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?)

 

 

 

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.

 

Can we train our brains to let go?

When I read the book The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, I identified strongly with a character. May, one of the sisters in the book, feels the pain of others so strongly it’s as if their pain, grief, horror, is hers. Attempting to manage all these overwhelming feelings, she scribbles names or descriptions on small rolls of paper and pushes the roll into the crevices of a stone wall she’s built–that way she tries to externalize the pain and get it out of her own head.

I’ve felt something similar over my lifetime, but more selfishly, usually the overwhelming feelings have been my own emotions of pain, grief, or horror. At my most generous I’ve felt a strong urge to help someone else feel less pain. Even that has often  been driven by the fact that their emotional pain hurts me. If I can help them feel better, more at peace, then I am more at peace myself.

I want to be an empathetic person, a truly empathetic for the right reasons kind of person. I just want to be able to do it with some balance and flair, like one of those people in a circus flipping from high trapeze to high trapeze in a shiny leotard. (Mine would be aquamarine. With feathers.)

Here was the major roadblock: I didn’t even know I could practice my emotional trapeze technique. I thought I was stuck with the techniques I had at that moment. And being stuck in a constant state of Big Feelings is exhausting.

Better late than never, right? If my life thus far has been in thirds–first third childhood/college/single, second two thirds marriage/divorce–does that make the next twenty years of my life the fourth third? However the math works out, I’m hoping to practice practice practice my way to balance and poise in my emotional state. I want to learn to handle my emotions differently, handle the emotions of others differently. I want to be more authentic in my responses to someone else’s harsh situation and the resulting feelings. This means my motive has to be about them, their pain, not mine.

Knowing how to respond to someone’s emotional upset helps me focus on them, their need, and gets my eyes off my own bellybutton. When we don’t sit with the unpleasant feelings that have rushed in, we won’t process all the way through to closure and acceptance. Here are two similar tools I’ve learned and personalized for ways to deal with the Big Uncomfortable Feelings and Words of life:

Observe those feelings. Feelings come and go. Sometimes they feel like we will never get past them, and maybe there are certain ones we default to because of the way we see the world and the people in it. Without trying to change or judge my painful emotions of fear or sadness or grief and so on, I use a visual image–I am a large rock in the middle of a stream or river, with the water carrying my feelings as it runs constantly over my head and around me. As the rock I notice the feelings as they come rushing toward me, over and around me smoothly. “Yup, there’s my sadness in this situation. There goes my anger at the unfairness of it…and my grief that the situation will never be the way I wanted it to be.” We can sit with our feelings as long as we need to for them to run their course, as they do. It’s calming and somewhat meditative to simply observe them.

In the same way but with a different visual, we can observe the negative words put on us by ourselves and by others. I touched on this in a previous post. The wind is hitting my face, and I see pieces of paper with the negative words I’m hearing, no matter who we may have received them from. Close your eyes and picture the words on the pieces of paper: Foolish. Stupid. Less-than. Too loud. Incapable. No voice. etc.. As the wind blows these notes against your eyes and mouth and cheeks, visualize them hitting but not sticking to your face. Those words of self and other judgment are being swept away by the wind. Keep picturing this in your mind until the words run out and you realize they’ve gone and are now papering somebody’s back garden fence.

Both are simple to do. Either could work for words or emotions. I’m a pretty visual person, so this type of exercise is helpful for me.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have repetitive words and phrases in your head or on your lips that label you negatively? Write a list of them. Do you have any big emotions you wish you didn’t have? Write a list. Use your list with either visualization, sitting quietly for 5 or 10 minutes and letting them clear out your mind of the labels, the painful feelings, and help you move forward. How did you feel after completing the exercise?

 

Remember that you have worth simply because you’re on this planet! #Ihaveworth

 

The Good Girl Lie

I tried not to jerk as her acrylic nail shoved into my closed eye. I was getting a facial and she was attempting to press acupressure points just below my brow bones. I’d had this done before by people a bit more mindful of their fingernails, a very good thing.

Why did I feel I couldn’t say “Would you please pull your nail from my eye” or at least turn my head?

I’m often captive to The Good Girl Lie.

A Good Girl can never make someone Feel Bad. A Good Girl can never make someone Uncomfortable. A Good Girl is never to Stir The Pot, Make Waves, or any other liquid or solid analogy that suggests she might have an emotion/opinion/thought that differs.

The Good Girl Lie that is still written in my bones says that my discomfort doesn’t matter, that I should protect the feelings of others above all else–apparently this includes the safety of my own eyeball.

As I write this I hear how foolish it sounds. This Rule, as my therapist/favorite mental health provider calls them, runs deep. I was the youngest of three kids, so I had plenty of opportunity to see how poorly it went when my older siblings had an opinion, had a feeling, had a thought that ran opposite our parents’. I became the people pleaser of all people pleasers, trying to ensure my lovability.

This is a joy I brought with me into adulthood. Our childhood coping mechanisms rarely work well in a grownup’s world–they’re too simplistic, too far off to one side, lacking balance. “I don’t want to get yelled at therefore I will only be Nice” may make sense to a five-year-old, but it doesn’t work well in the real world, where we need another piece, the “I am responsible for my own safety and well-being” part.

Wanting to be Good above all else makes sense to us when we’re kids trying to stay out of trouble with our parents and teachers, but the problem is that we end up taking care of everybody’s gardens, trying to keep everybody happy. No fences or boundaries in this scenario, just lots and lots of neighbors’ weeds and flowers to tend. It’s exhausting! But when we have our own individual thoughts (this is not the relaxing facial I was hoping for) opinions (I don’t like that the esthetician makes it sound like she won’t serve clients unless they buy the pricey products on her shelvesand our own feelings (when she puts her fingernail in my eye it makes me feel grumpy and annoyed rather than relaxed) then we can still be pleasant in the moment while looking out for our own wellbeing. Listening to ourselves can inform our choices and give us options rather than seeing it all from a single viewpoint.

So I didn’t ask her to remove her acrylic from my eye, but it’s a work in progress, yunno?

And I don’t have to go back to her, right? Well, at least not until after the second facial because I paid for two……. *sigh*

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Do you have a personal equivalent to The Good Girl Lie? Something where you haven’t allowed yourself a voice because someone else might not like what you have to say? A place you just give in even though it’s abrasive to your soul? What’s a step you can take, a boundary you can make, to protect your own wellbeing?

Alright, let’s get out there and stay safe!

9/30/2017 Addendum: I realize I totally ate a slimy, undercooked poached egg yesterday just so that I “wouldn’t make a fuss”. It was gross. Still learning.

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty of acceptance.

I get so excited and giddy when it’s time to have my hair colored and cut you’d think I was headed for a month in Hawaii.

My hair appointments are two hours of freedom to simply Enjoy. I get to enjoy conversation with my stylist who has made sense of my hair when it went from straight to curly-ish, and who has fought bravely to tame my difficult grays. It’s a problem I don’t have to solve–I can trust her and RELAX.

There are few times when I’m this good and non-neurotic about letting myself breathe slowly and melt into acceptance of the exact place I find myself in at the moment, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Less pleasurable things are of course harder to accept–think dentist appointments. There I am forced to concentrate on breathing, also on releasing the death-grip I have on the chair arms. Pain of any sort takes more work.

There’s a gift to be appreciated in this place of Accepting and Allowing life to be exactly whatever it is at the moment. My second-guessing goes away, and the judgmental voices in my head are quieted when I’m present in the moment. Balance lives in this space where I’m simply observing my life, not obsessing over the past or the future.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing therapist who has helped me find my way out of the minefield scattered with all the Lies in my bones, and here are some articles I’ve found while wandering through Psychology Today online that speak to the ways we can change our brains and learn to be present:

  • How to develop “Zen Presence”  This is the type of mindfulness that helps us to be aware and observant of our thoughts and emotions as we move through our days.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy I don’t know if my Favorite Mental Health Professional (my therapist) calls it this, but it certainly describes much of what she’s been teaching me. Basically, what good does it do us to avoid/judge/deny our emotions? If there’s trauma or depression or chronic pain etc., denying our feelings will only cause more distress. Better we should learn to accept how we feel, learn from those feelings and find ways of moving forward and being productive.
  • Meditation: Ancient Practice With 21st Century Application In the third sentence the guy uses the word “fart.” Of course he’s my favorite. ANYway, this article does a great job of explaining how meditation and mindfulness practice work together to quiet the mind, ease stress and so much more, all by actually changing our brain chemistry! How cool is that? I’ve seen more self-acceptance and less judgment as I’ve learned these techniques.

I’ve been using the Headspace app on my phone, and it’s been helpful in teaching me different aspects of meditation. The app has a variety of topics like Anxiety, Focus, Pain Management, and even some sport related ones to explore once you’ve completed the basic 30 day introduction meditation sessions. I was relieved to find there’s even a way to look at the inevitable thoughts that start darting about while trying to focus on your breath.

Calm is another app suggested by both my doctor and the therapist teaching the pain management class I’m currently taking. I’ve been playing around with it the past few days, and it has quite a few ways to help you get a better night’s sleep–music, nature sounds, stories read quietly, meditations. Other topics include resiliency to stress, relationships, anxiety, even commuting.

There are others out there, have a look around and find what suits your needs. Both of the apps I’ve tried have some initial parts you can use for free with a cost after that. But if you keep looking I know there are some freebies out there too.

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: What is a space or activity where you are in the moment and happily accepting of the circumstance? Are you willing to do some work to gain that same acceptance and lack of judging in other areas?

Remember–all of life is a process, and the good stuff tends to take practice!