Friday, November 13, 2015

Resiliency is my super power

As I’m traveling through these first few months of separation from my husband, I find myself forced to deal with many special and unique challenges of being single. The loss of our future together, the absence of my “person”, getting used to being alone, being a single parent, having all new financial and family responsibilities, etc.

I’ve never really done this before. After my first marriage ended 11 years ago,  I was able to stay home with the kids because they were still so little and I just couldn't afford the childcare. Now that the kids are older and I have the ability to provide for us, I’m becoming extremely aware of what single working parents have known all along. This is an extremely challenging life circumstance.  There is a new and sometimes crushing pressure to provide stability, not just financially, but physically and emotionally, having to pick up the slack for the missing partner. Even though the missing partner is still very much present in our family, he is living apart from us, and his involvement is limited.

Everyday when I wake up, there is this moment where I forget what’s happening, because everything feels familiar. For a moment, I am comfortable. I feel safe. Then reality comes crashing through my consciousness like a naked Miley Cyrus on that damn wrecking ball. The familiar walls crash around me, and I remember. I am alone.

I am alone.

That statement is enough to bring pretty much all of us to our knees. We aren’t meant to be alone. We are meant to have loving partners and strong ties to our community, big families and close friends. While it’s true that I do have friends and community, not to mention a house full of boisterous and amazing kids, I am unpartnered. And that is terrifying.

There are a gazillion terrifying things that happen in our lifetimes. There are people in the world who are literally fleeing for their lives, refugees of war and famine. There are people facing financial crises, joblessness, homelessness, illness, death of loved ones, cross country moves, births, mental illness, breakups, etc.

There’s just no way to get through life without facing something that scares the shit out of you. Any major life change provides us with the opportunity to feel an unholy amount of fear and uncertainty, but also the opportunity to feel hope and courage and faith. And all of those things, at the same time.

So what is the one thing that sees us through these major life challenges and get us through to the other side, where security and comfort and safety resides?

It takes resiliency.

Life can beat you down. We all get our teeth knocked in at some point, sometimes, many points during our lives. There’s just no way around it.

At these crucial points in our lives, our belief systems and personal stories really come into sharp focus. We can fall into the comfortable lull of victimhood, we can find things to numb the pain of our reality, or we find something to hold onto. A mantra, a song, a poem, a quote, a memory, a hope. This thing serves as a sort of mental life raft that we cling to, that we use to pull us out of bed each day to face the unknown. It keeps us sane and driven during times of intense conflict.

When I visualize the word “resiliency”, I see a person with amazing elasticity, physically able to bounce right off of the ground like the earth is a giant trampoline and the person is made of rubber. They trip, they fall, they get pushed, they crash. Maybe they’re clumsy, maybe they aren’t really paying attention to the cliff they’re about to walk off of, maybe someone’s pushing them off of the cliff. Either way, they don’t get obliterated. They simply bounce right off the ground, and perhaps without much grace, but always consistently, land back on their feet. Maybe it takes them a second, or a minute or 2 years, but they eventually land back on their feet.

It really bothers me when people say I’m strong. I know what they mean when they say it, but it doesn’t feel accurate to me. I am resilient. I don’t feel strong. The thing about resiliency is that you don’t have to be strong. Or courageous, or graceful, or in control.

Resiliency is simply the ability to retrieve all of the bits and pieces of you from a fall, and to put yourself back together, and keep going. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect, in fact, it creates space for failure and mistakes. Because each time you fall, you know, without a doubt, you’ll be okay.

In order for resiliency to really take hold, you have to really have something that gives you hope.

For me, at this point in my life, it is the hope and awareness that while I feel lonely and isolated and sad and grieving my losses, it is temporary. I won’t be alone forever. I will find love again, and it will be more amazing than I can imagine right now. I also fill my brain with positive messages. From books, podcasts, articles, talking with friends, meeting new people, etc. As someone who easily falls into the depths of victimhood, I must actively search out and practice flexing and building my resiliency muscles. I am the creator of my life. I can have successful relationships, provide for my family, find healthy ways to deal with the stress and loneliness of life.

It all comes down to one personal statement of truth, that you must believe, while also looking directly into the face of fear, doubt, pain, rejection, sadness, loss. Even if you don’t have any proof that this statement is true, you still know it is.

“I can do this. And I’ll be okay”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Give and Take

Since I was a child I've been a people pleaser, a server, a helper, an emotional fluffer for my friends and an overall do-gooder. I was pure in my heart and the very definition of innocent.  I would feel huge amounts of compassion for everybody, not just the good people, but the robbers and bad guys and people who hurt other people. I used to pray for them every night. I used to think, "If they could feel MY love, they wouldn't be bad anymore. They just need love, that's all." I wasn't a perfect child but I was definitely blinded by my own sweetness and assumption that everyone was doing the same.

I have made a life out of making myself as useful and needed as possible, thus securing my value in the world as someone who supports, heals, rescues, empowers and embodies compassion. I had children as a way to secure those values. Who needs anyone more than a baby needs it's mother?

Growing up and having more life experience handed to me in the way of abuse, being taken advantage of, being used, being abandoned, being treated like shit, I have witnessed time after time how many people are in need of my kind of love, and are happy to receive it while not understanding how to give it back. Or maybe they just can't. Or don't want to.

And as much as I've been hurt, I know that I will never stop being The Caregiver. It all sounds glorious and wonderful but the flip side to this is the harsh reality of martydom and victimization, or how I like to call it: Current Reality.

And I think I can trace it all back to my abuse, when another person's deranged desire took precedence over my safety.  The one person who was entrusted with my safety and care was the very person who betrayed my innocence and destroyed my sense of self in the process.

From that point on, I continued my caregiving almost as if on a bloodthirsty quest to earn back my own personal power and worth by a life of service and wild adoration of others.  Guess how well living on the coat tails and self sacrifice works. No comment.

I've done so much personal work over the past decade, and I think the missing and perhaps final piece to my life's work of being made totally whole, is to learn how to take care of myself first. To establish myself as a person worthy of all that love and care I give others, and to give it to myself freely and without regard for anyone else.

It's a beautiful thing if you're with people who can reciprocate those services and feelings, but more often than not, people are caught in their own trances of life, not paying attention to the nuances of my requests and subtleties of my needs. And yet I hold them to that standard. End result is a feeling of rejection/pain/hurt/dismay.

One of my greatest challenges is speaking up. I can fight to the death for people I love (hell I do it for anyone off the street!), and I can tell them that they are being hurt/used/abused/taken advantage of, but I will sit like a frog in a pot of warm water as it's heating up for years and years without finding my voice to say..."Hey, its a...getting kind of hot in here..."  Finally did at the end of my first marriage and it was the best feeling in the world. 

Lately, I have found myself totally at my wits-end and frustrated by the realization that people don't express to me my own significance in their lives. I feel unimportant to them. That's not my damaged self-worth talking, that is a product of making myself as small and agreeable as possible to everyone around me.

I have made myself tiny and insignificant. If I present that to the world, how can I expect anyone to treat me any differently? 

All along, I've been beating people up in my mind, assuming that they don't care about me, crying my eyes out wondering why people won't exhibit the same level of care that I give them. And it finally occurred to me the other day: you teach people how to treat you. If you teach people you don't really care what happens to you, naturally, they won't either.  It is only when you step into your personal power and make your needs and boundaries and desires known that people stop and question their relationship to you and change to honor those boundaries and needs. And then if they don't change or honor those requests, you can go forth with all of the information.

The big AH FUCKING HA moment came last week when in the middle of a deep and dark depressing head space, I asked "how can I get people to make me feel more important to them?" And then I thought about that question...something didn't feel quite right about it. I know I can't "make" people do anything, and if I did, that is called manipulation and I don't want that either. I want authentic care giving, love, value and passion. I always say if I have to ask for someone to treat me a different way or give me something I desire, it's not authentic for them. You should already be giving that treatment out of the burden placed on your heart to do so.

But what if people are so consumed with their own lives that they aren't thinking about you and your needs right then? What if people just get lazy and complacent and assume you'll be around forever? What if they are doing something that hurts you and you never tell them? What if they think everything is honkeyfuckingdorey and the truth is you're miserable? I feel like the burden should be on ME to let them know MY truth and stop expecting everyone else to inherently know.

Maybe my boundaries and expectations are not common sense. Maybe I need to tell the people I love that in order for me to feel special/important/loved and cared for, I need A, B and C. Maybe each and every time I advocate for my self worth and value, I am in fact taking ownership of it instead of letting it be tossed to the whims and delights of others to do with what they will. Maybe that is the core of self love and significance to the self. Maybe I teach people how to love me so that I can have truly loving relationships that are full of juicy reciprocation, mutual adoration and respectful care taking.

Maybe in being able to speak out for what I need and want, I stop being a victim and a martyr and stand in my own power. Maybe in loving myself first, I become a caregiver AND a caretaker. And maybe I fucking deserve that, dammit! :D

Monday, January 5, 2015

Growing Strong Trees

The Problem:

We live in a culture that worships positivity, happiness and success. We use motivational quotes to push us forward through our doubts and weaknesses and offer each other platitudes to generate a feeling of inter-connectedness.  Our ultimate goal in life is die with a big shit eating grin on our face, filled to the brim with joy of a life well lived. 

We don't really want to know the honest answer to "how are you doing?". We don't really talk about our struggles or sadness unless we're in therapy or with one trusted friend. We frame any negativity we're experiencing in a way to reassure the other person that we're standing on our inner scaffolding to rebuild and remodel our way back to happiness - we don't admit that we might be standing on the brink of madness, that we are teetering on the edge of the Universe staring into the dark magnetic pull of the abyss with extreme curiosity and wondering what a beautiful thing it would be to just give ourselves back to it. We don't admit that we don't have a clue how to make our way back to happiness. We don't admit that we are completely lost. That is too much for people to hear.

We don't really hold space for people to experience that level of suffering around us. Despair is scary, uncomfortable, energetically draining and reminds us of our own fears, anxiety, worry and insecurities. We aren't taught how to be so emotionally naked with someone else, so we try to make their pain light, placate them, or offer them some pithy motivational speech. "Chin up! It'll get better! Pick yourself up and kick some ass! It's just been a bad day/week/month/year for everyone!"

The Experience:

As a depressed person experiencing a level of negative emotions that are downright frightening, when people attempt to placate me or downplay my feelings as temporary or minimizing, it only adds to the heaping pile of shame I might be feeling because I can't just pick myself up and find any joy. It adds to the feeling that I am broken, that there is something truly wrong with me. You might as well be asking me to take a vacation to the moon on my supersonic space motorcycle. I don't have the resources you think I do. They simply don't exist in my world.

Depression is isolating. You don't want to get any of your negative energy on anyone else for one; you also don't want to have to explain why you look a little "off" through your forced smile. You don't want to be a downer, an emotional vampire, or maybe you don't want to be reminded of how sad you are by hanging out with people who are vibrating in joy and love and happiness.

In that isolation there is a lot of time for thinking. There is a lot of time for numbing. There is a lot of opportunity to sink deeper and deeper into your own misery.

Having an arsenal of tools that you know will help you feel better is a good idea, but if those tools come in the form of alcohol, drugs, self-sabotage, cutting, might just feel like you have no idea how to start feeling healthy again. Numbing activities might feel great in the moment, but anything that ultimately perpetuates a state of brokenness will only work against you. Even if your tools are healthy, that doesn't mean they're magical. No amount of walking in the woods, positive affirmations, cat videos, yoga poses, meditation, therapy or gym visits are satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Sometimes they work immediately, sometimes you have to push on and on and on and on and on until you feel like you might vomit rainbows. Sometimes....just need to be sad for a while. Years maybe.

The Advice on Helping Someone who is Depressed:

I think if we can somehow reach a point in our culture where we leave room for depression and sadness to be an acceptable and normal part of life, we will learn how to help our loved ones navigate through the scary stages feeling supported and respected.

Before you do anything, check yourself. Inquire about your motivations for stepping in to help someone. Unless the answer is: TO BE THERE TO SUPPORT THEIR WELLBEING, do not step in. Do not help someone for accolades or some sort of journey of self importance or to feed your ego. This isn't about you. You will likely get nothing more than the satisfaction of helping someone in a time of need out of this experience.

Check in with yourself to see what your own energy looks like. Do you have it to give to someone?
Check in with yourself to find your boundaries. Protect yourself and your energy. Know how to restore and nurture yourself after investing in someone who is deeply sad.


1. Do not expect them to ask for anything. They probably won't. If you care about them and you really want to help, find ways to step into a supportive role. If they resist or require solitude, you can still bring over some food and leave it on the doorstep, text them with "I'm thinking about you and wanted you to know I love you", find ways to still reach out without being intrusive. However, if you know that you're being pushed away for a specific reason (maybe they don't want to feel like they are a burden), be assertive in communicating that you really want to help and get involved.

2. Open a line of communication without judgement.  Likely, they are having some pretty intense and judgmental feelings about their current reality. They might need you to hold space for them to talk, babble, yell, cry, tell stories and confess things without interruption, distractions and judgement. Check your values at the door and practice active listening. Listen to hear them, not to form a response (try not to respond at all other than simple affirmations) or tell them a relevant anecdote or assign a value to their experience. Make eye contact with them when they talk. If there's a pause, just wait. If they are open to physical contact (just ask), this is a good time to hold their hand, or lay down to hold them in your arms as they get it out. Rub their feet, play with their hair, hug them lots, just connect. Turn your phone off, take your watch off, turn yourself away from windows where people are walking by. All of your attention should be channeled into listening and being present with your loved one. Your interaction with them should be compassionate and understanding, not condescending, trivializing or placating. Your job here isn't to heal them, be in a power position over them or have all the answers. Your job is listen and add comfort. Try these out:

"I hear you."
"That sounds really painful."
"Do you know why you feel that way?" sometimes breaking down the events that led to the feelings can help us figure out the root of our unhappiness.
"I'm here to just listen."
"Can you tell me all of the emotions you're feeling right now?"
"Would you like to tell me more about that feeling?"
"This is a safe space to tell me this"
"Would you like me to do something specific to support you?"
"How can I best support you?"

3. Suggest things. Depressed people aren't really into making lots of decisions. Their brains are jumbled with a thousand thoughts and feelings. It is absolute chaos. If you're going to spend time with them, ask them for their favorite activities/food/movie genres/music/etc is, but be prepared to take charge and make an executive decision.

4.  Remind them they aren't alone. Text them during the day and let them know you're thinking about them. Show up at their work with a cup of coffee and a muffin.  Call them. Send them a special letter or card in the mail. Actual snail mail. It only takes a couple of days and it's such a lift. Make time for them. Don't just make space for them, create opportunities to spend time with them, and plan it out. Give them the chance to say no, but do not offer them empty suggestions if you have no intention of following through.

5.  Offer your services.  Babysit, cook them dinner, clean their house, take their car to fill it up with gas and clean it, grocery shop, give them a massage, make them a bath, etc. It is so empowering to have someone step in when you feel so overwhelmed and lacking in self nurturing. Sometimes even just taking a shower when you feel depressed feels like a chore to think about but a sweet escape in the moment.

6.  Come with resources. Investigate free/affordable, close and convenient mental health resources that your love one can tap into. You might even suggest giving them a ride or accompanying them if it's a support group or they don't have transportation. We know we need help, but it can be exhausting to do all of the leg work and find something that fits. You can cut out some of that time for them by bringing a list of options for them to check into.

7. Bring your humor. Sometimes humor is the best medicine. Find ways to get them to play or laugh. A comedy club, a funny or goofy movie, roller skating, an amusement park, a funny song to play in the car, no pressure karaoke, watching cute cat videos, etc. are all creative ways to take their mind off of their stickiness and help them feel light and free for a few minutes.

8. Get moving with them.  Take them for hikes, bowling, working out (boxing is amazing for getting out aggression), biking, running, swimming, rock wall climbing, shopping, beach combing, hula hooping, dancing etc. Exercise is therapy for the body and the mind. 

9.  Change the scenery. Gas tank getaway. Spend the day in a different city or town, beach or mountain or metropolis. Or just start off with no destination. Let it be an adventure. Plan a beach bonfire with a group of trusted friends. Plan some kind of cathartic experience. Scream at the top of a waterfall. Light Chinese lanterns at midnight and send away the monsters. Find a field of dandelions and make a million wishes. Make a burn pile with painful memories written on pieces of paper and light them up.

10. Limit alcohol.  Alcohol is a depressant, and well, we don't need more of that. A glass of wine is one thing, a bottle to numb the feelings is different. Stay present with your loved one to make sure you aren't contributing to their demise. Be honest, too. If you're there to be a help, then be one. If you feel like they might be using alcohol or drugs or self harming, please inquire about that with them.  Let it come from a place of love, again, and not judgement.

The Advice on Helping Yourself 

1. Be open to receiving help.

2. Ask for help when you can.

3. Seize every moment of happiness and joy and acceptance and love that you can, even if it's just for a moment. It will feed your soul. Don't beat yourself if it doesn't last for more than a moment. The fact that you could feel it all can give you hope that you're aren't dead yet.

4. Write, 
Create something.

5.  We are all suffering on some level, and as alone as you think you are, you're not. Seek to see the validation in your feelings and the connection it gives you to others rather than the shame and isolation in them.

6. Listen to your inner voice. Write down what it's saying. Choose to focus on beliefs that make you feel strong, courageous and authentic. Decipher what is lies and what is your truth. Keep paying attention and present in your mind. Recognize the bullshit and recognize the truth. You'll figure it out eventually.

7. Sit in the sadness, let it take you on the journey that it needs to. Realize that you cannot feel happiness and joy and love without sorrow and loss and heartbreak. You can't have the yin without the yang. You are normal. This is normal. Don't resist it or feel shame about your state of mind. Life is hard.

8.  If your depression uncovers something deeper, take care of it. If you don't deal with past trauma, this sadness will become a routine cycle in your life. Learn how to deal with trauma triggers so that you don't have to go into a full on depressive spiral each time. Talk to a therapist.

9.  Make a list of people you love and whom love you. Describe why you love them, and how they make you feel. Dwell on that love and allow yourself to reach out to connect to them when you need to.

10. Put the shovel down. You are already deep enough in the hole without digging yourself in deeper by self sabotage behaviors. Find something in your world to cling to moderation for. Don't allow yourself to go off the rails completely. Do it for a child, a relative, your future self, a cat. A future cat. Yeah, your future cats need you to make reasonable decisions with your life right now. Monitor your numbing activities and allow yourself to FEEL the FEELS. For your future cats.  No way around it, gotta go right through it, baby.