Dancing with disappointment.

Some days are just plain more disappointing than others, right? I’m sure you can relate. My hair is curly, and some days I wake up and it’s doing some crazy dance up off the back of my head, and no amount of water will tame it. And I need to be somewhere in an hour.

Some disappointments are annoying, like nutso hair, or a zit on your nose. Some go much deeper and take longer to figure out, stuff I’ve wondered like, why didn’t the person who was supposed to love me more than anybody seem to like me?

My mother did some interesting things over time. She was this girl:

There was a little girl

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

When life was good and moving to her beat, she was happy and sunny and fun. When life was bad and not behaving as she wanted it to, she was not fit to be near. I felt loved, I felt hated. I met her approval, I was a failure. She seemed to like me and approve of me in the second part of her life when she was in love with my uncle-stepfather (story for another time) but once he got hurt at work and couldn’t support them as easily, well, we were all gonna suffer.

Because she hadn’t done enough while alive, she made sure to be The Gift That Keeps On Giving (sort of like an STD) and have her lawyer send me boxes after her death, returning things I’d given her, giving me things she wanted me to have, all with commentary on sticky notes, signed and dated. And the commentary? Not things like “Your grandmother gave me this and I know you always liked it so I wanted you to have it, love Mom.” No, more like, “I thought there might be hope for you once upon a time, but now I’m not so sure.” (Initialed and dated, sometimes years earlier.) It takes a special amount of planning to ensure that your child will not only grieve your death but feel guilty and worthless while doing so. If nothing else, Marge was a planner.

Those Lies In my Bones were dug deep–deep and early. They’ve stayed long but are becoming more shallow as they heal. It’s taken eons of therapy and an acceptance of my own worth as a created being on this planet to get where I am, but I still struggle and fall.  It has taken good friends to believe in me and a lot of tears to get as far as I am today. And a fair amount of falling, and a bunch of getting back up.

I’ve apologized for a million things to my children, to the point they tell me to stop, but I want to be a parent who can take responsibility for my lacks, for the ways I’ve let my kids down. I’m not gonna beat myself up about my decisions-gone-wrong, but I’m at least going to mention them when I realize them. How much healing would it have been for my soul if my mother had even said “Hey, I know we didn’t always agree, but I loved you every single day!” But narcissistic, damaged people don’t seem to have that capacity, and those of us who grew up that way are left to figure out our worth the best we can.

So on days when you’re dancing with disappointment and having trouble finding your way forward, remember:

You have worth simply for being on this earth. 

You can make a small difference on the planet any day of the week by smiling at a stranger or recycling your candy wrapper. Even if you can’t get out of bed, you have worth. It matters to somebody somewhere that you are here. At the least, it matters to the Creator who made you.

Fight the negative words of others, surround yourself with those who feed healing into your soul. Get a mental health professional to talk to. Fight for your own healing. You’re worth it. I’m worth it.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is one small thing you can do today to honor your own worth and take care of yourself? What is one small thing you can do to honor someone else’s worth? It may be as simple as holding a door for someone whose hands are full or taking five minutes to breathe deeply.

In pursuit of mental health

Lately on social media I’ve been reminded of the small, scared girl I once was. She called the shots in my life for decades, hobbled by fear, looking for someone else to give her a sense of security.

Fear ran so much of her life that she ended up missing out on a lot of life. Crushing Fear said that she couldn’t even think about it, and its friend Overwhelming Anxiety came along for backup. Don’t try, don’t fail. Opportunities missed. Life was a competition, and she just wanted everybody to get along.

That scared little girl is finding some love, healing and acceptance that she couldn’t get from the parents of her childhood. The pain of that lack of parental acceptance runs deep in many of us, etching itself into our bones and causing us to make unbalanced choices, in my case to be a people pleaser and gauge my worth based on whether or not I could make someone else happy. (Hint: Not My Job.)

I used to be angry at that terrified little girl–why didn’t she protect herself in better ways than withdrawing and disappearing? But when you’re 5, you do what makes sense at that age. Author and speaker Mary DeMuth, after being raped at age 5 by neighborhood teens, slept for safety when the adults in her life failed to protect her from continued assault. 5-year-olds do what 5-year-olds understand. How can I stay mad at my little girl who carried on the understanding of safety for a small child into her grown years? She did what she knew until she learned differently.

Years of therapy plus one divorce later, I’m learning that I’m capable of moving about in the world on my own. That I can be the mama to that scared child within me, be responsible for my own safety without hiding in a closet to do so. I can take risks knowing I may fail and fall and get bruised. I can enjoy life, go to the beach with friends, drive ten hours to see one of my daughters, or choose to eat chocolate for dinner (for the magnesium, of course). I’ve learned it’s okay to grow up, to find a different safety than I understood at 5. That growing and learning is healthy and leads to freedom.

I couldn’t have done this journey without my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my LCSW. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that there is no shame in Pursuing Mental Health. If you feel off balance, seek help. You deserve to be healthy.

The bring your own beverage conversation: What belief have you carried from your childhood to your adulthood that doesn’t seem to be serving you well? 

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN THE TRUTH AND LOVE YOURSELF. (And who doesn’t need a picture of a happy puppy?)

 

 

 

Comparison kills.

Lately I’ve been binge-watching the TV show My 600 Pound Life.

My entire life, though at the much lower weight of (mumblemumble) has been about weight. How much I’ve gained, how much I’ve lost, who’s happy with it, who’s not, and the massive helpings of guilt surrounding it.

One of the episodes I watched was about two brothers. The younger one, weighing in at 500 pounds, felt he was still okay because he was 200 pounds less than his sibling. At either weight one’s heart can only handle the extra workload so long. Comparison can kill. Literally.

I know I’ve had a sort of weight-blindness in darker periods of my life when using food as a coping mechanism. I felt like I’d wake up one morning with 40 extra (and surprising) pounds. How and when had that happened?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of things: by our human coping mechanisms, by the ways we can lie to ourselves so convincingly in our willingness to be blind to the truth.

I’m my most handy subject of course, since me-myself-and-I spend a lot of time together. I know the strength of the desire to lie to myself, and how easily I can excuse myself from harmful things I do because of what I don’t do. I spent decades using the phrase “At Least” followed by whatever comparison made me feel better about my life. I thought I was simply looking for the best in others or looking for the bright side of my situation. BUT–I wasn’t looking at my situation or the person, I was looking at the comparison.

I was the 500 pound brother.

If I’m happy with the view I see of myself next to my 700 pound brother, nothing changes. But if I look at the view of myself only, I can see whether or not my choices and decisions are having a negative impact on my own life and those I love. I can see if I’ve limited myself by making those choices. In the same way that having weight-blindness eventually limits one’s ability to move about in the world, choosing to have emotional-blindness and not face our own pain can limit us from having fulfilling relationships and working toward our dreams.

My Favorite Mental Health Professional calls it “being awake in my life.” Being aware of my own issues, my own health, my own situation. Comparisons can kill when they’re a distraction from facing what’s True and Real. If I compare I can always find someone who weighs more or weighs less, has less money, more money, has a better relationship or a worse relationship, is more ill or less ill…you get where I’m going, right?

Comparisons can kill. Comparisons can limit. Choosing blindness to the challenging areas of our lives can also kill and limit. I can’t promise a pain-free journey to Awake, but in time you arrive at Freedom.

 

The bring your own beverage conversation: What part of your life do you compare to other people? How does that distract you from the true heart of your struggle? In what areas do you choose to be blind?

 

On Tools.

I don’t know why I do it to myself. I really don’t.

I think I picture myself knitting contentedly, perhaps even humming, using those impossibly small toothpick-sized needles on itsy-bitsy yarn that’s spooling out away from me into a fully completed sweater.

So I buy tiny needles and wonderful yarn, and maybe even a pattern I have fooled myself into believing I will be able to finish.

Then at home I realize the truth–I have to actually count stitches or some other stupid thing that requires actual concentration,  and I can’t watch the Big Bang Theory at the same time, so I’ll be forced to do something like listen to a podcast or music which I love unless I am forced to do so.

My ex-sister-in-law knits like the wind–without looking. How is this possible? She can watch tv and carry on a conversation while simultaneously knitting some intricate sock pattern. I am not similarly gifted. I learned to knit in my 3rd grade class for a charity project–using sharpened yellow number 2 pencils. Given the fact that I would now be in something like  a hundred and forty-twelfth grade, I should be able to churn out garments for a family of elephants in a week and a half, two weeks tops, right? But no. Number of years times amount of yarn purchased does not equal greater skill.

Even if I only make scarves and hats and more scarves for the rest of my knitting life, I have at least learned that better equipment equals better results–such as real knitting needles without graphite tips to smudge the yarn.

Stress happens. In the past several years I’ve learned about a gazillion more healthy ways to deal with stress than I used to know, back in the days of sharpened pencil knitting. Back then I hid from what scared me. Back then I tried to soothe people who needed to learn to soothe themselves. Back then I thought I could make other people happy if I just did FILL IN THE BLANK  right.  These anti-skills and more filled up my body with Triggery Badness and physical illness.

Once I knew enough to realize what wasn’t working, I knew I needed to pick up some new tools, learn to count some stitches even. The new skills are not perfected, but I’m so thankful for the improved tools I’ve learned to use to cope with fear, stress, disappointment, grief….yunno, LIFE.

I didn’t know I could ever feel this calm, this clear. I’m not sure that on my worst days I would have believed a day would come where I’d look forward to my future.

I don’t understand why people who would never accuse a person struggling with cancer of being weak-willed will judge a person who struggles with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD or an addiction as being weak and defective. It’s all health. If you struggle with mental/emotional health, ignore the naysayers and run far away from those who would use your struggles as a weapon against you.

It takes strength to recognize when our tools are not adequate to the job. Writing implements got the job done for my first knitting project, just like hiding from angry people used to “work.” (In other words, not well.) Getting help to improve any skill set takes commitment. As journeyers In Pursuit of Mental Health, how do strength and commitment make us the crazy ones?

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What hobbies and jobs have you put time and commitment into learning? How would your life improve if you put that kind of effort into some area of your mental/emotional health? 

 

 

 

Daring to have a need, and wilder yet, meeting it!

I’ve been writing in my head all morning. Writing essays about my frailties and how my past impacts my present in the way I think, about how I’m trying to change those thoughts. About how easily the old thoughts come.

All because I stepped in a hole.

It wasn’t a large hole, just an ordinary,  dog’s-been-digging kind of hole. It was in the grass at the dog park, and not surprisingly I was looking at dogs instead of where my feet were landing. And so into the hole I went with my right foot as it scrunched in several unpleasant directions. And I’m down and staring at dirt. You know, just a typical Day In The Life sort of thing.

Out loud I say “I’m fine!” to the people nearby, and in my head I say you idiot, you’re so clumsy! If you weren’t so fat you wouldn’t be so clumsy and fall so easily! 

None of this is true. I’m NOT fine, I’m in pain, and I’d be clumsy at the weight of a four-year-old when I’m inattentive. This has been demonstrated over and over in my life while tripping up stairs, falling down stairs, tripping over curbs, etcetera etcetera etcetera. I see a dog, a baby, a cat in a window, a child laughing, think of a line for a poem, you name it, and I’m distracted by the sheer pleasure of the moment. My feet have not, however, been informed of this distraction, and they continue on their not-so-merry way.

That was yesterday. Today I awoke feeling sorry for myself while simultaneously beating myself up. I felt weepy. I’ve been trying so hard to get out and walk every day, trying to take care of myself in healthy ways. I’d rather administer self-care in the form of ice cream or watching movies, but Every Health Professional Ever says it’s better for me to take a walk.

My old thoughts came to haunt me: You’re just trying to get attention. It’s no big deal. People hurt themselves all the time, and much worse. This is just a silly little injury. Why are you such a whiny baby?

The Lie in this: I’ve let people speak hurtfully to me over the years, worse yet, I kinda believed them. Like about my Fibromyalgia. Or my depression. Or about the fact that it made me sad when they spoke to me with mean words. I’ve allowed myself to believe that I’m just trying to get attention when I speak up about my hurt. I’ve allowed myself to believe that it’s safer to numb out or disappear in some way rather than make a fuss.

The Truth about this: No matter the reason I’m hurt,  I need to take care of the wound properly to the best of my ability. There’s no shame in being physically/emotionally/spiritually injured, it’s up to us to see what we can do to improve the situation. Let me repeat that–I need to hear it again myself–there is no shame in being physically, emotionally or spiritually injured. Our job is to get the help we need to heal the wound. Sometimes a hot bath with Epsom Salts does the job. Sometimes we need to let a doctor check it out. Sometimes, depending on the severity of the wound, we may need 17 years (and still counting) of therapy with a Mental Health Professional who has our back. Wounds are all different, but they still boil down to being some part of us with an owie that needs healing.

Today I’m tossing as much of the old nonsense out of my head as possible. It’s only taken me half a day to work through the old crap that comes to visit when I Dare To Have A Need. Half a day is a vast improvement over what previously could have kept me trapped in indecision and self-blame and shame for days and weeks and longer, all while the wound worsened as I ignored it.

SO–in a couple of hours I’m seeing a doctor who has gone to school for years and years in order to understand ligaments and muscles and other such bodily thingies. They will know the best way to treat and heal my throbbing foot and ankle.

Now, who doesn’t love a good Action Point? (I do! I do!) Here are mine from today:

  1. Have your feelings. They’re gonna happen anyway.
  2. Recognize your wound. Pain tells us that something needs attention. Is the wound emotional in nature, or physical, or mental, or spiritual? In other words, don’t see a yoga instructor about a bleeding head wound.
  3. Make a plan for healing. This might only mean planning the first step, since until the injury is assessed you won’t know whether you need an orthopedic boot or 17 years of therapy.
  4. Live the rest of your day in a No-Shame, No-Blame kind of way, realizing that even if other people want you to feel Less-Than because you Dare To Have A Need, this is what Self Care looks like.

THE END. 

Talk amongst yourselves.

Trauma Informed Living

I know teachers. Teacher friends, teacher daughters. I had a bunch of teachers in school. Some of those teachers from elementary school through my Some College days seemed to See me differently–like they knew how afraid I was all the time, how I felt wary and watchful, why I cried when I Wasn’t Good Enough, why missing one word in a year of 4th grade spelling tests was cause for High Anxiety. I didn’t know those were things for them to consider in their treatment of me in the classroom because those were my Normal.

I don’t know much about the ins and outs of Trauma Informed Education, but I’m hearing ripples of conversation about it throughout the teachers I currently know. When an educator can look at a child’s behavior as more than Good or Bad and instead view that student as a child who may Come From Crazy (me!) the dynamics change. And like with those teachers who could See me, the classroom becomes a Safe Place, a place where the student feels free to make a mistake, to be less than perfect and still be accepted and receive kindness.

It was hard to notice when my reaction was not your average reaction while in the grips–the very physical grips–of a trauma response. I remember in my high school creative writing class when the job of editing the class’s compilation was offered to me. My whole body began a hard trembling, my head became a confused, swirling buzz, and I fought tears. All I could do was to shake my head and say “no”. The teacher and the students smiled and urged me to accept, and I can only guess that I was well thought of, but every ounce of my will was at capacity just keeping me from bolting from the room. My face was hot and I was losing the fight to not cry. They moved on to pick another girl, a funny, artistic and more composed girl. She did a great job, I remained Invisible–and disappointed.

This wasn’t the first and it wasn’t the last time my body’s response called the shots. I’ve stood in stores, at church, and in my front room, unable to move, waiting for the panicked breathing and full-body trembling to subside. Slowly as I learn to name the Lies and replace them with Truth, I have less Triggery Badness engulf me. And I’m working toward quicker recognition of the signals so I can breathe and tell myself to save the STOP, DROP, and ROLL! for when I’m literally on fire.

I don’t know that I have some huge take-away from this post. I do wish I could thank the Mr. McMahons and Mrs. Swansons who treated me with perhaps a bit more gentleness than other teachers without making me feel like the weird bundle of nerves I was. And I’m thankful for the acknowledgment by the education system that when a child is acting out or withdrawing, they may be dealing with some bad mojo at home, and not just label them Bad or Dumb or Over-Sensitive. Those are horrible Lies for a child to carry in their bones.

The bring your own beverage conversation: Have you had experiences with labels being applied to you, and if so, how did those labels cause you to see yourself?

What tools have you found useful when dealing with a trauma response? I love using belly breathing to calm myself in the moment, and therapy with an awesome Mental Health Professional for the long haul, the deeper understanding, the overall changes.

Laughter is healing! I highly recommend the movie High Anxiety with Mel Brooks.

 

Learning to let go.

IT’S BEEN A ROUGH COUPLE OF WEEKS .

My dear doggy, Morris-the-Moose, Morris-the-Chocolate-Moose, my beautiful chocolate dappled dachshund, had been struggling more and more of late. Little seizure-looking neurological events when the sun got in his eyes were increasing, taking the joy out of his walks along the nearby trail. The only food of interest was either people food or doggy treats as he lost interest in his (rather spendy) kibble and canned dog food. He was stumbling more. He was asleep 90ish percent of the time, but increased his awake time exponentially when I was gone as he paced/barked/howled. Adorable little howls they might be, but the poor guy wasn’t happy. The vet and I were trying to find a protocol to ease the separation anxiety that left him unhappily awake when my friend and landlady or her son or other family were in the house but I wasn’t.

I knew it was time. Having a dog that only seems comfortable and content when he’s right next to you is difficult for both the owner and the dog. I’d used essential oils to rub him down, oils that were meant to soothe and calm. He loved the process and looked deliriously happy as he napped afterward. (See photo above)

15 years of companionship, of cuddling with me during my major depression, keeping me company as I learned to deal with the constant pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia. 15 years of floppy-eared chocolate joy. 15 years of Morris’s food-driven actions, even once leaping onto the dining table from the back of the couch during a family dinner.

Over the years my emotions and the emotions of others felt too big for me to hold. In the times my depression was improving, I was learning to see them for what they were: something that comes and goes. Approaching this awful time of knowing I needed to say goodbye, to let my Morris go, I had the old familiar fleeting thought–what if I am sad forever? What if I always feel this way?

Emotions as a child were overwhelming, and being in a family where everyone was overwhelmed by their own lives didn’t teach me the truth about my feelings, so all the feelings seemed to stick to me, to absorb into my sponge-like self. Feeling like that at 5 and 6 and 7 and so on made it seem that Sad and Terrified and Alone were forever feelings. The idea of loss was incomprehensible.

Thanks to my Favorite Mental Health Professional, my therapist, I’ve learned some Balance in more recent years, so I could hold Truths about my feelings. That my pain and grief would come and go, ebb and flow, but I would live and come out the other side of the loss. I also knew that my Morris was depending on me to take care of him. The decision couldn’t be All About Me because he needed me to choose on his behalf. Yes, my feelings matter and have weight. Sure, there’s pleasure and sadness in my memories of him. But those emotions couldn’t be trusted to make this momentous choice–the growing grown-up in me had to step up.

So I fed him peanut butter toast, thinking that As He Began So Shall He End, bringing his life full circle from the naughty puppy who jumped up and grabbed the peanut butter toast my daughter Corinne was taking a bite from as she sat on the couch. I fed him chocolate, something he always wanted when I was eating it (so like pretty much every day). May my last meal be peanut butter toast and chocolate, I think I would be satisfied.

Thursday, one week after Thanksgiving, one week after he turned 15, I took him to the emergency vet to say The Big Goodbye. My friend Jeanette accompanied me to offer support and decent Kleenex, since my Big Goodbye to Barnaby-dog earlier this year had brought to light the lousy level of tissues used by the veterinary office as it dissolved and attached in tiny pieces to every nearby surface when used.

Hard doesn’t explain it. I sobbed shamelessly and sloppily, holding my sweet little buddy to me. Soon it was over, the drugs having stopped his heart. No more impending congestive heart failure, no more seizures in the sun. No more chocolate.

So it’s done. Goodbyes were said.

And I know I will be sad, but not forever. In time I will remember him with love and smiles.