June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

As many of my readers know, I struggle far too often with suicidal ideation. Yesterday, this was the primary topic at my therapy session. She asked me a variety of questions but the one I want to “talk” to you about is this: What stops me? I have all the tools, I know how, I’m certainly alone often enough. So, what keeps me from following through?

My impulse answer was easy: the damage it would do to my family (especially my kids), fear of the process, fear of failing at the process and suffering long-term consequences. As she likes to do, she waited and my mind raced because those are all true but I’d left one out.

I was raised in a traditional, southern,Bible-thumping household. As a child and young teenager, we went to “revivals” (and, yes, what you are picturing is exactly right). I heard many, too many, “hell, fire and brimstone” (or is it hellfire?) sermons. Finally, I looked at my therapist and said:

“What if it’s true? What if all that I was taught (brainwashed) to believe is true? What if there is a God and the one unforgivable sin is suicide? What if I end up in the hellfire and brimstone?”

What Does Hell Look Like

My therapist is not religious. She’s not anti-religion either. She’s perfect. At this time in my life, I’ve had enough “religion” to scar me (and scare me) rather than soothe me. So, when she asked me this next question, I knew she was not being judgmental or trying to sway me in any way:

“What is hell? What does hell look like, feel like? What’s so scary about hell?”

The first image that came to mind was Dante’s Inferno. The nine circles: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, treachery.

“Where would you be?” she asked.

I turned my gaze to the small stream that floats behind her window. A sunbeam was reflecting off the water. A pair of shoes hung from a tree branch. I kept my eyes away from her as I responded. “Lust – not sexual necessarily, but a desire for something more, always more. Gluttony.” I patted my belly but added, “but what I really mean is a gluttony for stuff. Sometimes greed. Unrelenting anger. Some former friends would call me a heretic.” I turned to her then with a smile. “But no violence, fraud or treachery.”

Then, as if slapped across the face, my mind reminded me that suicide is violence. Violence towards self.

She nodded and asked, “What punishment would you endure for all eternity? What would your hell look like?

The answer left my mouth before my mind censored the words. “I would be falling into these deep pits of despair, climb out only to crawl to the next one.”

How Is That Different

She sat back in her chair with a sweet, Cheshire cat grin (can a Cheshire cat grin be sweet?).

“Isn’t that what you live now?”

She was right – so very right – so frighteningly right – I already live in my personal hell. If the Godiverse wanted to design a tailor made hell, it would be what I face every day.

Some of you are rolling your eyes – I live an upper middle-class life with a supportive, amazing husband. I have two great kids who never gave me any “real” trouble, I have a brain, health, enough friends. I don’t work because I’m privileged to do the work that I want. Heck, I can even sit on the couch and binge watch TV and no one would mind.

But, here’s the deal – I live in a constant state of waiting on the ax to fall. Monday of this week was awesome. I accomplished some cool things, enjoyed some new relationships, made good decisions. I went to bed wondering where I had screwed up and when it would bite me. I danced on the edge of the pit fully expecting to be shoved in. My body stays revved for fight or flight every minute of every day. I live in a constant state of fear and exhaustion.

I live with a constant fear that the next pit will be the one I cannot – or refuse – to climb out of. Hell.

What Do I Want

She accepted that with her gracious spirit and left us in silence for several beats.

“What do you want?” she asked. Before I could answer, she put her palm up and said, “Think about this for a minute. What do you want? What do we want to work toward?”

My first thought was that I no longer want to drop into pits. But that’s not life, is it? That’s not realistic. We all have pits – the world ensures it. My second thought was that I just want to be done. I want to rest – permanently. But, that’s not true either or I would have seen to it.

At her direction, I took several very deep breaths and emptied my lungs. Then it hit me: I want PEACE. Not peace on earth. Peace with me. I want be satisfied that I am who I am, that I do the very best that I can, and that’s ENOUGH.

I looked at her with tears in my eyes because that seems like an impossible goal. I’m 52 years old and have lived in this constant state of fright for as long as I have memories.

She’s a gorgeous woman and when she smiles you can’t help but to smile with her. She sent me that beaming smile and said, “That we can do.” And she meant – means – it!

I believe her. It won’t be easy – it will be a different version of hell for a while --- but one day soon I’ll be able to take what comes my way and shrug. I’ll be able to grasp that I did what I could, the best that I could, that I controlled/managed what I could and the rest is not up to me. And, I’ll be able to grasp that making a mistake is just that, a mistake.

I so hope she’s right because I’m about to go to a meeting and I’ve done all I know to make it successful. I know my heart and intentions are in the right place. Yet, I have one foot dangling over the pit because someone won’t be satisfied and I’ll become the great disappointment life has always told me that I am. That’s my version of Hell and I’m ready for some peace!

More on this to come ~ I hope you’ll join me as I try to accept life, accept me and find contentment regardless of outcome.

I left my therapist office encouraged and excited. Now, I’m doubting. Ahhh – one step at a time.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.

Brene Brown

Recently, I received a message from a someone that ….

  • PISSED me off
  • HURT my feelings
  • Made me feel GUILTY
  • Stirred up RESENTMENT

My emotions swirled in that muck all evening. I showed my husband the message. What I WANTED him to do was jump to my defense. What HE DID was give me this line: “I’m sure she was just trying to be helpful. She didn’t mean to be critical.” What did that accomplish? My PISSED OFF meter rose higher and higher.

I knew if I responded, I’d make matters worse. I had to calm down first. I went to bed, tossed and turned. I woke up less angry but more hurt. Then, I went to lunch with a friend and I whined and whined and whined. (I probably should have paid for her lunch).

She didn’t jump to my defense either. Instead, she said exactly what I needed to hear. She asked me if this person was on MY LIST OF SIX.

My List of Six

Many months ago I watched a video with Brene Brown. In this video she pulled out her wallet and showed the interviewer a tiny piece of paper. On this piece of paper, she had the names of six people. Just SIX! She explained that when she began to get worked up by something someone said or did, she pulled out this list.

Her list contained the six people who mattered – who earned her trust, her confidence – the six people who would be honest with her in a spirit of love.

I’m not on her list of six. Therefore, she doesn’t really care what I think!

I have a list of six. It hangs on a board just inside my door. I see this list every day.

The person that offended me is NOT ON THE LIST. Therefore, I was able to quit fretting.

The List of Six is powerful. Create one. There’s no magic in the number six – maybe you have ten or four. But be careful – only put people who DESERVE your emotional energy. Carry it with you. Memorize it.

When you are upset about the way someone treated you, whip out the list. Has this person earned your energy? Has this person earned any rights in your life? If yes, then consider what they had to say. If not, then MOVE THE HECK ON.

I really should buy this friend lunch – she is, after all, on my list of six.

I think I might take the time to thank my List of Six this week.

Suggested Resource:

Brene Brown has some amazing resources. Check her out on YouTube or Ted.com. This is the link to her site: https://brenebrown.com

My husband and I got caught in the Atlanta airport power outage debacle. We sat on an airplane for four hours before they kicked us off. Then we spent two more hours in the airport trying to find a hotel and a plan for getting back home. Oh, and to make it even more fun, there was no place to get food. I’m 52 years old. I was annoyed. Until, that is, I looked around and saw many families with young children. Annoyance turned to pity for them and relief for me that I didn’t have kids to handle.

Once set free from the airplane, a four-year-old boy celebrated his freedom by running circles around the chairs in the airport, singing/shouting his relief. With a baby tucked to her hip, his mother grabbed him by the arm, lowered to her haunches, looked the boy in the eyes and said, “Do I need to find you a timeout chair?”

We Are All Four Years Old Sometimes

Several weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she gets stressed and that “overwhelmed” feeling at work. She’s struggling with how to handle it. As she explained, she can’t continue to hide in the bathroom until she collects herself. She can’t cry at her desk. She can’t throw things. She can’t run around the office cubicles shouting. She needs a private “time out chair”.

Last week, I was on a live aboard dive boat with 13 other people. We were in the middle of the Caribbean Sea with land a far away dream. My anxiety ratcheted up. There was nowhere to go – nowhere to run – nowhere to hide. There simply was no “timeout chair”.

The question, then, is how can we create a timeout chair in our own mind and body? How can we take 3-5 minutes to just find balance, find perspective, find peace? How can we keep ourselves from running around screaming and shouting?

That, my friend, is a personal discovery. What works for me would drive you mad. What works for me today might send me into the madhouse tomorrow.

Some Timeout Suggestions

Even though you have to build your own toolbox for handling super stress, I do want to give you some of the ideas that work for me – or, I should say, work for me sometimes.

  1. I always have a book or something to read with me.
  2. I always have an audible book with me – this is how I survived being stranded in an airplane. I listened to an entire book. With an audible book, you get to disappear behind earphones and, if the narrator is good, you “enter” another world. Hint: for these super stressful times, have a fictional selection available. I’ve found that listening to a self-help book in the middle of a crisis makes me more frustrated. A benefit of the headphones – people avoid you.
  3. Pen and paper – doodle, write dirty words, write your anger/anxiety/fear out, write a letter to the person driving you to the edge. Fold the paper into weird shapes. As I listened to the book in the airplane, I kept my pad of paper open and created designs.
  4. Keep a snack available at all times. Letting your blood sugar drop is a sure way to add to the anxiety. I keep almonds. I want to keep chocolate. I also try to always have water.
  5. Do a deep breathing exercise (and, if you’re like me, you are rolling your eyes). But, I have found one that truly works: draw in a long breath for a full five seconds, hold the breath in your lungs for another five seconds, release the breath over another five seconds. 5-5-5 breathing. I’ve been shocked how helpful it is – I use it all the time while driving.
  6. Mindfulness – be in the moment but make it a “fun” moment. I play a game with myself. While in that airport, I did a treasure hunt with my eyes:
    • Who looked the most tired?
    • Which woman had on the most ridiculous outfit for travel?
    • Which kid had the droopiest diaper?
    • Which husband/wife were fighting?
    • Which husband (or wife) was totally oblivious to the spouse’s growing rage? (there was one man whose wife was holding an infant, feeding a 3-year-old, almost in tears – this man moved two seats away, put in his earphones and dozed). I further enjoyed imagining how long it would be before he got sex again.
    • Which employee was going to lose it first?
    • Who is making the biggest ass of him/herself – and then pat yourself on your back that you aren’t that person (are you?)?
    • And, an age-old favorite, listen to other people’s conversations – usually you can find an interesting one.
    • Whose stuff is even messier than yours? Whose clothes more rumpled? Yes, I’m suggesting you revel in judgment – it’s in your own mind so let it run free for a few minutes.
  7. One other thing that really helps me is to imagine my favorite fictional characters and how they would react to whatever is happening. I especially like to imagine my romantic heroes. For example, how would Christian Grey respond to this crisis? Mr. Darcy? What would Sheldon say (Big Bang Theory)? What would Trump tweet? Yes, I know Trump’s not fictional, but you get the idea.
  8. Find someone to talk to for fun – I started a conversation with a woman from Alabama. We only talked for maybe five minutes before I went back to my book but that was five minutes of getting “outside” the drama.
  9. Can you find a way to move around? I walked a circle around the terminal (still listening to my book). I suggested to my friend that rather than disappear into the bathroom that she should head to the stairs, walk a couple of flights and listen to her favorite hell raising song.
  10. Listen to your favorite song and try to figure out the circumstances that created the lyrics. Where in the song writer’s soul did that come from?

None of these may sound good to you. I watched one woman with a detailed coloring book and fancy pens. She disappeared into that.

The fact is that we all get revved up – at work, at home, in traffic, in the mall, with family, or just because that’s who we are – and we can’t run around like four-year-olds. For 2018, be intentional in finding ways to get away from it all even as you sit in the middle of it.

Please send me any and all suggestions!

June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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