Self-Care for Survivors (& other mysteries)

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

THE LONGER I LIVE, the more I realize how little I know. I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses.

They have inscriptions like “This is the time you allowed yourself to believe these words about yourself” or “Here lies the remains of your self-respect” or maybe “This is the time you trusted your feelings instead of your brain.” So many, many crosses.

The problem seems to be that I think I have something figured out for 5 minutes and then I move ahead. But OH here’s a bump in the highway with my next big screw-up where I didn’t remember that I am supposed to be in charge of my own safety, my own growth, my own self-care.

It’s tricky, taking care of myself after so many years of capitulating to the beliefs of others. I believed for years the words of my mother, the actions of my mother toward me, that I was A Disappointment, that there had Once Been Hope that I would be Worthy but clearly I Had Failed. I tried and tried and tried to disprove that by my own actions, my own words, to her and everyone else around me. SEE! I am THIS person! The person who loves her children! The person who still tries to have a relationship with a mother who is dismissive and mean to her! SEE! THIS IS ME!

I don't know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world. Click To Tweet

For years I tried to prove in my marriage that I Was Good Enough. That I was loving, kind, nurturing, could put up with being yelled at and belittled by a man with clenched fists and still have a sense of humor. BUT, still I believed, a little more and a little more over time, that he must be right. The one with the loudest voice wins, the one who can roar the longest and the fiercest must be right. Therefore I am wrong.

Surviving this Psychological Warfare shit means I am now supposed to, at age sixty-freaking-five, be in charge of my own safety, my own well-being, my own sense of self. I am to Take Care of Me.

Again, for 5 minutes I think I have it figured out–Engage in Life. Walk in the sunlight, write poems and prose and pointless rhyme. Talk to friends, build friendships. Continue building the relationships with my children. Do the creative projects that feed my soul.

5 freaking minutes.

Then I add another cross to the Country of Bad Decisions. I lose being present in the moment. I forget that I’m still fragile, still healing. Still very stupid and un-self-aware. I beat myself up for making mistakes, for being human. I’m back into my head, and sometimes the inside of my head is a war zone.

Will I ever get “it” right? Will I learn to be more than human? More than full of mistakes?

No. I can’t. As long as I’m on this earth I WILL BE FULL OF MISTAKES.

I’ve spent my whole life trying to avoid screwing up. Messing up was a reason to be crucified by people who were supposed to love me and want the best for me, so I learned to fear my mistakes like the devil. And what better way to avoid making mistakes? Do Nothing. Do not engage, do not join, do not risk, do not breathe. All that does is make one light-headed and lonely.

I don’t want to be frozen like I was for so long, but I don’t quite understand how to move forward and risk and still be in charge of my own safety. I don’t know how to remember to keep breathing. I don’t know how to feel pain and not want to stop-drop-and-roll into my own little hermitage away from the world.

Such a painful way to live!

SO–I think my self-care for today looks like this:

I will get down on my knees and look my little girl self in the eyes. I will hold her shoulders gently and say:

“I am here for you. I will always be here for you. I will have your back, no matter what happens.

“It’s okay to make mistakes, that’s how we learn. It’s part of being a human. I love you!  I will always always love you with my whole heart, I will always be here when you need someone to hold you, even if it’s early in the morning and you know how much I hate morning.

“You can’t do a single thing to make me love you less.”

Then I will hug her for as long as she needs to be held.

 

The End.

For today.

I see laid out behind me a veritable country of bad decisions, aaaaall with little headstones and wooden crosses. Click To Tweet

The Informative Meltdown aka My Life As A Trauma Mama

Last night I slept hugging a pillow and my stuffed dog.

It was a rough week last week. I agree with the thoughts that “last week is over!” and “this is a new week!” and all that cheerful shit people try to encourage with. I agree with it, but I know it is far less than the whole story.

The whole story? It includes the week of my fifth birthday. It includes the day I gave birth with not nearly enough pain medication.

It includes me sitting on the edge of the bed after being belittled and badgered for an hour and a half and told I was not all the things I thought I was, like supportive, loving, giving….and wishing for death, time and time again. It includes the days I started realizing I didn’t need to live that way.

All those weeks and days and seconds are included in the whole.

Last week sucked big time, and the pain of it was informed by all the weeks that came before, even the moments when I stood frozen in fear with my hands over my face to hide my tears in 5th grade. I don’t even remember why anymore, but I can still feel it in my chest when I think of it. I feel the tightness, my breath coming shallow, my clenched jaw, my inability to cope.

INABILITY.

This is a place of Triggery Badness in me. It’s an oozing wound. And for people who would use other people for their own gain, it’s a raw piece of flesh to poke a stick in and stir.

I woke up crying today. Don’t remember that happening before, but it makes sense–that old unhealed, bleeding part of me was poked and stirred last week.

What my Triggery Badness told me last week was this: People who would gladly hurt others for reasons I can’t understand, people who need to control others and exploit the pain you’ve been trying to shed through all those weeks of all those years that came before, they are out there and they will find you. They will sniff you out–sharks smelling blood. THEY WILL COME.

All the Triggery Badness of last week, where it caused me to swear (more than usual) where it caused me to cry (more than I expected) where it made me wonder if I have really grown at all, healed at all…

SAVED ME.

It saved me. Someone else found me. Someone who I thought had been becoming a friend. Someone who had words of encouragement and praise. There were other things about them that I was uncomfortable with, red flags, green flags, purple flags–all the flags, really. And I did my usual thing–I said to myself, “don’t be judgmental! Maybe they are just that different from you so you’re uncomfortable. That doesn’t make them invalid.”

Then they struck. First a light strike–just a shark nose bumping my leg, just a comment to say that In my Best Interest, should I say that? Do that? Thinking Of You! So I considered their words. I did what was suggested because it made sense. They’re just protecting me, right?

Bigger bump. Their response that put me in a lesser position to them, that said I Am More Than You. I Have Superior Experience. I Will Guide You. Harder shark nose bump, awakening the trigger, starting its vibration.

Next strike, bigger strike, taking a chunk of my leg. Me bleeding out as they chided, You Are Doing This Wrong. I Know More. Listen To Me! You Are Great But Incapable, I Will Lead You!

Triggery Badness released in full horns and bells and whistles. ALARM! DANGER! DANGER!

And I realized what my Triggery Badness was trying to tell me, why it was screaming for my attention: This person needs to be Better-Than, which means they need me to be Less-Than. This person needs to be the one Who Knows, which means they need me to be the one who knows less, the one who needs guidance. This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, that precise tender place–and are willing to exploit it. You Are Prey. (Watch this video–I saw it after I wrote this post and it explains my whole life!)

This person knows your weakness, your fear that you are Incapable, Unable, Unfit. They smell the blood of that exact wound, Click To Tweet

After trauma, one’s nervous system is wound too tightly. Its strings are taut. Its alarms are set to go off at the whisper of one’s breath. It takes time to retrain and rewire our brains after trauma. This is not something that happens overnight. This takes work and practice and more work. It will include the week of my next birthday in 2019. The week of Christmas in ten years.

It’s ongoing.

Don’t judge me for the path my healing takes. I’m working my ass off to heal those triggers, to rewire my brain and let the wounds close and form healthy skin once again.

Don’t judge me for crying. For clutching a stuffed dog and a pillow at age 65. For cancelling plans. For being anti-social. For whining sometimes. For being too silly, too loud, too quiet. Too sarcastic.

Don’t tell me “it’s a new week!” which translates to “Just get over it!” in my healing brain. I’m trying to sort out the good from the bad. I’m trying to be in charge of my own safety, my own mental health. I’m trying to not go back to a place where I believed I Am Incapable. I’ve been there, done that, I’ve peed on the T-shirt and burned it.

Have patience with me, with others who struggle. You can’t possibly know all the weeks I’ve experienced. You don’t know the weeks that will come. You don’t know what informs my actions. I will do my best to do the same for you.

For whatever reason we have trauma, trust us that it’s real, that we wouldn’t have it if we could help it. That we are likely working on it right this second to not run screaming from social interaction that can set off all that cascade of signals that we Are Not Safe.

We heal in community. Be a part of that healing community.

Be kind to you, be kind to me, be kind to others.

And be safe.

Same life, different day?

Photo by Anandan Anandan on Unsplash

 

IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING, some days are harder than others. Even some of the days on the road to recovering from being a Trauma Mama are harder, but the overall trajectory is better.

As a small child I didn’t know how to cope with the chaos of my home. I worked out my own coping strategies on an instinctual level for safety. That mostly involved hiding from what terrified me. Since that was pretty much everything and everyone, you can imagine the job of remaining hidden and invisible and only popping my head out when I had a smile on my face took up most of my time and energy.

I’m beginning to see how one part of my coping was to deal with one day only. Get through that one day by keeping myself safe. I didn’t look into the future with a sense of hope. As far as I was concerned, the future looked like “same life, different day.” Keep under the radar at home, in school, at church. Be unseen and unheard if you disagreed with others. Only be seen in small moments of lightness.

This is a tricky way to live.

I carried it on into my marriage. Try, try, try harder to make no waves. Try, try, try harder to soothe difficulties rather than solve them. Try, try, try harder to only be seen in small moments of lightness–moments that became much less frequent in time.

I’m five years out now from my marriage. Five years of ever so slowly thawing from the freeze of being my Trauma Mama self, of holding my body so tightly, fighting my emotions so fiercely that my body said “Enough! I now give you the magical gift of Fibromyalgia!” If that doesn’t teach you to slow your roll, nothing will.

Part of the thaw means I’m feeling a broader range of emotion, I’m seeing a broader range of possibilities. I’m even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait–I’ve heard of those……the glimmer of A Future!

That processing led to today’s poem for the Poetic Asides Wednesday Prompt of SET:

 

Same.

 

I thought of my life

as a set recipe–

minor changes,

a variation

with

an added herb,

a trace of spice

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

as a slow leak,

a faucet dripping

Same sink,

same dribble,

same

leak,

new day.

 

I thought of my life

as a set of books,

new character

here,

lose one

there,

subtle nuance,

but still

essentially

the same.

 

I thought of my life

without a dream.

Imagine my surprise–

I’m not a book

or a recipe.

I’m not a faucet

to be fixed.

I am me

expanding.

 

I am not set.

 

jle2018

I'm even starting to see, waaaay out there in the distance, what is that thing? Wait--I've heard of those……the glimmer of A Future! Click To Tweet

Fountain Mourning

I cried over a fountain. Yup, you heard me, a fountain.

It wasn’t just any fountain, it was the fountain in the back garden. My friend Carrie, who so perfectly had a room to rent at the very moment I needed a place to live, is moving. This means I’m moving too. She’s moving to her happy place, the mountains near Mi-Wuk where her parents already live, once her son finishes his senior year of high school June 2019. My future home is still unknown.

The funny bit is that when I found out I’d need a new place to live come summer next year I wasn’t as upset as when I found out the fountain was moving.

Carrie has been selling yard furniture and some indoor furniture in preparation for moving house. She’s downsizing from three bedrooms, a living room and a family room to a studio. Having experienced this a few years back, I know how much work it can be and how much paring down of possessions is required (I still have a storage space with items that will certainly seem new to me by the time I clear it out). So I get it. I understand the need to decide what of the chairs and couches and dressers filling the bigger spaces are extra and won’t fit into our new lives, I do understand.

But not the fountain!

I knew I’d be moving eventually, I knew at some point my living space would mean living elsewhere. I knew nothing stays the same forever, that needs change and lives change and surroundings change…I knew this–in my head.

But not the fountain!

IMG_0836

The fountain with its burbling water has been part of this Healing Space over my past three years. The fountain has invited birds on many sunlit mornings to splash and chirp and drink, even the hummingbirds I love. The fountain, on the back patio outside Carrie’s family room, had the green dancing limbs of potted vines and Heavenly Bamboo and assorted other delights from our local Ace Hardware nursery. Carrie and I decided back at the beginning of setting up our two separate garden spaces that she chooses a more Zen vibe while I go for whimsical. Her space leans toward open branches where the summer breezes flow through the leaves of many shapes and shades of green, while mine is chock-full of colorful blossoms and garden fairies and pottery birds and a large cement turtle. Her patio chairs and tables ran to shades of a glorious desert scene in deep rusts and tans and some green, while mine surrounds me in bright tropical hues of turquoise and lime green and orange.

She had the idea to collect pallets to build our own version of a fence to carve out our own areas, pallets that are now covered by vines whose leaves are displaying fall colors as the leaves turn vibrant deep reds and browns. Three years. It’s been three years of building and shaping and turning our back gardens into joyful places of peace in our unique ways. And always the sound of the fountain playing in the background, being heard through windows and the open sliding door during bright and warm days.

Carrie had warned me that the huge, heavy cement fountain and bird bath would be leaving. Thankful that she had told me, I knew I could say goodbye the next morning.

Say goodbye to a fountain, you ask? An inanimate object? A chunk of concrete through which water flows when attached to a power source? Goodbye?

Say goodbye to a fountain, you ask? An inanimate object? A chunk of concrete? Click To Tweet

That morning I sat on Carrie’s couch watching the sun dance through leaves around the fountain, light sparkling through the water as it rose from the center. I cried remembering how healing the sounds of that water had been, hearing it in a place where I’d finally come to rest, a year andIMG_2849 a half after I’d left a home that no longer felt safe. In that year and a half I had stayed with daughters, with friends, and finally in a shelter situation when I’d run out of places to go. But now, Home. I had a Home–a place to lay my head that was mine, a converted-garage-sized compact Home. Ikea helped furnish it and I filled it in with books upon books. The colors and textures were all of my choosing, the mismatched thrift store chairs that surrounded the Ikea table were mine.

IMG_0127

But nothing spoke healing like that fountain. A gift of the calming sound of flowing water that drew God’s beautiful birds to it. So I sat on that last morning and breathed deeply and slowly, a final meditation, thankful for the gift of running water and birdsong.

I couldn’t help but cry when I thought of this soothing gift of nature I’d been blessed to share in–breezes, water, the green of leaves, the vivid colors of blossoms, and the splashing of birds visiting the fountain. Tears come even now as I write about it. What power nature has to soothe our souls and minister to our broken spirits. I’ve slept, I’ve prayed, I’ve read, I’ve dreamed, all to the sounds of birds and the gurgling of water. Cool spring breezes have washed over me, as well as the warm air of summer, out in the back garden. Now the crisper air of fall races through the foliage, but the water and the bathing birds are missing. I’m making peace with that.

The tears that sprang to my eyes as I watched the fountain for the last time reminded me of how deeply it had become a symbol of Rest and Healing. That even the birds had ministered to my bruised soul. That time spent in the back garden had been a living balm, especially when the hummingbirds would come close, the thrumming of their wings near my ears, asking why I was in their space. The sparrows and finches would sit in the branches above me, chirping and chatting before swooping down to their daily bath.

What power nature has to soothe our souls and minister to our broken spirits. Click To Tweet

So that morning before the fountain would move on to another person’s back garden to be loved and used by their neighborhood birds, I watched it, I listened to it. I memorized the way the morning sun sparkled in the water. No birds came. Did they already sense the fountain was moving on?

I’m thankful for these past three years. I’ve shared space with people who haven’t judged my dark days. I’ve grown, I’ve learned, I’ve processed old hurts so I could let them go. I pray that the fountain will nurture the new owners half as much as it’s nurtured me. And then I tell myself it’s perfectly fine to shed tears at our parting.

 

The bring your own beverage conversation: What is one way you’ve judged yourself harshly and unnecessarily? What brings your soul healing? Plan to spend some self-care in the next few days doing whatever it is that speaks calm into you.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF–YOU’RE WORTH IT.

 

In Pursuit of Just Sorry Enough

I would imagine that if you've been alive long enough to learn to read this, you've had someone in your life who believes they are never at fault Click To Tweet

I would imagine that if you’ve been alive long enough to learn to read this, you’ve had someone in your life who believes they are never at fault. My mother lived and breathed this one. Here’s a fun example of a phone conversation with her:

“Why would your sister say those things?” my mother asked. 

“Um, what things?”

“About her childhood,” she says, referring to my sister talking to our mother about not stopping our father from molesting her after she’d been told about it.

“Ah! Because… they happened?”

“Why would she say those things?”

“Umm, mom, I just called to tell you Merry Christmas…everyone will be coming over soon, so if you want to talk about this we can do it another day…”

“But why would she insist on saying those things?”

“Sooo, MerryChristmasLoveYouGottaGoooo…”  Click.

She never got as far as sorry-not-sorry. My family was much better at simply Changing History. If we say it never happened and try hard enough to convince people it never happened despite evidence to the contrary, then it never happened. Simple enough.

I’ve known others who would, when exhibiting a certain behavior, accuse me of having that  behavior. Again, not even sorry-not-sorry. Simply, not their fault.

And whatever IS sorry-not-sorry?

Dictionary.com defines it this way:

What does sorry not sorry mean?

Sorry not sorry is a sarcastic way of acknowledging that someone might not like whatever you’re saying or doing … but you don’t really care.

AH! So in this case, at least the person knows they have no intention of being sorry. No shifting of blame, no changing of history. Straight up “I know in polite social circumstances what I’m about to say would be followed by an apology, but, oh well!”

I struggle to not use this one, being the snarky smart-arse I am. I have a delicate relationship with sarcasm since my therapist told me that it literally means “tearing of the flesh.” That makes it sound so…painful.

And then you have the chronically sorry. I know a lot of people who believe they are personally responsible for all the world’s ills, including earthquakes and global warming. This is the one I struggle with as a Reforming People-Pleaser.

AHealthierMichigan.org says:

Stop Saying Sorry! Signs You’re an Over-Apologizer

Why do they do that?

People who over-apologize are often anxious and worry about offending everyone around them. They tend to have poor self-esteem and lack the confidence to let their words and actions speak for themselves. They also may view their relationships as fragile, to the point that one misstep would mean the end of them.

Sometimes this comes from being constantly criticized by a person in our lives until we develop it as an emotional tic. “Sorry!” becomes our go-to because, after all, how dare we take up space on their planet?

This, from the same article, spoke to me:

How can over-apologizers break the habit?

Talking to a psychiatrist or therapist can often help you figure out the underlying reasons why you do it. A professional can also help you recognize that most people forgive and move on and that relationships are usually resilient. Many over-apologizers could also benefit from doing things to improve their self-esteem (whether it’s reading self-help books, meditating, talking to a therapist or trying self-affirmations). The ultimate goal is to find an appropriate balance between addressing your own needs and feelings and being considerate of the people around you.

The next time you feel like an unneeded apology is coming on, try to change your tone to reflect gratitude over remorse. For example, if you have to change plans with a friend because of a busy week, avoid saying “So sorry—I’m the worst, I know!” and instead try “Thank you for understanding” or “I appreciate your flexibility.” Soon enough, taking a more positive, appreciative approach will be your automatic reaction.

THIS! I can try this. So, since I’ve been whiny for a week with a toothache, I can say to my friends, “Thank you for listening to me whine!” instead of “sorry for being so whiny!” (Honestly, I’m not sure they’ll feel a lot better with the thank you….) I’m still trying to understand how to use this when I accidentally back into someone at the grocery store…which I usually do. My tendency to say “I’m sorry” seems to fit here, since “Thank you for the smile you gave me instead of that awful judgy scowl your friend did” seems a bit snarky, and perhaps borders on the Sorry-Not-Sorry side. It’s a process, right?

The Bring Your Own Beverage Conversation: Where do you fall on the Sorry Scale? If you over-apologize, why do you think you do?  (If I’ve offended you by asking, I’m so sorry….)

Thank you for sharing the planet with me. You do contribute. Really. Even if someone has made you feel otherwise.

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.