The conclusion of my Mental Illness Awareness Series is centered around thoughts and lessons I have learned in the time since the previously shared manuscript was written, which was two years ago. I wanted to touch on some feelings regarding my mental illness, my continued struggle with needing medication, the added benefits I’ve enjoyed from a changed diet and exercise, and the importance of finding the right therapist. Continue reading
Today I am sharing part two of my Mental Illness Awareness Series, which is the continuation of my journey with mental illness. Background information can be found in my previous post from this series. The short story is that the following is taken from my portion of an unpublished manuscript that was designed to bring increased understanding of mental illness. Continue reading
Okay, so I have sat staring at a blank screen long enough. It’s time to Just Begin. I have a lot of thoughts running through my head and I’m struggling to get them from head to print. It’s an issue that’s been plaguing me for some time. It got particularly bad right after my surgery this past November. My guess is that the anesthesia had a role in the brain fog. But then I got to thinking about how there has been a piece of me missing ever since I had my Stroke of Luck. It’s nothing drastic, but there has been a barrier that I have felt when trying to have thoughts at a deeper level. I’m sure there is a word for it, but, ironically, I wouldn’t be able come up with it anyway. This realization was a secondary reason for me taking a bit of a hiatus on the blog. I stopped liking what I was putting out, because I wasn’t able to transfer my thought process into sufficient words. Honestly, I still feel at odds with my writing, but I also feel that itch I get when writing is the only outlet that can scratch it. So, here I am.
Topics that have been on my mind include: the shame I feel having a mental illness that requires prescription medication, the paradox of motherhood, life on survival mode, humbling myself, making sure I’m making the most out of this time in my life, and my struggle with distorted thinking. Seeing as how the latter is the easiest matter for me to express, let’s start there.
When I started this blog, at the encouragement of a friend, I was telling her how I wanted to talk about all the things I learned in therapy about my distorted thinking. She kept saying that the term wasn’t clear enough and therefore needed some tweaking. So, let me start by sharing what I believe to be the best analogy for distorted thinking. Imagine you have a kaleidoscope with loads of pretty gems in it. If you took the kaleidoscope outside on a beautiful day and looked at flowers, it would distort the natural beauty of the flowers. It would still have its own beauty, since the kaleidoscope was filled with pretty gems, but it’s distorted nonetheless. Now imagine you have a kaleidoscope with coal and dirt in place of gems. How do you envision those flowers looking as you gaze through the kaleidoscope of filth? Now imagine your thought process was continually looking through that same dirt-filled kaleidoscope. That is what my thought process did, for years, with several aspects of my life. I still catch myself battling it, but I was taught methods, in therapy, to recognize and squelch that way of thinking when it resurfaces.
Some people think that therapy is a place they go to for a quick fix or, worse, a place where they can figure out who to blame from their childhood for their distorted thinking or lot in life. I’m not saying that our childhoods don’t have an impact on our lives and who we become, they most certainly do. However, I find that successful therapy is achieved upon acknowledging things that have happened, moving past them, and working, truly working, on the here and now of the problem. Even if there was a source from my childhood for my acquired distorted thought process, what good would have come from placing blame? For me, the solution came in getting to the root of the problem and allowing myself to grow, not hunting down the planter and yelling at them for not planting me in optimal sunlight. I use the term “planter” loosely, not as an analogy for a parent or any one person, but as a source beyond my control. The healthiest way to make emotional progress is to be accountable for your actions, and realize there is no quick fix.
At the time when I was sincerely ready to attend therapy, I had to address the fact that some of what I felt jaded about was not really even happening. For instance, in my mind, any compliment given to me was only out of obligation or a form of manipulation. Somehow I couldn’t take a compliment as a sincere gesture of someone’s amiable feelings towards me. How could I feel good about myself when I wouldn’t even accept that there was good in me? The flip side to this is when, someone really did think less of me, and I automatically took their thoughts as truth. My worth is not dependent on another’s set of ideals, and yet somehow I still struggle to think of it as such. It’s this way of distorted thinking that has left me feeling shame for my mental illness and my use of medications for proper treatment. However, that topic is for a whole other day.
For today, I think the message I want to send out into the world is simply to become aware of distorted thoughts that you may be having, perhaps unknowingly, and try to debunk them so that they do not consume you. Also, don’t let your worth be dependent on another’s set of ideals. And, lastly, progress can be made, but First You Must Begin. This post would not have come to pass, if I hadn’t simply begun and let my thoughts land where they may.
**As a footnote, I’d like to add my advice when it comes to attending therapy. Please don’t assume that if you went once and it was horrible that it will always be that way. I have sat down in front of six separate psychologists, starting as early as 11-years-old, and only ONE proved fruitful in my healing process. Three of those six were so terrible that I couldn’t even bear to go back and sit through that kind of misery a second time. I am a huge advocate of therapy, and I believe each of us can benefit from seeing a psychologist. It is not a sign of weakness, mental illness, nor anything of the like. It is a sign of someone desiring to be a better version of themselves. Don’t be discouraged if you have had bad experiences in therapy. We meet loads of people in our lives, some become friends, some don’t. Similarly we are able to connect with people in their chosen professions and within the services they provide. Recently, I had a dreadful session with a therapist, but I will not let that experience keep me from finding the right fit. While I was previously given several tools to help me with my distorted thinking, I know that I stand in need of a refresher course. Too bad that ONE psychologist that provided me with those saving tools resides in Southern California. WAAAHHHH!!!!**
As it states in my About Me section, “I receive daily opportunities to debunk my irrational thoughts and live to the measure of my full potential.” This past Sunday was one of those days, when I noticed a trait in a friend that I wanted to work on in my life. She is a woman I know through church. Joy is written in her countenance and it’s amplified through her energetic smile and engaging eyes. When speaking with her, it’s clear I have her full attention. Not only do I have her full attention, but she appears genuinely interested in what I have to say. Even more than that, she showers me in compliments when it seems there is nothing compliment-able about me. In short, she makes me feel like I’m the coolest person in the world every single time I talk to her. I admit, it’s pretty good on the ego. Here’s the catch though, if I were to ask someone else if this friend left them feeling uniquely wonderful as well, they would all answer yes. So, does this mean that she is not sincere? The sincerity of such a friend, has always left me in question. If someone makes everyone feel like they’re the coolest person ever, who really is the coolest person ever? I think I finally found the answer to my internal debate this past Sunday, when I came home from church feeling uniquely wonderful.
Before I share my answer, I think it’s important to give some background information so that you know that I truly have struggled with this for years. It all started with my Grandpa. Every time that I arrived in my grandparents’ home, I would give both my Nana and Grandpa a hug. And every time I hugged my Grandpa, I would ask him how he was. And every time I asked him, he would always respond, “I’m better now.” Every time. I immediately felt like I had made my Grandpa’s day. He was better because I was there. It took years before I realized that he said that to everyone that went up and hugged him and asked how he was. Everybody made him better.
But, how could that be? Wasn’t I the best? That’s probably the real issue in this debate, is that I somehow need to know where I land in the ranks of someone’s love and devotion. Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that if I was not the best, then I wasn’t really enough at all. Woah. There’s a personal realization that I wasn’t expecting to stumble across while writing this post. I digress.
So, my Grandpa was the first person I noticed that has this ability, and my church friend is the most recent. But there are others that I have crossed paths with that have this knack. I’m sure you can think of such a person in your own life. They’re the type of person that makes everyone they come across feel perfectly okay being exactly who they are. They celebrate you every time they are around you so that you walk away feeling uniquely wonderful.
As I’ve come in contact with more of these people, I’ve decided that they are completely sincere. My Grandpa really does feel better with each embrace he receives from a loved one. My friend genuinely enjoys when I teach a class at church. Other friends with this gift, really do find me enjoyable to be around. They don’t say these things just to say them. They see the positive in people. They recognize the joy that others feel when they know they’re loved and appreciated. They, in turn, feel joy knowing they have brightened another’s day by expressing their uplifting remarks.
As often is the case, I have discovered something about myself through the exercise of writing a post. Where I was originally planning to share how I would like to become better at uplifting others, as these type of people do, I now want to remove this subconscious thought process of ranking myself in other’s eyes. For instance, let’s say that someone tells me that I’m a good cook (keep your laughter to a minimum, please) and I hear that same person tell another person that they’re a good cook. Can we not both be good cooks? What is it about me that needs to know what level of “good cook” I am versus the other person? Oy vey. I’m flashing back to my post Stop Comparing and Reclaim Joy where I referenced Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This need to compare and rank truly is the thief of joy. It’s caused me to take the kind remarks from a friend and question their sincerity and my worth. How sad is that?
Well, it seems as though I’ve got a bit of debunking to do, if I want to rid myself of this ridiculous need to rank my level of awesomeness in the eyes of each person I meet. If I do slip up and get this insatiable urge to rank myself, perhaps I’ll have enough wisdom to recognize that I am #1 to one spectacular husband and four incredible children! It really is no wonder I struggle with insecurity when I’m subconsciously filing myself in a particular category for each person that I know. Oh man. Why do I feel like I’ve opened a can of worms with this realization?
Before I freak out anymore, let me answer the question I originally posed, “If someone makes everyone feel like they’re the coolest person ever, who really is the coolest person ever?” My answer: All of us. All of us have the right to be around people who leave us feeling uniquely wonderful. And my heart’s desire is to make sure I am better about leaving people feeling just that way. I’m certain that the more I accept the compliments given to me as being sincere and the more I strive to show my love and appreciation for others, the better suited I will be to live to the measure of my full potential.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to hangout with some friends at a local park while our kiddos played. I got to chatting with one friend who enjoys refinishing furniture. At the time, she was in the middle of working on a family heirloom hutch. I was sharing with her how impressed I was that she was able to undertake such a task. I explained how terrible I am at envisioning an object being transformed into something better. She responded saying, “That surprises me based on the nature of your blog.” Her comment led me to ask myself, “Why can I envision improving myself, but not envision furniture becoming something better?” The answer came quickly, “I’m not good at envisioning the potential when the gap between the ‘beginning’ and the ‘end’ is too wide.”
I did my best to explain myself to her. I told her about 2004 Sara, Present Sara, and Future Sara. If you had told 2004 Sara that she would have four children, be happily married, have endured severe depression along with the loss of her mom, and would be living in Oregon, she would have scoffed. Just as, if you were to tell Present Sara that Future Sara will be physically fit and traveling the world, it would fall on deaf ears. You see, envisioning the potential, when huge strides are involved, is not my forte. I hope to be physically healthy, but I don’t really see it happening. Isn’t that terrible? If I’m honest with myself, it just seems like this unattainable goal. I can swallow the idea of taking baby steps to being marginally healthier (Hence, the one burger a week goal mentioned in Who Do I Want to Be?), but the idea of being my ideal weight just seems far-fetched at this point. Perhaps my lack of ability to envision such a Future Sara is what keeps me from becoming her? I certainly know that my lack of envisioning the promising potential of junky old furniture has prevented me from purchasing such a piece. This is why my friend’s remark has really left me contemplating my belief in a person being transformed. I know it’s possible, as I’ve seen it in certain aspects of my life, but that’s only when I look at things in hindsight. Apparently, I have greater difficulty envisioning the potential of Future Sara. This brings me to another discussion I had with my husband.
My husband and I were discussing the opportunities we have to fulfill a greater purpose in our lives than we are now. Let’s use my lofty Life Bucket List as an example. There are items on there that require money, a physically fit Future Sara, and some untapped adventure, among other things. And, if you recall, I have a longer Life Bucket List that has an additional 20 items that I did not make public. This master list has items that are more spiritual in nature. So, in discussing this matter with my husband, I brought up my conversation with said friend at the park. I likened myself to an old junky piece of furniture and a refinished piece of furniture. I explained to him that I just can’t see how junky-old Present Sara can turn into refinished Future Sara. He responded wisely, as he often does.
::COMMERCIAL BREAK:: We have an upcoming move that leaves us in need of multiple furniture items. Seeing as how we know a few people who are savvy at refinishing furniture, we thought we would call upon their talents. The plan was that we would find a cheap piece, tell said talented friends what we want, and pay them for their services. Are you proud of me for attempting such a task, as it contradicts everything I have typed thus far? One of the friends, who plans to help us, mentioned that when searching for a dresser, we need to make sure the drawers slide appropriately. Apparently, having to fix drawers makes the project more costly and complicated. It’s not impossible, just more difficult. ::NOW BACK TO YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING::
So, my husband explains to me how I have it all wrong. He informs me that when likening myself to the refinished furniture analogy, I’ve put myself in the equation incorrectly. I was looking at it as though I had to refinish Present Sara and turn her into refinished Future Sara. It turns out, I’m not the refinisher AND the junky old furniture piece. I’m just the furniture piece and our Heavenly Father and Savior are the ones helping to refinish me, according to my husband. Then he says (and this is why I gave you the COMMERCIAL BREAK above), “All you have to do is slide your drawers, Sara.” My part in the analogy is to be sturdy and keep those drawers sliding smoothly. And I believe that wholeheartedly. His explanation, along with that first conversation in the park, has helped me realize that I can be a refinished Future Sara and I don’t have to go at it alone.
You’ll notice in the COMMERCIAL BREAK that neither my husband nor I are planning to refinish the furniture ourselves. We recognize that there are others in our midst that have a passion for this hobby. We’re just going to find the furniture that is sturdy and fits our needs. In short, we’re getting help, just as we do in our own lives. We don’t get to a better version of ourselves entirely on our own. We become someone greater through experiences that strengthen us, people who encourage us, testimonies that build us, opportunities that surprise us, and a loving Heavenly Father who guides us. Don’t misunderstand me, we have our part as well. I don’t intend to sit here ideally and wait to be transformed into something grand. I’m just learning that I don’t have to know exactly how I’ll get from Present Sara to Future Sara, but I do have to believe that it’s possible.
My original purpose for this blog was to share insights I’ve had that have helped me become a better person. I continue to receive these little pieces of enlightenment in my life that I hope might inspire someone else to believe in themselves more. Clearly, I have much to learn in the way of envisioning the potential I have to truly be what I hope to become. I need to have as much faith in myself as my Father in Heaven and Savior do. Even having as much faith in myself as my husband has in me would be a significant increase from where I’m at now. This is not easy for me. The Unlikely Perfectionist speaks to this weakness of mine. I get overwhelmed by this idea of refinished Future Sara and I panic. Turning into her is just too hard, so it seems easier to stay as junky-old Present Sara. I’m still sturdy and sliding my drawers, but I’ve yet to allow the refinishing process make me something even more beautiful. It’s time to begin. Having this analogy in my arsenal has already given me greater hope. I don’t have to do it alone.
Whether you are a person of faith, or not, this analogy applies to us all. We all can be refinished. We all have this great potential that is waiting to shine through. Some of our drawers may be broken and might need more TLC? Perhaps we’re not as sturdy as we’d like to be? The refinishing process, whether it be a Higher Being or a higher purpose that helps transform you, can include repairs. I know I’ve already had quite a few repair jobs done. I feel emotionally healthy enough to say that I’m sturdy and I’m doing my best to “slide [my] drawers.” I’m ready to get to the sanding and staining portion? Is that what you do to refinish furniture? I don’t even know. And, thankfully, I don’t have to know.
What I do have to know is that I have great potential and that potential is attainable. I have to believe that with the help of loved ones, experiences, my faith, and a greater understanding of my worth, I can be refinished. So, here’s to envisioning the potential I have to be refined.
Last Thursday, I had one of those moments with my eldest that reminded me that I had Enrolled in Parenting 505. A simple task that I had given my daughter to do turned into a yelling match for some reason I still don’t understand. I ended up embarrassed by my own role in the argument and hurt by the words that my daughter yelled at me. It wasn’t pretty. We didn’t end on a bad note, but the sting of my hurt stuck with me and I went to my room and cried, once she had gone to bed. It’s moments like these that I wish I could will my mom to be alive so that I could call her and be comforted. Thankfully, I had the forethought to reach out to another mom who is always good about reminding me of my worth and how we’re all imperfect people trying to do our best. However, I still somehow managed to forget her words of encouragement as the evening passed and I went to bed with a series of self-loathing thoughts and tear-stained cheeks. A few days later, I was reminded of something I read in one of my favorite books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe we are worthy of love and belonging.”
I don’t know how one grows to feel unworthy of love and belonging. I don’t think there is some statistic that ties such a thing to something like “being breast fed versus bottle fed” and, if there was, I wouldn’t believe it anyway. You can’t isolate feelings of unworthiness down to one source, so I see no point in trying to figure it out. But, sadly, I am a victim of believing myself unworthy of love and belonging. I can say with certainty that these feelings were felt long before any diagnosis of depression or Bipolar II Disorder. Before you go worrying about me, I know in theory I am worthy of being loved and accepted. Most of us know that in theory, right? Also, I don’t want people worrying that I grew up without “I love you” and support from my family, because I did have all of that. Again, I don’t know the source of these feelings, but the fact is that I somehow have deemed myself unworthy of love and belonging.
The scariest part of coming to terms with how I feel about myself is realizing that, based on our last argument, my daughter appears to be having a similar view of herself. My daughter was able to articulate herself in such a way that I knew the source of her words had to do with her feeling unworthy of love and belonging. While I don’t go blaming my parents for my feelings of unworthiness, I certainly blame myself for my daughter feeling this way. I don’t know if that’s unfair or justified for me to do so, but if my eight-year-old feels like less than enough, then I cannot separate myself from that. Now the question is, what do I do with the knowledge that my daughter and I are facing a similar struggle of believing we are unworthy of love and belonging?
There are several points that Brown makes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, but I think a big one for my eldest daughter and myself is that we confuse guilt and shame. If I boldly reprimand my daughter, her instant response is to cry out, “I’m a bad person!” or “I’m the worst kid ever!” Mind you, I have said nothing about her character in my disciplining nor any such thing about her being a bad person or child. I merely pointed out that she didn’t listen or that she made a bad choice. She is the one that turns it into, “I’m a bad person.” I am quick to correct her about the difference between shame (I am bad) versus guilt (I did something bad). The interesting part is that I find it so absurd that she takes my disciplining and turns it into a five-alarm situation of self-loathing. But, guess what? I do that too. I don’t cry out with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I sure as heck go to my room and tell myself what a horrible person I am for yelling at my daughter. Then to make sure I really give myself the proper punishment, I begin to tell myself all the other aspects of life that I am horrible at. I am a horrible wife, because I don’t prepare dinner. I am a horrible at-home Mom, because my children watch too much TV. I am a horrible friend, because I don’t serve others enough. I am horrible with finances, because I like to eat out. You get the idea. I’m really good at this self-loathing thing. Well, well, well, looky there! I just gave myself a compliment. At least we know I’m good at something – shaming myself.
Here’s the best part – I just had this epiphany of the similarities between my daughter and I while I was typing this post. That’s how blind I’ve been to hers and my struggle. I recall my therapist trying to teach me the difference between shame and guilt years ago, because she saw that my confusion between the two was having a damaging affect. I didn’t understand how I was mixing the two up in my daily life nor did I grasp the negative affect it was having on my emotional wellbeing, until now. I understood the difference in theory, but I did not understand their difference in practice. Does that even make sense? It’s the same thing with feeling worthy. I logically understand that, as a person, I am worthy, but I don’t feel worthy. Just like I get the difference in the definitions between guilt and shame, but I don’t recognize when I am mixing the two up in my daily life. I honestly did not get it until this very moment. ::mind blown:: I am behaving in the same absurd manner as my daughter is when she takes my discipline and turns it into believing that she’s a bad person. I throw the same fit. I just do it in a more controlled manner and somehow I’ve convinced myself that that is okay. Oh my gosh! I now get why my husband gets so frustrated with me when I share my self-loathing with him. He sees how absurd it is for me to believe myself a bad person for having made a mistake in a particular moment. He knows better.
So, is confusion between shame and guilt the only cause of feeling unworthy? No. But it certainly doesn’t help my situation if I’m turning my mistakes into a blanket statement of me being an awful person. It’s no wonder I feel unworthy of such love and belonging. Woah. This is a lot to process. I guess the first step would be to catch myself in the action and teach myself to separate shame and guilt. My husband is always good about stopping me in my tracks when my self-loathing begins, but he’s not always with me. He simply says one line, “Put the phone down,” to get me to stop speaking negatively about myself. His line is in reference to the fact that he once told me that my self-loathing is like having Satan on speed dial, calling him up, listening intently as he whispers all these terrible things about me, and then foolishly believing him. So when I get going on my laundry list of reasons why I am “less than,” my husband quickly tells me to, “Put the phone down.” It works every time. I can be redirected, because in theory I know I am worth being loved. The breakdown occurs when I’m alone with my thoughts, I pull up my speed dial, and suddenly Satan and I are catching up on old times.
I know that I am loved and accepted. I’d like to believe that my daughter knows she is as well, as I try to show her often and tell her regularly. However, she and I both seem to have some miscommunication between what we know and what we feel. As a mother to this special little girl, I’ve struggled greatly with knowing how to raise her when I feel like I haven’t even figured myself out. How do you teach a child about self-esteem when you seem to have so little regard for your own? How do you teach a child about healthy living, when you struggle with proper diet and exercise? I don’t know the answers to these questions. My only hope is that open communication with her about my weaknesses and imperfections will help her to realize we are all imperfect individuals, but we are also beautiful and incredible people trying to do our best. Perfection and worth are exclusive of one another. I do not have to be perfect to be worthy of love and belonging. The sooner I can learn to separate the two, the sooner I can help my daughter on her path. We are all worthy of love and belonging, when we believe that in practice, and not just theory, we will free ourselves up to fully experience those same beautiful emotions.
I find human nature amusing at times, don’t you? The first scene of the movie He’s Just Not That Into You is a perfect example. It shows a little girl being bullied at the park by a little boy. The little girl then goes up to her Mom to explain the events and the Mom’s response is, “That means the boy likes you.” Wait, what? Being mean is an indication of liking someone?! I recall, in my own youth, being told that if a kid was being mean to me it’s a sign that they are jealous of me. This brings me back to my first statement that us humans can be an odd bunch sometimes.
My examples above are that of kids, but some of our backwards behavior carries on into our adulthood. Are you ready for my true confession of discordant thinking? I take you back to the first year of my marriage. This is when a disturbing behavior of mine was brought to my attention. I don’t exactly recall the specifics of how it came about, but I quickly gained the nickname “Red Pen” from my husband. The name was an indication of my constantly correcting everything he did. You may recall the orange slicing incident from my previous post Celebrating Differences? He’d also respond to some of my remarks with a simple, “Put the gavel down.” This was his delicate way of saying I needed to quit unrighteously judging him or the circumstances around me. In short, I was being unkind as well as a micro-manager. The latter being an annoying habit for sure, but harmless for the most part. Or is it?
It turns out that I was increasing the frequency of my “Red Pen” behavior when I was feeling a lack of control over myself. I didn’t really make the correlation until I was sitting in a therapy session a few years back. I was confessing to my therapist that I tend to point out all of my husband’s faults and short-comings. She, being a therapist, immediately recognized this behavior as a sign of my own insecurities. My insecure nature had already been recognized as the root of a large portion of my struggles so I’m sure this behavior came as no surprise to her. Then she pulled a typical therapist move on me. She went and said something I had heard a million times before, but had never internalized or applied it to myself. Her response to my confession was simple, “You can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else.” Wait, what? You can’t? Because somewhere along the way I subconsciously made this a truth. If I wasn’t able to feel good about myself, then surely I could make my husband feel worse or bring him down and that would somehow put me up higher, right? Wrong.
Oh, how sad of a way to behave. How terrible I felt when I realized that I had been breaking my husband down in a failed attempt to lift myself up. I took the therapy session to heart and began trying to right my wrongs immediately. It must have worked successfully because I was just telling my husband about the topic of this post being that you can’t fix yourself by breaking someone else and he promptly responded with, “You don’t do that.” I had to remind him of our first years of marriage and then he said, “Oh yeah, that happened.” Unfortunately, the micro-managing sneaks back in to our relationship when I am feeling less than optimal about myself. Thankfully, it doesn’t escalate in to me trying to break him down or point out all of his flaws, as I’ve learned to reel myself in and see the situation for what it is.
It’s tough to redirect ourselves from these unhealthy behavior patterns that somehow get ingrained in us. Obviously, nobody taught me this behavior specifically. I was not pulled aside as a child and told, “You know what would make you feel better about yourself? Bringing others down.” But I did have to be directly told to NOT act in that manner. And what about the other behaviors I mentioned above? A kid who bullies being an indication that he likes you? Or is jealous of you? Huh? That is an odd way to show your admiration or affection for someone. What happens to the person that buys in to that way of thinking and ends up in a harmful relationship with someone who treats them in such a manner?
This brings me to my final thought, which leaves me recalling a line from the movie French Kiss. The main character, Kate, is frustrated with the manner in which the French share their emotions in an opposite fashion to their true feelings and exclaims, “Happy, smile. Sad, frown. Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion.” My final thought echoes that of Kate’s: Let’s use the corresponding behavior for the corresponding results. If you want to feel better, be kinder and better. If you want to feel love, show love. Let’s strive to lift one another up in an effort to make the world a happier place rather than bring someone down under the falsehood that we will somehow be lifted higher. Let us compliment people and magnify their strengths, not their weaknesses.
I learned that bringing my husband down did not make me feel any better about myself. I must have been disillusioned into thinking so, as I had made a habit of it, but it was not the reality. I often felt worse about myself, as I was bringing unnecessary contention into our home. However, lifting him up and lifting others up around me actually does make me feel better about myself. Joy begets more joy. I know this to be true because there is more joy, understanding and compassion found in our marriage now than when I was trying to fix myself by breaking him.
May we each begin to recognize the true happiness that is felt within when we lift others rather than break them down.
I don’t recall being read to very often as a young child. A couple books stand out in my mind, but most of them I remember hearing in school. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I really became aware of the vast array of children’s books out there. I came to realize that you can write the most ridiculous books and somehow they get published. I remember reading one book recently and recalling the scene in Elf when Buddy’s Dad, who works at a children’s book company, is talking with one of his employees. The dialogue is as follows:
Buddy’s Dad: A reprint? You know how much that’s gonna cost?
Employee: Two whole pages are missing. The story doesn’t make any sense.
Buddy’s Dad: What, you think some kid’s gonna notice two pages? I mean, they… all they do is look at pictures.
Well, maybe the kid won’t notice, but us parents do. I wish I could remember the book that I was reading. I seriously kept checking to see if pages were ripped out because the ending of the book made zero sense. Gru, from Despicable Me, said it best when it comes to these ‘less than optimal’ children’s books I am referring to, “This is literature? A two year old could have written this…Ah, I don’t like this book. This is going on forever.” I think we’ve all experienced these types of books. Thankfully, there are children’s books out there that are fully worth adding a book award badge to their cover. These are the books that I will gladly read to my children one hundred times over, not because my kids ask me to, but because I genuinely enjoy getting lost in the book.
The Spider and the Fly is one of those books that I can’t help but read in the best of my character voices because it deserves to be read with feeling. It’s based on the 1829 poem by Mary Howitt with delightfully eerie illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi. It’s a darker book than you expect to read to a child, but it gets the message across. Don’t expect a happy ending, as situations between spiders and flies rarely end in such a manner. But expect the opportunity to teach the lesson from this tale, which is, “To idle, silly, flattering words I pray you ne’er give heed.” This is something I feel our children need to learn in today’s society.
I saw a psychologist off and on for nearly five years. I am a huge advocate of therapy for any and all aspects of life. In fact, I get a bit frustrated when people are so reluctant to seek additional assistance. When I say all aspects of life, I mean it. Before the age of three, our sweet little girl had already attended Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy for her various issues resulting from premature birth. The progress she made under the care of professionals was astounding. I feel equally blessed for the knowledge I received during my countless therapy sessions to address my distorted thinking.
While I had attempted to find psychological help a few times prior in my life, it was not until I met with a particular doctor in 2007 that I began to make progress. I still recall my first session with her. I had brought in a list of my concerns and why I was there to meet with her. As I read off the long list I had prepared, she listened intently. At the end of the session, she had pretty much summed up my personal laundry list of issues into one: I had low self-esteem.
I was reminded of how crucial a healthy self-esteem is in one’s life when I came across this excellent description in a parenting magazine, Parent & Child. The article “Rehab a Praise Junkie” reads: “Self-esteem depends on your internal ability to generate positive feelings about your accomplishments – it’s not something other people can give you.” I learned this in therapy, but I so wish I hadn’t had to wait that long. For years, I based my worth on the praise of others. I still fall victim to it in ways I’d rather not admit.
This blog is a perfect example. Sometimes when I write a post that I’m excited about, I become deflated when I don’t receive any positive feedback to validate my feelings. I suppose it’s the nature of the beast. But at least now I have the tools to separate my distorted thinking and reality. Previously, my train of thought would run something like this – I tried really hard on something, received no accolades for it, therefore I am a failure. That’s where it ended. How sad, right? That’s why I prevented myself from attempting so many tasks in life. I had already deemed myself a failure. Now my thought process goes something like this – I tried really hard on something, received no praise for it, feel down about it, realize that other’s praise is not an indication of my success, and take joy in the process of the task and what I learned from it. My previous pattern begat nothing but feeling worthless. This healthier pattern is what keeps me moving and posting.
There are so many ways in which a low self-esteem can hinder our daily activities. Thankfully, there are tools to help eradicate feelings of low self-worth. Again, I will suggest the The Self-Esteem Workbook, which was recommended to me during that first therapy session. It provides a variety of ways to gain a self-esteem. One of the easiest methods for me to prevent myself from going down the poor self-esteem spiral is to debunk my negative instincts. You’ll notice my new pattern in the previous paragraph has additional steps in my thinking. You’ll also see that my healthier method does not omit the sadness of no praise. I still feel bummed. Maybe one day I won’t care at all, but that’s not right now. Now, the key to healthier living is analyzing those feelings and figuring out if what I feel is reality or something I’ve imagined. While it might not seem the case, in a world where grandiose is king, reality can sometimes be better than what you’ve imagine.
For me, my reality is much better than what I had deemed myself worthy. According to my instinctual thought process, I was not deserving of anything good. And yet here I type, as the wife to an incredible husband, the mother to three beautiful children (and one on the way), a friend to the most amazing people, and a woman of faith. My reality is better than anything I could have imagined. It’s not perfect, as nobody’s is, but it’s filled with hope and a belief in myself that I did not have previously.
I’m a firm believer in the “two makes it true” philosophy. If I hear something from two separate sources, then I imagine it is most likely true. I’m also a firm believer in finding out the truth for myself. As a result, I hold on to the “two makes it true” information until I find out otherwise. This thought process has helped me a lot in life. The one bit of information that it becomes cloudy on is whether or not Santa is real. Multiple sources, mostly under the age of 5, have informed me that Santa is real. Further personal experiences has told me otherwise. Perhaps that’s why I do not believe in the physical presence of Santa, but the spirit of Santa still lives on in my heart. Alas, I digress.
This “two makes it true” philosophy came to the forefront of my mind as I was reading the book
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I apologize in advance for the many times I will likely reference this book in future posts. It’s not that it offered earth-shattering ideas, but that it reiterated a lot of concepts I learned in my years of attending therapy. As I was reading it, I realized how the book was the second source confirming the principles I had learned through difficult and eye-opening therapy sessions. This book is the “two” that made those therapy concepts “true.”
But better than that, I marveled at how this time I had first put to practice the information I learned in those therapy sessions. My practice of those principles and the positive results were truly the “two that makes it true.” So, really this book was the “three.” Reading this book was the confirmation that those, often painful, therapy sessions really were beneficial to my growth and I’ve now come farther than I realized. What joy it brought my heart to know that I’m learning and growing. That change for the better is possible. Certainly, I have a long way to go. Don’t we all?
I saw three separate therapists before finding the one that helped change my path. When I made the call to that fourth therapist, I expressed to her my concern about not finding success with past therapists. Her response was, “I won’t be able to help you either if you’re not ready to be helped.” While I still believe her to have been the best therapist out of my experiences, she was right in her response. Previously, I wasn’t ready to be helped. I wanted a quick fix. I wanted the therapists to just take the pain away. I didn’t really want to have to work at it. I hadn’t quite grasped before that to truly be healed, it involved re-opening the wounds and cleaning them out.
I am fully aware that there are many out there that live much more secure lives when it comes to their self-worth. I too have a greater understanding of my self-worth at this point in my life. I’m learning that I am worth loving just as I am. But that wasn’t always the case. I didn’t even realize how far I had come from the woman I was 6 years ago until I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.
I think today, more than anything, I wanted to share that it’s not too late to do the uncomfortable for the hope of a brighter tomorrow. Maybe set aside some time today to consider ways in which you might be holding yourself back or, worse, being unnecessarily hard on yourself. The path to bettering ourselves is not an easy one. We have to look at the ugly and make sense of it before we can move beyond it. Maybe that means attending therapy for some, meditating for others, or reading an inspirational book. But I am happy to report that working through the pain can result in something beautiful. It’s similar to that magical feeling of believing in the spirit of Santa. It feels light-hearted and hopeful.