I have a soul destroying disease with a chemical, biological, and genetic foundation. There are moments when I don’t know how I can face life always wondering when depression will rear its ugly head. I fight off waves of shame, embarrassment, and feelings of inadequacy when I become emotional for no apparent reason. Why am I not strong enough? Why am I so broken? Why am I so ugly?

Why? Quite simply because this is who I am. If I or anyone else is unable to see the gold or silver holding my broken pieces together, all I need to do is shift in the light or change my perspective. It is there. Yes, I am broken. Yes, I am hurting. No, I am not always going to be okay. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am not garbage. My depression and anxiety allow me to feel things at a depth of which many people can only dream. Brad Paisley has always been one of my favorite country artists. His song Perfect Storm (2014) is a particular favorite.


And she loves just as deep as she goes when she’s down

The highs match the lows, can’t have one without the other


Perhaps that is the silver lining (or gold lacquer) that I am seeking in all of this. The beauty in my brokenness is not the brokenness itself, but the depth of feeling that comes as the result of the brokenness. Yes, it is volatile. Yes, the low points are terrifying. But oh the high points are beautiful. The amount of love I am capable of feeling can be overwhelming. I guess my point in all of this rambling is that just because we are struggling to see our own beauty or worth, that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. Sometimes it becomes hidden, just as the brightness of the sun is not seen at night. It would be silly to think the sun dies and is reborn every evening and morning. It is just biding its time and waiting for its moment to shine again.

I’m broken. But that brokenness is what allows me to feel such extreme emotions – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is no shame in that.


“I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, “For the same reason I laugh so often – because I’m paying attention.” – Glennon Doyle Melton


 

References

BrainyQuote. (n.d.). David D. Burns Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/david_d_burns_201467

Doyle, John. (2015). Resilience, Growth & Kintsukuroi. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/luminous-things/201510/resilience-growth-kintsukuroi

Greenstein, Laura. (2018). Depression Doesn’t Need an Explanation. NAMI. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/January-2018/Depression-Doesn-t-Need-an-Explanation

NBPTS. (2017). Mental Health Awareness in the Classroom. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nbpts.org/mental-health-awareness-classroom/

Paisley, Brad. (2014). Perfect Storm. Moonshine in the Trunk. Lyrics retrieved from https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/bradpaisley/perfectstorm.html