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 The short story is that the following is taken from my portion of an unpublished manuscript that was designed to bring increased understanding of mental illness.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!!!!**
It’s probably no surprise that a family of six with a single income can be strapped for money at times. It was one of those times recently, and I was feeling stressed about it. I had a prayer in my heart to find some guidance, and it wasn’t long before I was inspired. I had the privilege of hearing Gary E. Stevenson give a talk during General Conference. In his talk, he expressed his agony over all of his inadequacies, and then said, “I received a distinct impression which both chastened and comforted me: to focus not on what I can’t do but rather on what I can do.” While he was speaking in terms of his personal insecurities, my mind quickly applied this to our financial situation. Then, as the week progressed, I saw how I could apply it to every aspect of my life. Having a can do attitude is one of the ways I’m striving to accentuate the positive, as I wrote about last week.
This is not a ground-breaking idea. We’ve heard variations of this same concept countless times. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs reminders of simple truths, then finds them lying in plain sight. When I was in therapy years ago, I would have these “ah-ha” moments and come home to tell my husband about it. He would respond, “Isn’t that the same thing that I’ve told you for months?” I would respond back to him, “Yes, but she somehow said it differently and it clicked.” Or perhaps it’s just my belief in the “two makes it true” theory? Who knows? The point of the matter was that THIS quote clicked, and I’m going to share how all-encompassing this concept really can be.
My weakness is eating out. Oh, how I love it. A good cheeseburger is practically therapy for me, and so much more affordable. But when money is tight, nothing is considered affordable, is it? So, instead of feeling glum about not eating out, I thought about how awesome it was that we had enough money to get all the groceries we needed. I began to think about how cool it was that I had dishwasher detergent already, so I didn’t have to hand-wash my dishes. The more time that went by, the more opportunities I saw that I DID have in my daily life. I could take my kids to the park and play. I could go to the library and check out as many books as I wanted. I could go on a walk with my friends. There was so much that I could do!
Then, I went and did something dumb. Well, it wasn’t dumb at first, it started out quite awesome! My daughter was the “Super Hero of the Week” at school and each day provided something special for her to either share or do. Friday was “Bring a Buddy to Lunch.” Guess who got to be that buddy? And guess who COULD be there for her daughter? That’s right – me. Lunch with my second grader and playing with her on the playground was the awesome part! I happen to love going on the swings, so I made a point to get some swing time in. The thrill of being so high that I go above the bar is the real highlight for me. I was feeling pretty proud of my skills. As I was slowing down, I underestimated how high I still was from the ground. It should be noted that I do not normally jump off swings. I’m a wuss that way. I totally thought I was lower when I made the leap off the swing. Oh, how wrong I was. I landed unsteady, stumbled a bit, spun around, realized my fate included landing on painful wood chips, and fell flat on my back. All I could do was laugh. I was mortified. I’m pretty sure only my daughter and a couple of kids saw me (or at least that’s what I told myself to keep intact whatever bit of my ego I had left). My sweet daughter helped me up and brushed all the wood chips from me. Thankfully, it was time for me to go, and I was able to escape my embarrassing moment. Unfortunately, I could instantly tell that I had injured my big toe. So, you see, it all started out awesome until my one dumb move came into play.
I quickly began cursing myself and realized that I had a painful situation on my hands (or more literally, my foot). Walking became more and more arduous, as the adrenaline of the event wore off. That’s when I fell into the wicked trap of “can’ts.” I began to focus on all the things I could not do with the injured toe (like those walks with friends that I mentioned above that I could do even with low funds). How grateful I am that the quote above was still fresh in my mind. I decided to focus on all the things I could still do instead. The most important of them being that I could still get down with my boys and wrestle that night. I could still sit to fold laundry the following day. I could still kneel for bedtime prayers with my family. There were so many “cans” left that didn’t involve pain in my toe.
I’m finding that a can do attitude truly is a beautiful way to look at life. It doesn’t need to be used simply as a source of motivation, it can be used as a method of comfort. I suppose that’s the difference I found in Stevenson’s quote versus any other variations I had heard prior. What I can do does not have to be limited to achieving goals or benchmarks. A can do attitude can be a pulse check to all the good that already exists in one’s life. I know that’s the affect it’s had on my life these past couple of weeks. It hasn’t always been easy to avoid thinking of the “can’ts,” but it’s amazing the level of peace I feel when I recognize how many more “cans” are in my life. I even got to thinking about how this month’s First Friday Find: Zach Anner was another great example of a can do attitude in motion. He may very well be the epitome of this way of life.
Honestly, it’s been pretty fun to acknowledge all the things that I can still do despite tight funds and a sprained toe. I really have a lot going for me. So, the question is, what CAN you do?
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.
Last October, I had written a post on Over the Big Moon regarding fears and how to cope with them. In case you did not have a chance to read the post at the time, I wanted to take a minute and share it here on First You Must Begin. It’s a post to address fears of all shapes and sizes; from the deep dark ones that we specifically try not to think about for fear of a self-fulfilling prophesy to the less typical fears such as hornet stings, scurrying mice, and ants in our pantry. The latter being a fear that has plagued me since growing up in my childhood home where it seemed we lived on an ant hill.
A few years ago, I brought my fear of ant infestation up during one of my therapy sessions. The therapist sweetly reminded me of my size versus the ants. A good point, for sure. But what actually has helped me cope was a question she asked me that day: What’s the worst that can happen? I told her all the things that I dreaded about an ant infestation in my home – the vulnerability of knowing they’ve invaded my space, the food that has to be thrown out, the clean-up process, the potential laundry that has to be washed, and the possibility of them crawling on me. All of these things still give me the heebie-jeebies. My therapist listened and then calmly suggested that most of those issues were merely inconveniences and that an exterminator visit could put most of my concerns to rest. She’s right. Ants in my home will not result in World War III. So, why allow myself to escalate to the point of paralyzing fear?
I am fully aware that my therapist’s question is not a cure all for every fear. But for the fun of it, let’s put the same question to the test for my daughter’s fear of bees and hornets. An honest fear for her to have based on the fact that she received three hornet stings and two bee stings in the course of one month last summer. All of the stings came when she was doing nothing to provoke them. She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, fives times. So, what’s the worst that can happen? My daughter would say that the worst that can happen is that she gets stung again. But that is not the worst that can happen. The worst that can happen was what she started to do. She started to fear going outside and avoided opportunities for trips to the park. That’s the worst. She let the bees and hornets take away her freedom to play outdoors.
These examples of fear are on a smaller scale, but I often wonder how much fear could be laid to rest if we merely asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Again, I’m not trying to put this question to the test with true tragedy and trauma, though it does work when I reflect back on even the hardest trials I have faced. But how many fears could we overcome in a day if we tried to bring things in to perspective?
Perhaps we have a fear of speaking in public? Or being seen without make-up? Or someone coming over to our home only to find that we don’t keep it perfectly clean and tidy? We have these fears that we’ve created for ourselves that just aren’t rationale or fair. We worry about imagined judgments being made on us. And in cases where the judgments may come, they likely would have come no matter how clean our home was, how perfect our make-up looked, or how refined we were in our speech. We could all benefit from seeing the bigger picture rather than just that single situation.
Broadening my perspective has made a significant impact in re-evaluating even my darkest trials. When I realized my Mom would die of Ovarian Cancer, I began to mourn her loss before she was even gone. I would sit and sob over how I would not be able to function without her. I was certain I would not get out of bed for days when the time came. There was a point when I was spending more time hypothesizing about my level of devastation with her passing rather than enjoying the time I still had with her. Thankfully, my husband pointed this out to me and I redirected my thoughts and started to more fully embrace my remaining time with her. Then the time came and my Mom passed away. My heart ached (and continues to ache) in ways that I had not experienced prior. I’ve yet to find the right words to properly express the magnitude of my sorrow or the deep impact her absence has had in my daily life. However, I kept (and keep) moving forward in faith. After her passing, I never once failed to get out of bed. Although, I admit, those first few months are still a blur. What was the worst that could happen? It happened. My Mom died. But, thanks to my faith, the worst that really happened is that I have to wait a little while and then I can be with my Mom again in heaven.
I survived through the passing of my Mom, my best friend. It didn’t ruin me. If anything, it made me stronger. As is the case with every trial I have endured, they have all made me stronger.
I speak from personal experience that even the darkest of nights has a dawn. During a severe bout with depression, I spent a long while clinging to my couch thinking that somehow I could be safe from pain if I just staid there and slept. My anxiety increases just reflecting on this time in my life and my heart sinks thinking of all the lost moments of life fully lived. I was doing, then, what my daughter was doing with her fear of bees and hornets. I was hiding. What was the worst thing that could have happened in that situation? It wasn’t hiding, though that was bad, it would have been giving up. Had I given in to my fears of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair, I would not be able to enjoy this incredible chapter of my life that I never dreamed possible.
I think fear is really the apprehension that comes from the unknown outcome of a personal struggle of any size. I get discouraged, downtrodden, and fearful just like anybody else still. But I have a friend that is sweet to remind me that, “[I] can do hard things.” And she’s right. I CAN do hard things. And sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is not give in to fear nor give up on myself.
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 was reminded today about the importance of rest in our daily lives. Perhaps it came to the forefront of my mind because I had a very productive day and now I’m feeling a bit depleted. These feelings made me recall a workbook I began a few months back called The Self-Esteem Workbook.
I was strongly encouraged years ago by my therapist at the time to do the above mentioned workbook. Unfortunately, I put it off for quite some time. Then, a few months ago, I decided to crack it open and give it my all. It’s important to note that this is a workbook and not just a book. It really does require work. You write in it, you practice it, you re-evaluate yourself; it’s work. They even note in the beginning that you should “resist the tendency to read through [the] book quickly. Instead, commit now to applying and mastering each skill before moving on to try the next one.”
The first topic the book speaks about is the importance of a healthy body in improving one’s mental health. The book puts it simply, “You can’t ignore your body and expect to feel good.” It outlines the importance of exercise, healthy eating, and proper sleep. Obviously, none of these topics are cutting edge concepts. There are countless studies supporting the simple fact that our bodies (and our minds) need these approaches to thrive. The workbook then has you lay out a written plan for yourself in an effort to better care for your body before trying to work on your mental health. I wrote my plan. I attempted my plan. I cut corners on my plan. Then, I forgot my plan. Then, because it told me to not go on in the workbook until I applied and mastered each skill, I stopped the book.
Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve stopped something because it got too hard. I’m sure I’m not alone in this department. While I need improvement in all of these categories, sleep seems to be the easiest one to adjust and yet I stay up way too late every night. I’m already a grouch as it is in the morning, the last thing I need to add to my morning routine is sleep deprivation.
When I was at my absolute worst about not getting to bed at a decent hour, I saw what a huge impact it had on my family, particularly my children. They became the brunt of my irritable behavior and tired body. I found myself yelling at them more often. It was really a sad discovery to see the negative impact my sleep choices had on my mood and, as collateral damage, my family.
So, I’m reminding myself again, and perhaps others that may need to hear it, that an appropriate amount of sleep and regularity in your sleep pattern is crucial to your body, your mental health, and those you come in contact with. Trying to skip on sleep to accomplish one more thing, or watch one more show, or check Facebook one more time will eventually catch up with you and the results aren’t pretty.
I love how Jeffrey R. Holland, an American educator and religious leader, put it in a recent address: “…watch for the stress indicators in yourself and in others you may be able to help. As with your automobile, be alert to rising temperatures, excessive speed, or a tank low on fuel…Fatigue is the common enemy of us all—so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill. Physicians promise us that if we do not take time to be well, we most assuredly will take time later on to be ill.”
So, I’m going to recommit myself to improving my aerobic exercise, my eating practices, and my sleep hygiene. Who knows? I may just make it to the next chapter before the end of the year? Of course, to do so, I need to wrap this post up and bid you all goodnight.
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.