Saying Goodbye, Part 4: Difference in Perspective

Rorschach_blot_01

Rorschach blot

Monday came with no improvement and my father was taken to the Emergency Room via ambulance. It was a rush of fear that went through me as I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

By this time my father’s condition was pretty bad. He was mostly unresponsive with eyes closed and mouth open. His cough was due to aspirating pneumonia, but after being suctioned at the E.R., the gurgling was mostly gone. The hours were long and cold as we waited, hoping to get some news on what was happening and what could be done.

This is when things really began to get surreal.

The doctors came to us with dire news. “Send him home for comfort care, so he can pass in peace” was the suggested action, although there was “no pressure” in making our decision to treat or not. This decision was not easy to make as the attending physician said that he couldn’t determine what was wrong based on my father’s symptoms, lab work, and scans. You read right, “We don’t know what’s gong on, so send him home to die” was what we heard.

We decided to treat as our belief was that my father was able to get stable with the right care. They gave him IV fluids and antibiotic. Slowly my father began to regain some responsiveness. He began to move a little, folding his hands across his sternum, and touching his mustache in his familiar way.

I stayed with him throughout the night, until he was admitted into a room the next morning.

For the next two days my father’s condition improved. He talked more, recognized people, made requests, and asked questions. His personality began to show again, and his vitals began to improve. He still wasn’t strong enough to get out of bed, or sit up for long on his own, but once again, we were hopeful that things would continue to improve for him.

The only thing that wasn’t improving was his inability to swallow. He didn’t pass a swallow test, but the speech therapist said she would try another test when his strength improved.

Up to this point, the attending physicians inquired on our decision to keep treating or begin comfort care. In the spirit of informed decisions, we decided to meet with the palliative doctor to better understand what this option meant.

The information she provided was grim. Worst case scenario seemed to be all she could give us. Which makes sense since that is her job. But we weren’t ready for death yet. Not with my father’s condition improving by the hour.

Options to treat were also reviewed with the palliative and attending physicians. The treatment options were more invasive, as they included feeding tubes and dialysis.  Then there was the issue of dementia.

Even with my father’s improvement, and even with invasive treatments, my father’s dementia would still be present and progressing. The degree to which he could improve with treatment was unknown, but what was known was that dementia wasn’t going anywhere and would only get worse.

Although there was no rush, we felt pressured. It was an implied pressure in the urgent tone used by nurses and doctor. “He is not going to improve, he will only get worse, let him go” was what I felt.

I became angry and frustrated at the lack of possibility in the hospital staff. They were treating my father as if he came in with a toe tag and death certificate and had no idea of what he was like weeks before being admitted. They met an 84 year old man with a dementia diagnosis, and saw a dead man. I saw my father who was strong and a fighter, and this discrepancy between myself and the doctors felt powerless and infuriating. The doctors would say I was in denial.

 

You are More Than Your Experiences, Feelings, and Thoughts

truth

It took approximately 41 years for me to understand that I am not my experiences, my feelings, or my thoughts.

Up until then, I truly believed that my experiences revealed to me, and everyone around me, the essence of who I was. Failed endeavors proved that I was a failure. Broken relationship proved that I was unlovable. Poor decisions proved that I was incompetent.

This belief system primed me for believing that everything I thought and felt was also a description of me. “I’m a loser”, “I suck at __________”, “I will never be able to ___________”. Everything was a muddled mess of negative thoughts and perceptions about seemingly negative experiences. The process of pulling them apart was gradual, painful, and untimely liberating.

Psychologically speaking, I was living from a place of Cognitive Distortion aka Unhealthy Thinking Patterns. There are several common Cognitive Distortions, that most people use. For example: “Blaming” others (“You hurt my feelings”), and thinking in “Shoulds” (I really should go to the gym”) are super common, however, living from these places in a chronic way that impairs your happiness and/or relationships, is sign that you may need support in breaking out of these thinking patterns (see above).

Other common Cognitive Distortions are:

Filtering
Seeing only the negative and can include magnifying the negative.

“Black and White” Thinking
Seeing thing as either/or, for example: good or bad, worthy or not worthy, fair or unfair.

Overgeneralization
Making a general conclusion based on a single piece of evidence.

Jumping to Conclusions
Assuming we know what someone is thinking, or going to do. Assuming we know hat is going to happen. Usually doing so based on past experience or from a place of fear.

Personalization
Believing that what others do or say is a reaction to them. For example: A friend is in a bad mood and you think it has something to do with you. Personalization can also be compare ourselves to others trying to determine self worth.

Emotional Reasoning
Believing what we feel must be true. “I feel stupid, so I must be stupid.”

Being able to identify what kind of Cognitive Distortion you are having is the first step in changing the habit. How can you change what you can’t even name, right? Knowing that my funky thinking actually had a name helped me understand that it was a common enough pattern to be categorized and written about. In other words, it wasn’t just me.

Simply challenging these Cognitive Distortions was’t enough for me thought. I had to dig deep, and do a lot of emotional healing through re-parenting. Although I still have these thoughts from time to time (as I said, most people do), they are no longer behind the wheel, driving my life into a pit every change it could get.

For more more examples of Cognitive Distortions: visit: http://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

If you are finding that these thinking styles are negatively impacting your life. I highly encourage you to hire a counselor, or purchase any workbook for depression, self-esteem, or anxiety, or do an online search for: “challenging cognitive distortions” to yield several resources. One I really find helpful is: http://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-challenging-cognitive-distortions/

Shame Relapse

images

It’s safe to say that most of my life has been lived from a pessimistic viewpoint.  Glass half-full was my default and Murphy’s Law governed my outlook. I strongly believed that optimistic people were living in a fantasy world and sorely needing a swift kick in the ass from reality. My ever increasing depression and anxiety further supported these ways of thinking. After going through a significant amount of emotional healing, I found myself slowly growing out of my pessimism. My growing belief in possibility and increased sense of trust are traits I could never have imaged having. From time to time I am surprised at how optimism has grown on me, or, how I have grown into it.

Then came last weekend.

I received a huge reminder that emotional healing and being optimistic does not mean that life suddenly ceases to have it’s pains and discomforts. Nor does it mean that depression and anxiety never come ‘round for a visit. Although I have experienced this at relatively mild and manageable levels, last weekend truly threw me into a pit I haven’t sat in for quite some time.

I was over-my-head deep in what Brené Brown calls a shame (shit) storm. Early Sunday morning, someone offered to fix a dent in my car. It was very unexpected and I suddenly found myself paralyzed with uncertainly and the inability to say “no”. I didn’t feel a big bad “NO!” but I felt icky in my stomach. There were three men, and the main guy talked fast and didn’t fully hear what I was saying. I was worried about being mean to these strange men who were offering to do something “nice”. I was simultaneously scared of how they would react if I said “no”. When all was said and done, the “work” they did resulted in my car being worse off than when they touched it. I was mortified.

For the rest of the day I oscillated between absolute shame and self-punishment, to acceptance and letting go. In my deepest shame I berated myself for being a stupid idiot who deserved what happened and can’t be trusted with her own life. I was dumb, a sucker, a jackass, and much much worse. These thoughts seeped into other parts of my life where I doubted my ability to do my job and feared I had lost everything I worked so hard for. I was certain I fucked up my whole life – again!

Then a slight wave of my optimism would glide through. Like a wisp of smoke I could hear and feel “You’re okay now, this will pass”. Then I’d plunge into complete self-hate again.

I reached out to a safe friend, and as we talked I wept like I haven’t wept in a few years. It was scary to cry at this depth. I feared for my life, and my emotional health.  I thought this was the beginning of the end, and here is where my emotional and physical life would unravel.

After processing it with my friend that day, and further processing this with my therapist today, I came to find enough ground to feel like myself again. My therapist gave me a reality check that con artists are good at what they do and that many intelligent people get scammed. Although I hate having been scammed, the reality is, what she said is true. Their use of fast talk and positive demeanor are weapons they are skilled at using to manipulate others.

I also learned that my childhood experiences of being silenced when scared and uncertain were repeated that Sunday morning. My mother often reacted to my fears and uncertainty as: inconvenient, embarrassing, a sign of weakness, a sign of stupidity, and intolerable. When scared or uncertain, she would abandon me emotionally by either ignoring me, yelling at me, or hitting me. I understand now that she was too emotionally fragile herself to handle my emotional needs. But as a kid, I learned to believe that being scared and uncertain was a personal flaw that yielded punishment.

Last Sunday my inner kid was uncertain, and wanted more time to think about the situation. Instead of stepping up like an adult to handle the situation, I did to myself what my mother often did to me when I was scared and/or uncertain. I abandoned her and left her there to deal with grown up stuff. How could she possibly be skilled enough to deal with three grown con-men?

In my counseling session, I made amends to my little girl and acknowledged her wisdom in needing things slowed down when I’m uncertain about making decisions. I told her that I can listen to her needs, because she knows my needs best.

I also came to realize that I really need my inner bitch in my life more. In an earlier post I wrote about understanding how she helps me make time for myself. My bitch is my protector who is loving, strong, and bold.She is the mother bear I never had and the mother bear to my little girl.  In making an agreement between my little girl, protector (bitch), and myself, to show up, listen, and take action, I am re-parenting myself and continuing to heal old dysfunctional family patterns.

Does this mean I will never be scammed again, or be taken advantage of? Probably not. Con artists are good at what they do, and continue to become more sophisticated in their skills. What will be different is I will be more integrated, more attuned to myself, and more loving and forgiving of myself. I will also continue to reach out to safe people because i can;t do this alone.

Although I would not want to repeat the depths of the darkness I was in this weekend, I realize that my friend was right about this unfortunate event being an opportunity to heal a deep core belief that no longer serves me. I have certainly paid more for “transformational workshops” that yielded less results, so I suppose it all works out.

After some more ground settled under me today, I posted this on my Facebook page as a reminder of the importance of listening to that little girl who knows so much more than I gave her credit for.

I cannot say it enough. How you treat kids is how they will treat themselves in adulthood. Not just the nice parts, but the not very nice parts too. ALL OF IT!!!

In our childhood, we hold the clearest awareness of our needs. Because we ARE children, we don’t have the adult capacity to communicate these needs in a way adults always understand. All too often, adults criticize and/or shut down kids when they are trying (in their kid ways) to communicate their needs. Kids often hear: “You’re crazy!”, “What’s wrong with you?!?”, “What do you want?!”, “Stop bothering me!”, “That’s dumb/stupid!”, “You’re not scared/angry/sad/etc.!”. Get the picture?

Over time, with these words hurled at us along the way, we learn to doubt our needs, and our intuition becomes muffled. As adults, we try to do what’s “right” instead of what we need. We criticize ourselves for even having needs! We may even judge others for having needs. To twist it even further, we judge ourselves harshly when we fuck up, because we didn’t listen to our intuition or attend to what we needed. How could we when the adults who raised us taught us that our intuition was: crazy, wrong, inconvenient, a problem, embarrassing, etc.

I know I’m not just talking about myself here. Right?

Yeah, so, listen to that kid inside you. They have wisdom you have long forgotten. Stop trying to be so grown up, and let’s grow in. Grow into ourselves, and into our lives.

Growing Edges and Traps

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZAX1Yi

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZAX1Yi

Over the last few weeks, I have been sitting with and working through a growing edge about my subconscious set-up where, no mater what I do, I always end up wrong. At first, I knew it’s was a growing edge because I didn’t have the words to describe what I was facing. I get fleeting clarity, but as quick as it arrives, it dissipates. In short, I get confused about what I’m trying to process.

Having gone through this before, I know enough to just be aware of it, be with it, and let it unfold in it’s own time. I also know that it is a rooted and core issue, so I have some ego resistance to seeing it. My ego survival depends on the construct I am trying to work with, so I have a very subconscious resistance that blows confusion into my brain when I try to look at it.

As the days passed, I sat with the slight understanding of my confusion. I kept my feelers out for experiences that might make things clearer. Last week, I was at work and sat on the arm of the couch looking at my books on the shelf. My eyes set on the book “There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate“, by Cheri Huber. Now, I bought this book in 2010 but never read it. For whatever reason, on this day in 2015, it just felt right to thumb through it. As I did, I stumbled on something that shook me and brought more clarity to this growing edge I’m on.

“We learned behaviors when we were very young in order to survive. We were taught to hate those behaviors and to see them as signs of our badness. Yet we must keep doing them because they still mean survival to us. And we hate ourselves for doing them.”
The Trap:
I believe I must be this way to survive.
I hate myself for being this way.
Result:
self hate = survival
survival = self-hate

I brought this reading to my counseling session today, and found myself in tears as I read it out loud. I began to feel more clarity in just how scared I was to step into this new awareness. The awareness that, when I want something more, something that matches my deepest needs, I feel like an ungrateful spoiled brat.

As a kid, all my material needs were met, but I recall having  a deep longing for emotional connection, being seen, accepted, and understood. I learned that what I wanted was too much, and I was ungrateful for all the things my parents worked and sacrificed for. Of course, as a child I did not have the words for this, so I learned to stuff these needs and feel bad that I even wanted them.

Now, as a grown woman, when I experience this need for emotional connection, being seen, accepted, and/or understood, I immediately make myself wrong, even though a part of me knows I deserve what I want. This fires up especially bright when what I have is good on the surface, but lacks a deeper need. Then I make myself wrong for not wanting to settle for the good that I do have.

This is my growing edge, and it feels like all the healing that has come before this has been leading me to this moment. At this moment, I want and need more, specifically emotional connection, emotional safety, and being understood. I also feel like a ungrateful spoiled brat for wanting this.

As I left my counseling session, feeling lighter having unpacked some deep family shit, I was reminded that I need not do anything right now. I simply need to be present with this duality of wanting more, then feeling like shit because i want more, and look it in the face. At least now, I can see it more clearly.

Free Enneagram Teleseminar Series

I’d like to pass on to you, some information on a free enneagram teleseminar series starting this Monday, March 9. It will be hosted by Ben Saltzman, who also facilitated the Rise Up Break Through – Blast Off 2015 event I attended last month, and mentioned in recent posts. In this teleseminar series, Ben will be exploring the nine enneagram types and their blocks to a fuller, more positive life.

If you’ve read my most recent posts, you already know how much positive impact comes with learning about your enneagram type. I have learned, on a deeper level, how my type has contributed to holding myself back in life and relationships by perpetuating negative patterns specific to my type. Luckily, I have also learned what gifts my type has, and how to step into them more fully. The result? I have less fear in pursuing my goals, clearer visions of what I truly want for my life, a more positive outlook, work on a deeper level with counseling clients, and have a more connected, loving relationship with myself. If you’ve read any of my posts, you know what an immense healing journey it has been these last few years. Learning about the enneagram, and my type has played a significant role in my healing journey.

This is why I am excited for you to have this opportunity to join in on this free enneagram teleseminar series. Although the information itself valuable, you will also be learning from Ben Saltzman, an amazing facilitator who will hold a fun and safe space throughout the journey. He blends heart and soul to his thorough knowledge of the enneagram, resulting in a truly unique experience.

Wether you are looking to deepen yourself-awareness or take your career to the next level, I HIGHLY recommend registering for this event. If you are a coach, counselor, or intuitive and would like to work with clients on a deeper level, then I ESPECIALLY recommend that join in on the event. For all my fellow ACA folks, this is a great opportunity to learn how to re-parent in a deep deep way.

For more information, and to register, go to: http://myaccount.maestroconference.com/conference/register/8CNRA3DNIEQ2H850

Day 2: Integrating the Outsider

outsider meme

The Enneagram is a symbol which describes nine personality types and the interrelationships between them. Although we have aspects of all nine types, there is typically one type which primarily drives us. After doing some research a few years ago, I found out I was a four on the Enneagram.

At first, I was disappointed to learn I was a four. The doom and gloom mentality felt so boring compared to the charismatic seven, or tough eight. However, the more I read about fours, the more seen, validated, and (gasp) “normal” I felt.

Like all the types, fours have many high and low aspects to them. Overall, having the awareness of this has helped me understand where I keep getting “stuck”, and how to utilize my strengths to get out of certain ruts. Recently I explored the fours tendency to feel like an outsider. Oh my, but not just any outsider, that would be boring. Fours tend to feel like a deeply flawed and inherently broken outsider, forever on the outside looking in.

According to The Enneagram Institute, “They feel like outsiders, somehow flawed and different from others, unable to break through the barrier of self-consciousness that separates them from easy commerce with the world.” In my own life, I was familiar with the experience of never fitting in completely.

The “Rise Up Break Through – Blast Off 2015” workshop, developed and facilitated by Ben Saltzman, addressed the Enneagram types in depth. Listening to other people’s experiences (especially other fours), was so healing. I listened to others describing the challenges and benefits of their type. As I heard them, I began to make connections between the collective experience of “that which we do not allow”. That which we do not allow in ourselves and that we do not allow others to see in us.

I began to understanding that, at many points in our lives, we feel like we don’t belong in one way or another. Some of us bend to blend in. Some of us completely disconnect from our authenticity in order to belong. At times I do both or stand in myself and feel separation and disconnection from others. When I do this I end up believing I am unique in not fitting in and miss the truth that we all have this experience of not fitting in (we just experience it differently) .

For example: For years I struggled with feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. When I would connect with communities there was always some part of me that just didn’t seem to feel welcome. Even though I enjoyed the community (let’s say, an activist group), I would leave feeling like some parts of me couldn’t show up (for example, my spiritual self). The result was never fully feeling like I had authentic connections, and feeling lonely despite spending time with others. I felt and believed that, because I had this experience and felt this way, there was something wrong with me.

Truth is, those parts that don’t fit in can add to the community, and shine a light on things that may not be in integrity. If the community won’t allow these seemingly “ill-fitting” parts of me, then it is probably not the right community for me.

Hearing other’s experiences of how they feel they don’t “fit in”, helped me to understand that most people have some parts that they don’t show in certain communities. I also understand that some people do bring those mis-matched parts, and it often adds a depth to the group, points out an unhealthy pattern, or an area that needs attention.

I now also understood that my self-worth is not determined by other’s ability to accept all parts of me. That’s a tall order! Who can possibly do that all the time? The only person that can do that is myself. Now, when I go into my communities and groups, I know that my outcast gets to chose if and how they want to show up.

If you would like to know about upcoming transformational opportunities, check out Ben Saltzman‘s  website for information about his trainings and seminars.

Day 1: “Broken and Inadequate” Explored

Broken meme

There are parts of us that we have disowned and rejected. Greedy, selfish, wealthy, poor, beautiful. The list goes on and on of shadow parts that we do not want to associate with, and absolutely do not want others to see in us. When we reject these shadow parts of ourselves, what ever they may be, they hold us back, and commonly sabotage us.

There are also the parts of ourselves that are rejected that, at first glance, we may not identify as “rejected”, yet they hold us back all the same. When our “Rise Up Break Through – Blast Off 2015” facilitator Ben Saltzman asked us to identify a part of us that is rejected and holds the self back, I had a hard time finding it. I asked myself, “what belief about myself holds me back?” The answer came quickly: “The belief that I am broken and inadequate.

Even though the answer came quickly, I was still confused. How can “broken and inadequate” be rejected if I knowingly stand in that belief when I begin new endeavors? If I am planning a project, I am immediately flooded with thoughts of “You’re not good enough”, “Who do you think you are?” and “You have no idea what you are doing”. This belief sounds pretty owned to me.

As we went through the Shadow/Light Integration process, my brain kept twisting and turning, trying to get how “broken and inadequate” was rejected. After a few prompts, it hit me. The fact that I hate this part of me, makes it a rejected part of me.

Once that connection was made I could follow into the exploration and integration process of “broken and inadequate”.

What I found out was that “broken and inadequate” is a very young part (as many parts are). My process was quite complex, so to keep it simple, I’ll sum up a portion of it in a Q & A format.

Q: What was the original intent of “broken and inadequate”?

A; “Broken and inadequate’s” purpose and original intent was to care for me. Keep me safe by not letting me get in over my head. It told me to get ready, get prepared and collect more information before taking action, It helped keep the process slow, steady, and digestible.

Q: How did “broken and inadequate”get disowned (how was it “born”)?

A: When I showed up as confident I was yelled at and told I was selfish, taking up too much space, and drawing too much attention to myself. I was was being selfish and conceited. Then when I showed up “broken and inadequate” I was criticized for not being confident.

Q: How does “broken and inadequate” show up when it is disowned/rejected?

A: It collects information. Can get obsessed about collecting information in order to feel “enough”. Collects knowledge and creates a hindrance by learning a lot but not acting on the knowledge. I play small and don’t get to share what I have to offer to others. I settle.

Q: How will “broken and inadequate” show up once it is accepted and owned?

A: “Broken and Inadequate” creates safe spaces by connecting to other’s vulnerability. It can also  give big “action” jobs to the part that is “whole and competent”. I can access “Broken and inadequate” to connect with people’s inadequate parts and help them be seen and heal. “Broken and inadequate.” gets to declare possibility, creativity, and love in order to create healing spaces. It can begin began and follow through with projects that create healing spaces with the hep of “whole and competent”. Obstacles become opportunities. When “broken and inadequate” is integrated it can be bold, and big, and create, and tap into love and compassion when needed.

“Broken and Inadequate” says:

I get to hold that space for them.

I get to hold that space they don’t get in the “real” world.

I get to tell and show the self where healing is needed.

I get to show her what needs attention.

Like the wound that is red and sore, I show where the healing is needed and where healing is taking place.

This is only a small part of the Shadow/Light Integration process. It’s an experience one must go through to get the transformation of a disowned part to an integrated part. I share this experience as a glimpse of my own healing and growth process. Check out Ben Saltzman‘s  website for opportunities on this and other types of transformational experiences.

“Get Over it Already!”

In the first half of 2010, I was in the depths of my depression and anxiety. I was on a leave of absence from work, having consistent suicidal thoughts, inert, had no appetite, and prone to fits of spontaneous crying. I was receiving counseling, medication management, going for daily walks, receiving care from a naturopathic doctor, and attending my mediation sangha.

I was doing what I could, and yet, found myself unable to get out of bed or living room couch. Some days were slightly better than others, yet I couldn’t shake the persistent negative thoughts, suicidal callings, and paralyzing panic.

It was during this time that my father came to visit me for 2 weeks. He was worried about me and, I suppose, wanted to check-in and/or keep me company. I welcomed the visit, yet was not sure how it could bump me out of my depressive state.

He came with me as I drove to my counseling and psychiatrist appointments. We went out to lunch and went for daily walks. It was nice having company, but it didn’t shake my lack of energy or appetite. If anything, it make it worse.

For most of my father’s visit I was thrown across the bed unable to sleep, move, or talk. On one occasion he said “Talk to me!” and when I expressed the suicidal thoughts and feelings I was having, he yelled at me for having them. He made the critical remarks of “I have no idea why you are still fat if you don’t eat”, and “I came here to spend time with you, and all you do is sleep.”

After one particular argument, my father became frustrated and left a week early.

As you can see, my father does not have a bedside manner. He never has. He is revolted at the mere glimpse of weakness. So when he saw the reality of my depression, he had absolutely no idea how to handle it. In a moment of absolution, he sat in the car ready to leave, with eyes cast down he said, “I’m sorry I yelled. I just don’t know what to do. I love you.”

The memory of this came to me this morning, as a reminder that, trying to “get over” something with force is not always a good idea. My father is a “get over it” kind of person, and when he imposed this on  me, my condition worsened.

I have heard people say to other depressed people, that they need to “get out, go do something, stop thinking about it” and so on. Although this is somewhat true, forcing one to do so at a dramatically different pace can sometimes be a set up for depression to worsen.

Depression calls us to listen to ourselves. Depression will be call out to us by any means necessary. When we don’t listen by pushing it away or ignoring (denying) it, depression will raise it’s voice and demand our attention. Yes, we must challenge ourselves when depression is here, but the challenge looks far different from what a non-depressives is familiar with.

When depression arrives, we must ask what it’ is trying to tell us and listen with compassion. We challenge ourselves in a manner that is so slow and gradual and we accept when inert will not budge.

Imagine your depression as a fussy newborn cradled in your arms. Forcing the newborn to do something it doesn’t want will only make the them fussier. Yet, if you slow down internally, pay close attention to the newborn’s cues as you try different soothing actions (feeding, swaddling, etc.), you may find what the newborn needs in that moment. Sometimes everything we try doesn’t work, and we simply hold the newborn, and accept the moment as it is.

It’s the slowing down and listening to your depression that can help you to find what self-care you need to take action on. ACA talks about reparenting, and this is one way we can re-parenting ourselves.

Retracing Steps to Emotional Recovery

cowgirl

I saw this quote today and it stirred in me so much gratitude for my emotional recovery. Although there is more work ahead of me (it never really ends), I am so much healthier emotionally now than I was 4 years ago.

In 2010, I was deep in my depression, living alone, on a leave of absence from work, dropped out of my grad school program, and constantly fighting suicidal thoughts. I found it hard to get out of bed, much less go outside. I would get occasional anxiety attacks, which really paralyzed me, leaving me to lay on the couch for hours. It was painful to lay there, and painful to get up. My body felt like lead. Had I read this quote then, I probably would have responded with a giant “Fuck You! I CAN’T get up! I’m TRYING!”

When I read this quote today, I thought of that version of me 4 years ago. How did she grow to eventually live this message?

If I could re-trace my steps what I would find are the following.

  1. Compassion for the self. It’s okay to be where you are right now. You are not a failure for experiencing depression and anxiety. They are trying to teach you something and require your attention. Compassion is a great way to listen.
  2. Forgiveness of the self. Forgive yourself for pushing yourself so hard to be “normal”. Forgive yourself for past decisions. You were trying to go at life alone. Here’s your opportunity to do things differently with more consciousness and compassion.
  3. Start small. If “getting up” and going out in society is too hard, start small. If sitting up in bed is all you can do, then do that. You have permission to know that seemingly small actions are actually huge feats when it comes to depression.
  4. Challenge your comfort zone daily. Again, go small. Check-in with yourself and see how much more you can do from your comfort zone. Can you get out of bed? Can you walk into another room? Eat? Shower? Brush your teeth?  No matter how small the next step, acknowledge your accomplishment. The goal is to stretch out of your comfort zone little by little.
  5. Ask yourself “What do I need right now?” This is another way to do #4. Sometimes what we need is very small, like sitting up or a drink of water. Get still and check-in with yourself when asking this question, and make sure your answer is some thing you can do for you (not what others can do for you). However an exception is if what you need is to ask for something from a positive support person, AND you are certain that they will respond in a positive healthy manner. For example, “I need to ask my therapist if I can see her twice a week”.
  6. Acknowledge your actions, no matter how small, and see them for what they are; acts of love and hope for yourself. Acknowledge what you’ve done and do not compare yourself to others. You are doing your best in every moment on your healing journey.
  7. On days where it is just impossible to do any small act, be kind to yourself. Let yourself cry and trust you will make an effort later. Ride out the intensity and check-in on your ability to do a small action when things feel calmer. As long as you are alive there is opportunity to do a little more for yourself on your behalf.

Living in the world of depression and anxiety is unlike living in mainstream society. Actions are slowed down, and seemingly small actions are huge. For those who are not living in depression or anxiety, it is hard to comprehend why small tasks are so hard. However this is your emotional recovery, not theirs.

Those who do not speak the language of psychic pain cannot understand what you are saying. As painful as it feels, it’s okay. Others do speak this language and understand you. These small actions are your foundation in connecting to those who speak the language of psychic pain such as: counselors, therapists, spiritual communities, support groups, etc.

I owe a lot of my recovery to doing things I didn’t want to do or didn’t believe I could do. Yes, depression is disabling, and I had to force myself, step by step, to (literally) get up. I had to tap into that small place inside me that loved me enough to go against my comfort zone.

I also owe a lot to my counselors, support groups, and spiritual communities. Being consistent in connecting with them was not always easy, however acknowledging the small steps of my daily life helped build a muscle in me that would push me to connect with my support systems even when I felt tired, distraught, and fatigued. I eventually exercised again, went back to work, and back to grad school. It was hard work but I never would have imagined then, that I would eventually live this quote.

Curiosity May Have Killed the Cat…

…but Curiosity saved my life.

Not too long ago, I asked my boyfriend a question. He responded with an eye roll and agitation that implied “That’s a stupid question.” I immediately felt a heavy and dull pressure in my heart. My brain went fuzzy and I felt dizzy. This scenario is nothing new.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone eye-rolls something I’ve said with the implication that my question is stupid. And yes, it is possible to eye-roll verbally.

So when this incident happened, and I began to feel that familiar dull pressure, I thankfully had enough energy to sit with my inner kid/self. I began to dialogue with her and checked-in with what she was feeling and what she wanted. It felt like a long slow process. I was really uncomfortable and had to consciously breathe a lot whenever that dull and heavy pressure emerged again. It was tempting to stop, but I realized that I could either dialogue with myself, or talk to my boyfriend about what just happened, knowing full well that it could lead to an argument. So I chose to stay present, compassionate, and patient with the hurt part of myself.

Through this dialogue, I asked my hurt child self: “Why did his reaction hurt you?”

Her reply: “Because I just asked a question. I am a curious! I like asking questions!”

“You are curious! I love that about you! So, what do you want?”

“I want to be able to say things without being yelled at.”

“Ah! Well you know what? You’ll have that. You’ll have that with me. And when you don’t get that from others, I’ll be here for you.”

As soon as I said those words, it was like she beamed with happiness. “Really?” she said, with a “I get to have that?!?” sound to her voice. She was so happy. What was a bonus, was that instantly, the heavy and dull pressure on my heart lifted. I thanked her for her words and honesty.

When I opened my eyes  and came back into the present, I felt lighter. My boyfriend’s reactions no longer mattered and I could move on in the knowing that my curiosity was valid and needed no justification from or to anyone.

After processing this with my therapist and sponsor, I realized that my curiosity was an aspect of me that I lost connection with a long time ago. I lost it when I was a young adult trying to survive in the world. For me, trying to survive meant that I needed to walk a rigid path towards stability and predictability. This required that I take as few risks as possible. There was no room for curiosity.

Whelp, flash forward to my late 30’s and that rigid path led to a breakdown (that’s what happens with rigid things, they break). Through my healing journey I learned that when I surrender my control, I open up to possibilities that I couldn’t see because of my clinging to rigidity.

Surrendering and understanding that I don’t have the answers was a major task. It required a willingness to try. This willingness to try required being curious. So, I began the journey of walking an unpaved landscape full of endless possibilities with a “let’s see” attitude. Some things were great, other not so much. Along the way I learned what a Higher Power meant for me, and my faith and trust began to grow. Had I not been willing to be curious, things would have been much harder.

Even now, if  am really stressed, my perception narrows and I begin to believe that I can control the situation and make it better. What’s different is that I am not consumed by these moments. The intensity has lessened, and more often than not, I remember to surrender. I practice self-care, reach out for support, and re-connect with my Higher Power.

So I understand why my boyfriend gets frustrated when I ask seemingly stupid questions. If you haven’t surrendered the illusion of control, then curiosity is scary and threatening, especially in times of stress. I want to be clear that I’m not saying that it’s okay for him to be dismissive of me. What I am saying is that I have taken the focus off of him, and brought it back to me. In doing this I am able to get clear on what I need, and can approach him from a grounded place in myself.

Re-connecting with my curiosity has felt blissful and loving, as if seeing an old friend for the first time in decades. My curiosity feels integrated and I am beginning to understand that once you integrate a part of yourself, you are less likely to compromise it.

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