June Converse

My Journey from Awareness to Acceptance to Authenticity

Alright, so 2020 sucked. It’s over now and we can’t go backwards. So, I’m putting on big girl pants and moving on. I can’t control COVID or elections. I can’t make hospitals bigger or people wear masks. But I can control how I spend my day and my mental energy.

Before we move into 2021, take a minute to find 3, 5, 10 or 20 things that went well in 2020:

  • I got to know my neighbors much better!
  • Journey to Hope was published – sales low – reviews excellent! The story is hitting hearts and that was my point.
  • My daughter graduated college and jumped right in to starting her own business and working hard at it.  Please go check her out – www.conversestudios.com
  • I got a new writing opportunity with Camp Abilities World (I’ll share more about this once the site is live).
  • I started a small writing school and it’s going really well.
  • I joined an online group for entrepreneurs, which is way outside my comfort zone but has been quite fun and helpful.
  • Because I wanted to keep in touch with friends, I did an online book club. Normally these ladies would not get to know each other because they are in different spheres. But now there are 9 women who have a relationship they would not otherwise have!
  • I had two articles published in Elephant Journal and was a guest on several podcasts (many thanks to Emily Aborn at www.shebuiltthis.org for finding these opportunities).
  • Blessed that my husband and I were not really financially or otherwise negatively impacted by the pandemic which has tragically devastated so many of us across the globe

2021 I’m Ready For You

In a recent post, I talked about whether to keep writing, whether to pay for help, etc. The feedback I received was helpful, heartwarming and encouraging. As you can see, I’m still here and I’m still writing. My husband and I decided to let my writing be a priority again in 2021. In order to keep me from worrying over this decision anytime I feel discouraged, I’ve prepaid all my peeps! Now, I don’t have to stress over that (this stuff is non-refundable!) and they will keep me accountable. Like the gym, if I’m paying for it, I’ll do it.

I feel more excited about 2021 than I have in a long time. My third book is coming along nicely – my character Abigail has a lot to say and she’s an angry young woman so she’s fun to let off the leash. I have a great writing coach, but I’ve also started to do some coaching on my own. I’ve got a non-fiction book simmering and I’m on-board to continue writing for Camp Abilities World.

I’m doing this writing thing and I’m going to do it like a professional and not a hobbyist. I’ve even started to proudly and confidently tell people I’m an author! I no longer feel like a fraud.

BLOG 2021

I have a new plan for this blog too and I hope you’ll get engaged. I’ve asked a group of women to share their most recommended self-help or personal growth books to me. The list was long and wonderful. I then asked a smaller group of women to vote for their favorite. Those votes narrowed my list to the top six. I will be working through these six suggestions with you (one book every two months). What I’m expecting is to open up some areas within self that I’ve avoided or need to excavate – isn’t that the point of personal development? As always, I’ll show you my authentic, messy self.

I will have guest bloggers this year! If you or someone you know has a story to share, please send it my way. I think my stories have helped some people – and any story shared may just be the one to help someone else !!

I started this blog asking you to find a few things that went well in 2020. I’m closing this first blog of 2021 asking you to list 3, 5, 10 or 20 things that you are looking forward to in 2021:

  1. Finishing book 3, Secrets of Hope
  2. Finishing nonfiction book
  3. Starting another small writing class
  4. Studying the six personal development books I’ll be doing on this blog
  5. Getting to know more people in my new online group
  6. Keeping my nine best buds close to my heart (as soon as possible, get them all together!)
  7. Watching Sydney’s business grow
  8. My website is getting a revamp thanks to Emily Aborn at www.shebuiltthis.org and Lisa Norman at www.heartyallybooks.com – the best news – I’m letting them handle it because I hate that kind of stuff!
  9. A SECRET – I have something in the works that I’ll be sharing with you in February!

Would you be willing to send me your list? I’ll compile all our hopes for 2021 and share (no names). No matter your faith, I think we all agree that when we put goodness into the universe, it’s returned to us. Let’s put our hopes out there and let others in on our dreams – let the universe do its thing.

We’re on this journey together

So, let’s GET TOGETHER on this journey.

This will be the last blog of the year! Can you believe it? I’ve been blogging for over 4 years. I hope – sincerely hope – I’ve helped just ONE person. If you’ve read my heart vs head debate, we (Dave and I together) agreed to follow my heart for 2021. One year at a time.

2020 The Strangest Year

Of course, when we think of 2020, we think COVID and Elections! Both stressful and frustrating and just plain ol’ discouraging. But we weren’t just mask-covered citizens. We were productive and creative and brave. I beg you to take 20 minutes to reflect on all YOU MADE HAPPEN in 2020.

Here are some of my accomplishments:

  • Journey to Hope was completed and published
  • 8+3 Novel Writing Course kicked-off
  • I started a neighborhood book club in an effort to make friends
  • I started a friend’s online book club to keep us from going bonkers and losing connections
  • I found a way (mostly) to stop buying things I don’t need
  • We decided where to retire and now can start actively looking around
  • I bonded with cousins I haven’t really known (Debra and Holly – lovin’ lovin’ you)
  • I found a great publisher (Lisa!) and a great great social media chicky (Emily!)
  • My kid graduated college – yes, that’s not mine – but come on, it kinda was
  • I continued teaching classes at OLLI and being involved in critique groups
  • Held kid move to Chicago and start her new business (conversestudios.com)
  • Got a new puppy – Ripley! Yikes!
  • I’ve made big plans for 2021

Please send me your list!  Let’s celebrate our BRAVERY.

I used to believe that God (the Christian God) guided our steps. If we’d just ask, He’d tell us what to do. I never once got an email or postcard from God. And as far as I know there is no “Dear June” from Genesis to Revelation. I’d see other people make a decision and say, “God told me to.” Maybe He did, but I never understood how they knew. Often it seemed to me they were using “God told me to” as a justification for something they were going to do anyway. I freely admit I have used God as an excuse for interesting choices.

Now that I no longer embrace the Christian God in the way I was taught, I’ve wondered how to know or to choose the right path. How does the Godiverse guide us? I firmly believe the energy we send into the world boomerangs back. If I’m a grumpy, negative old lady, the world will give me plenty to be grumpy about. So, if I’m listening to the Godiverse, what am I hearing and how will that help me move forward down the right path?

A Little Woo-Woo

If you know me, you know I’m not into what I call ‘woo-woo’. I respect people – even envy people -- who have a more spiritual connection. While I don’t do woo-woo, I try to leave myself open to people and to messages. Yesterday, a little woo-woo landed in my mailbox.

I had written a blog about when my head and heart don’t agree. It was written as Head Wants vs. Heart Wants. I was trying to work out whether to continue this writing gig. By the time I was done writing the blog, any rational human being would have followed the head and stopped writing for public consumption. I was resolved to give up even if my heart stayed heavy.

Then, woo-woo landed in my mailbox. The very next day a stranger left me this message.

“Your book is such a powerful, relatable and amazingly, another source of healing for me personally. I would not be alive if it were not for deciding to hope for joy to return in my life … appreciate the kindness, encouragement and resources you’ve offered others through your blog.”

Wow! Why do I pour my heart into my blog and my stories? For this reader and all the others who have reached out. Yes, of course, the writing is a type of personal therapy but sharing it is about being available to others. My heart tells me to write-on!

The Boomerang Effect

Two days later, I received an email from my publisher:

“Advertising is barely working. I'm tweaking, adding new targets, trying to focus in on what small movements I've seen....but I'm not sure it has done anything more than increase discoverability. I'm not seeing sales.”

If you read last week’s blog, you’ll know how much money I spend on this “hobby”. Beyond the outlay of money, I put a lot of myself out there. Nothing I write is easy on an emotional level. Kathleen (my protagonist) hurt and I hurt with her. The blogs are written when I’m in pain.

I do NOT expect to become the next Oprah or Reese Witherspoon selection. But “I’m not seeing sales” is hard to swallow. To make that even worse, some of my friends haven’t bothered to obtain or read the book. I know I shouldn’t expect friends to do that – but I do. I would do it for them. Every time. But maybe that’s my “buying friends” problem – a topic for another day.

My head says if no one is willing to invest, then just buy a pretty journal and write for myself. That’s free.

The Godiverse Needs to Make Up Its Mind

Two days ago, I was willing and encouraged to ‘write-on’.

Today, ugh. Head vs. Heart has no clear winner.

Do You Hear from God? I create a unique Journaling Activity for each blog! This one focuses on how YOU make your decisions. Click HERE to download!

There is one good thing about the dentist – nitrous gas! As I lay there this morning a little high with a drill in my mouth, and music in my ears, I was struck by a line in Ashley McBryde’s Andy (I Can’t Live Without You).

You’re the only one who knows -- Me and my heart can’t get along

Or put another way, My Head and My Heart can’t get along.

At the same time I was hearing those lines, a check for $500 was in the mailbox waiting to be sent to my writing coach. Me and my heart are not getting along. Again.

The truth is I will never “make it” as an author. While my books are well-written and on important topics (PTSD recovery), I am not Celeste Ng or Jodi Picoult or Jeanine Cummins. I have talent but not TALENT. You know the difference.

In the past month I’ve sold 22 copies of Journey To Hope (book 2) and a little less of Decide to Hope (book 1). Most of these have been to family and friends. And I can’t even get ALL of my family and friends to invest $4.99.

My husband and I would like to buy a cabin in the NC mountains. While he won’t retire for nine more years, we could start using the cabin now. We could escape life every weekend. Our family could enjoy the property.

Where is the Disconnect?

I spend a lot – a lot – of money on what should be a hobby and not a career. If I hadn’t spent so much money on writing in the last few years, we would have that cabin. I wish I was exaggerating but I’m not. My brain has done the math and weighed the benefits. There is no argument – I should let writing be a hobbyand not try to find “commercial” success. I should be happy writing more for fun and less for publication. That’s my HEAD.

My HEART is not necessarily in agreement. While I sat there with gas pumping through my veins, I was able to see some of this a little more clearly. I love my writing coach. She and I have become friends, sort of. We talk about our families and since my novels are emotional journeys, she’s learned a lot about me through my stories. But we are not friends. I am her customer and if I quit paying her, she would not contact me at all. Am I paying for a friendship? I’ve gotten caught in the trap of paying for friendships many times.

I imagined taking the check out of the mailbox. What would that feel like (heart)? What would the impact be (head)?

HEART: More truth time – part of the reason I want to send the check is because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. If you know me, you know the fear of “disappointing others” is a trigger for an emotional spiral. If I discontinue this relationship, I could disappoint her. I don’t want the conflict. I want the friendship. Could this be real friendship AND a business relationship?.

HEAD:  That $500 (and all the other $) could be invested in a cabin. Or invested in decorating the cabin. It could be used for travel when COVID ends. I could spend a fraction of that money to create a scrapbook space that allows me to enjoy my hobby. ETC ETC

HEART: I do better when I’m busy. Actually, I do better when I’m too busy. It frightens me to have nothing to do. I know I could fill my time with other things. I could also keep writing. After all, I’ve learned a lot and likely don’t need as much coaching. But I know me – if there is no accountability, I won’t do anything.

HEAD: Probably I should “heal” the part of me that needs outside accountability and the part of me that’s unhappy just sitting still. I could fill my time with my best talent – teaching. I enjoy the adult classes I have at local colleges. I could easily make those a focus for my time.

HEART: These blogs and my books help others. That’s why I do it. Right? Part of me believes that altruism.

HEAD: But I’m not really helping anyone except maybe myself. The only people that read my blog are friends. And these blogs aren’t free (well, the blogs are free but trying to find subscribers is not). This is another expense that could be channeled elsewhere.

HEART: I like writing – mostly. I liked seeing my book on the shelf and on Amazon. I liked people telling me my writing is good.

HEAD: Writing is free. And if/when I finish a project, I can still hire someone (or not) for editing, cover design, etc. I’d spend a lot less $. A lot less. I can find other types of writing projects that pay me instead of my paying others.

HEART: Other people I know are churning out book after book. They are supposedly making money. My books are just as good. I should be making $ too.

HEAD: First, I am not a ‘churner’ so if I tried, I’d be miserable. Second, “making money” is quite subjective. The churners don’t use coaches. The point is, I can write or not write, I can teach or not teach. What I shouldn’t do is pour “good money after bad”. If I quit spending this money, I will effectively give us a significant raise!

What’s Next?

Well, Dave will read this blog because he edits them all. He will tell me to do whatever makes me happy. I want to ask him to tell me I can’t do this anymore. But he and I both know telling me I can’t causes me to dig my heels in. But I must find a way to be happy without employing others (not writing coaches or social media experts or therapists or any other non-friend friends).

After the mental breakdown (2012) and the loss of my career and most friends, I began to really focus on my health -- hiking, nutrition, reading, even cleaning and organizing my house. I was happy then. I think? I was lonely though. And I don’t know how to find “real” friends.

I need to start hiking again. I need to focus on creating good meals. I need to teach (that’s where my energy comes from). I need to write for fun.

All of my contracts (coach and social media) come to an end on December 31. It will be a good time to stop, to save the money, to buy a cabin, to plan a trip to Glacier. Writing will be a hobby that might or might not become something on a shelf.

I will have to find a way to spend my energy.

HEAD: I have to learn to tell myself “no”. I have to determine why that’s so difficult.

HEART: I’m not sure I can do that. Not having anything structured is scary. This blog has taken me two hours. If I’m not doing writing, how would I spend those two hours?

The Final Decision?

HEAD: I got the check out of the mailbox and tore it up.

HEART: It’s easy to write another one.

If you still see me on this blog in January, you’ll know my heart won. If you see me hiking the Appalachian Trail, you’ll know my head won.

Surely my heart and my head can get along.

PS

My husband edits all of my blogs. I expected -- hoped -- he'd say, "Follow you're heart, honey." He didn't. He said, "This has been my favorite post so far." Hmmmm

I’ve been struggling to write this blog for several weeks. Not because I don’t want to share but because:

  • I’m not sure I can get the message across
  • I know I’m wrong and that I should feel differently. I also know that I don’t believe in the “should”. Readers will judge me. I judge myself.
  • I can’t tell you everything because it would violate someone else’s privacy.

So, bear (or is it bare?) with me and know I’ll likely miss the mark.

It was a Sunday and a few friends were hanging out when a gift bag was placed in our laps. It wasn’t a holiday or a birthday. The people who provided the bags were staring at us with huge eyes and one was biting his nails. As a writer, I recognized the body language and should have prepared myself. Instead, I yanked the pretty tissue paper from its nest.

The Gift

Inside the pretty little bag were three onesies. Tiny little outfits, each with a different Star Wars theme. They were very cute. Until I realized the meaning. This couple was announcing a pregnancy. Others in the room clapped and hugged and started all of the rah-rah you’d expect. But me? The last of my emotions for this person drained away. I was empty of emotion. Empty of platitudes. Empty.

My Truth

This couple is not in a place where I could welcome a new child. They can “afford” a baby. They have “stable” jobs. They get along well. The decision to get pregnant (and yes it was a choice) is, in my opinion, poorly timed for reasons I wish I could tell you without violating privacy. Trust me, you would agree. I stood there trying to decide what to say to be authentic and not condemning. Those scared eyes turned to me (as it was my opinion that mattered most).

What would you have said? Pretended to be excited for their sake? Decide “it is what it is” and therefore accept and be happy? Would you have said what the world says you “should” say? Would you have said the “right” words to avoid judgment? I almost obeyed society’s rules, but I think those rules are what keep us from being real and by not being real, we shame those who hurt. I needed to find that perfect balance. I said, “It’s going to take me a while to get used to this idea. I’m not ready to share your joy. Give me time.”

I’m proud of my response. The couple understood and I think appreciated both the truth and my willingness to eventually find a path to joy.

Over the last many weeks, I kept expecting emotion to crash and crush. Nothing. I began to worry – to fear -- that whatever emotion finally landed would be difficult to handle. But still nothing.

The Silos

I’ve started to wonder if we have a limited amount of emotion for the important people and situations in our lives. I imagine a field of silos. Each person I care about has a designated silo. Inside the silo is corn and when you first start to care about this person, the silo is brimming with corn. I imagine “good” experiences add corn. “Bad” experiences drain corn. The better the experience, the more added. The worse the experience, the more drained. Am I making any sense?

Can the silo finally run dry? Can your emotional tank just hit empty? Can you finally just feel “nothing”?

We don’t just have silos for people. We have silos for careers and projects or causes. Have you ever gone to work and thought, “I’m over this. It’s time to move on.” I think that might be an empty tank. Have you ever started a project and then said, “This isn’t fun anymore. Why do I keep spending my time on this?” An empty silo?

It’s not that I’m angry – anger requires corn and lots of it. I turn the siphon and all I get is dust. I peer into the tank and it’s dark. Not a scary, menacing dark. More the dark of a cavernous space.

Refilling the Silo

Can you refill the silo? I said above that “good” experiences add corn. If I spend quality time with this couple and see evidence they are ready, will I add corn? Will the baby be one big load of corn and fill the silo to the brim? As I see this couple love the baby and work on loving each other, will corn drip in? Note: the baby will have his or her own silo and it will be full full full!

Am I crazy and I’m simply pushing down emotions that will choke me? Am I using the silo analogy to excuse myself from not digging deeper? I have no idea, but if I start to feel, I’ll let you know.

As you can imagine, as a writer, I have several different types of thesauruses. One is called The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma by Ackerman and Puglisi. I use this to drill down to the deep soul-need in my character. Then I can construct the plot and force my character to face the wound and change her narrative.

I’ve had this book for quite a while, and I use it often. But I’ve never used it on myself. There are many emotional wounds I could identify with but the one I focused on was “Battling a Mental Disorder”.

I turned to page 90, ran my finger down the page and made a mental checkmark by each element describing me. It’s kind of shocking to see your “issues” written as a black and white list on two pages. It was also kind of comforting to see myself on the pages – it made me feel less alone. After all, if Ackerman and Puglisi can make such a list, then surely I can’t be so unusual, right?

I won’t share with you their entire list because Ackerman and Puglisi are writers and their work is their work. But I will share the pieces which described me, and I’ll indicate the most relevant to my world and my heart.

My Basic Needs

  • Safety and security
  • Love and belonging
  • Esteem and recognition

These needs, obviously, are universal. But the degree of the need is not. When I don’t receive positive feedback to what I’m doing, I begin to feel like I’ve disappointed. It’s as if I say to myself, “They didn’t ooh and ahh. Therefore, it [I] must be awful.” Wrong thinking but being wrong doesn’t make the thought stop.

False Beliefs That Could Be Embraced

  • I’m so messed up no one would love me
  • My dreams are out of reach
  • I am broken and beyond repair
  • I am the only person struggling this way
  • I’m a burden to others

I had each of these beliefs at various times and in those truly awful moments I’ve had them all simultaneously.  Right this minute, I think the only one which causes me true struggle is “my dreams are out of reach”. New authors have a very difficult time finding traction. (Unless Reese or Oprah lands on your book.)

The Character [me] May Fear

  • Passing the disorder onto my children (which I have)
  • Becoming like my parents (which I fight)
  • Accidently hurting a loved one during an episode – I take this to mean physically and/or emotionally**

I fear losing what I’ve worked hard to achieve – a good marriage, a fulfilling career, friends, my adult relationships with my children.

Possible Responses and Results

  • Making light of shortcomings instead of acknowledging
  • Avoiding people who might hold me accountable
  • Depression
  • Pessimism, negative self-talk
  • Isolation
  • Emotional volatility**
  • Uncontrolled thoughts or impulses

Emotional volatility is my most problematic response. When I act out of emotion instead of wisdom, I say harmful things. And we all know words cannot be retracted – ever.

Positive Personality Traits (yea, I have some of these)

  • Enthusiastic
  • Generous
  • Idealistic

Negative Personality Traits (boo, I have these too)

  • Compulsive
  • Disorganized
  • Forgetful
  • Hostile
  • Irrational
  • Needy

Triggers

  • A disappointment or loss that deals an emotional blow **********!!!!!!!
  • Struggling to make an important decision (and I’ll add – 2nd guessing your decision)
  • Routine disruption (or for me, changing plans already made)

How Is This Helpful

I’m not sure it is. But identifying the negative traits gives me the opportunity to seek change. Knowing my triggers lessens their power. Acknowledging my less-than-helpful responses allows me the chance to pause and respond differently. Understanding my fears allows me to shine a light in that corner and make the monster go poof. Identifying my fears also affords me the chance to work in that area.

Okay, maybe this was helpful. You don’t need a book to do this. Look inside yourself –

  • What are your needs?
  • What false beliefs are weighing you down?
  • What do you fear?
  • How do you respond to fears and triggers?
  • What positive traits do you have? Negative?
  • What triggers you?

Put the answers in black and white. Once you have the information, you can use it to your advantage.

To Writers

If you are a writer, I highly recommend ALL of Ackerman and Puglisi’s thesauruses. You can find them at onestopforwriters.com. I use this site almost daily.

Click HERE to download the journaling activity that goes with this blog and try the above activity for yourself!

Most of you know, I suffer with bi-polar. Let me change that verb. I have bi-polar. I decided not the use “suffer” because I don’t live a life of suffering. I live a life of challenges – the challenge to stay out of the pit, the challenge to stay focused and not cave to impulsive behavior, the challenge not to judge myself for my “issues”.

Depression is often depicted as a deep hole in the ground. The depressed sit at the bottom. The walls are high and there ARE NOT many handholds. The bottom is cold and smells rotten. The light at the top is so far away it’s impossible to imagine the strength to make the climb. Sometimes it’s impossible to imagine ever standing to your feet in order to extend to the hands reaching down to help.

Another feature of the pit that most people don’t imagine is the ladder. For the chronically depressed, this ladder is the type that’s used in rocks – kind of like staples. They are hard to see, hard to wrap her fingers around. It takes a lot of strength because the climb is vertical.

For others – bi-polar and acute depression – the ladder is more like you’d find in a library. The ladder slants into the room and has handrails. The climb is hard, but the incline makes it more manageable. Thankfully, this is the type of ladder into my hole.

The Climb

When I was a girl, my father was building our house. He would stand at the top of his ladder (and to a little girl that was a damn tall ladder). He’d call down for me to bring up a tool or a box of nails. My little body would fill with excitement of adventure and fear of falling. I was going to climb the ladder. My hands would start to sweat and that would add to the experience.

With a tool strapped to my belt or a box tucked under my arm, I’d put one hand in front of the other and make the climb. That was hard but not the point of today’s blog.

The Descent

I always made it to my father. I’d hand over the requested item and then it was time to go back down. I’d look at the ground and my excitement turned to nausea. I couldn’t see the next rung below me. I’d grope and hang for a split second in the air. My father used to get angry with me, call me a chicken and shame me into moving. My mother would stand below, holding the ladder and coaxing me down. Once I found the first rung with my tiny feet, I gained confidence and moved to the ground with ease.

What’s the point? Over the last few weeks, my book hit the market. I got some unwelcome news. I’ve taken on “too much” and therefore I’m more stressed than normal. I’m at the top of the ladder and depression is calling me to come on down.

The First Rung

When I was a girl, once I moved my foot one rung down, I was able to go all the way without stopping. If I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it, it was easier to reach the ground. It was the first step I would struggle to complete. The same is true for stepping down into the pit. If I can find the first step, I rush to the bottom. But I don’t want to be in the pit. I want to stay at the top where, like my father, I accomplish something. At the top, I pound nails and achieve my goals.

So, I have to recognize the first step and not put my foot on it. In the past, when I was really hurting, I didn’t even try to recognize the beginning of the descent. The pit, you see, was comfortable. Not pleasant but known.

But now, I recognize the pit for what it is, and I’d rather not go there.

MY First Step

In the last few weeks, I’ve been able to identify my very first step. It’s actually quite easy to see. When I’m about to descend, I start to question everything I’m doing.

  • “You should quit writing. No one wants to read your stuff.”
  • “You should quit the book clubs. You sound like a know-it-all and people hate that.”
  • “All that effort with social media is a waste of time. You’ve gotten two new followers in six months. What’s the damn point?”
  • “You can save money if you quit all this shit and focus on keeping your house in order. Just think, if you quit, you can scrapbook and read and volunteer.
  • “People only like you because you do things for them.”
  • And on and on

MY first step is ALWAYS the desire TO QUIT – give up what I’ve worked for (my career, my hobbies, my relationships) – judge what I’ve accomplished (or not accomplished).

When I recognize that step, I can turn around and climb back up. I can head to the roof and my bucket of nails. I can climb back to my goals and get to work. But I HAVE TO RECOGNIZE the start of the descent.

Recognizing the Step

It’s hard to recognize the first step once you’ve started the descent. But when you land at the bottom (or hopefully stop in the middle of the ladder) and take the time to think backwards, you have a chance to halt and move back up. Unwind the thought process. We don’t jump into the pit. We take a ladder down – one foot in front of the other. Take the time to find the first step. I think you’ll discover it’s most often the same. Your pattern, your trigger. For example, maybe your first step is:

  • A negative comment by someone (and this is especially triggering if it’s someone you respect)
  • A failure – big or small. A perceived failure.
  • The news (CNN, Fox, whoever)
  • Something bad happening to someone else
  • “Should”ing yourself
  • If you’re a creative – a bad critique or even a well-intentioned piece of advice
  • A financial problem
  • A disappointment of any type
  • A broken commitment
  • Falling back into a bad habit
  • Sometimes it’s as simple as eating the wrong thing (a massive amount of sugar-y dessert can send me racing down the ladder)
  • Etc.

When I recognize the step, I don’t automatically stop the desire to quit. But I can say to myself – “this is your first step. Don’t make any decisions at all. Don’t spend any $. Use some of your go-to self-help techniques.”

Does It Stop the Descent?

Yes and no. For me, I find myself recognizing the first step and still taking a couple more toward the pit. But I also find myself stopping and turning back to the light. I rarely get all the way into the pit. Even if I end-up in the mud, I don’t stay as long. I find the stairs easier and the climb faster.

What is your first step? Is your first step the same each time? How can you encourage yourself to turn around and head to the roof? Can you make a plan to stop your pattern or at least slow it down?

Click here to download the Journaling Activity that goes with this blog

My dad died last year. I miss him but he never really went away because I hear his voice – and not in a good way – all the damn time.

Today, I was rewarded with a publisher expressing interest (and sending a contract) for my second novel, The Unexpected Gift. This publisher is also interested in working with me on book 3. Great news! Exciting news! Daunting news!

My first extinct was to write an email to all my friends, my family and all the people in my writing world. I actually composed the email but before I could hit send, my dad joined me at the table with all his words of wisdom and judgment.

“Don’t send it. Every time you do something worth bragging about, you screw it up and embarrass all of us.”

And if that wasn’t bad enough …

“Who do you think you are pretending to be a writer? You send that email and you’ll be humiliated, and people will whisper and laugh. Oh, they will pretend to be happy for you but really they’ll be rolling their eyes and taking you off their friend list.”

And …

“You may have a publisher but once they actually read it, they’ll be tossing that contract in the trash and you’ll have tell everyone you failed. Again.”

And …

“People – especially those in your writing groups – will hate you. They don’t want to hear about success. They’ll talk about how you think you’re all that and then they will love watching you sink.”

My father had some wonderful qualities but his voice and his constant disappointment in me overshadows everything else.

So, as I much as I want to sing from the rafters, I can’t.

Instead I sit here writing this blog, fighting back tears, and expecting the bomb to drop – expecting my Dad’s words to be prophetic.

I hate this. I hate that his voice keeps me from ever believing in myself.

Shit, I wrote two books – that’s 200,000 words. They are for sale and people buy them. People say nice things. And you know what, Dad, I worked my ass off and that should be enough! But, it’s not, is it?

I’m fifty-five years old, my dad is dead, but he will not shut up and I cannot seem to stop listening.

I did eventually send that email, but I played the accomplishment down and sent only to a very few “safe” people. I want to call the email back – to delete it – to keep my damn mouth shut.

I want to be able to share and not care if people whisper or watch for me to fail.

As my dad used to say, “You can want {missing word] all you want but that doesn’t make it so.”

By the way, The Unexpected Gift has been officially optioned by a publisher – contract signed! I have written two books and I am damn proud of them. I plan to write Book 3 and I am proud of that already. Take that, Dad! 

I think it's important to add that my father had lots of good qualities. He was a hard worker and he always provided for the family. He was intelligent and could be funny. He was a master at card games. I do miss him.

“A rare quality – intelligence and empathy.” ~ Professor T from Amazon Prime

When the character spoke these words, it was as if lightning hit me. I hit pause, found a piece of paper and wrote down the quote. The quote has sat on my counter for several days. The words and their implication rolling in my mind.

Many times, I’ve wondered about my ability to be empathetic. Oh, don’t misunderstand, I can FAKE empathy. But genuinely feel it? I’m not quite so sure.

Are you intelligent? Am I?

While I am not a genius, I will admit to being intelligent. It’s the second trait that intrigues me.

Are you empathetic? Am I?

I don’t want you to confuse sympathy and empathy. I once heard sympathy described as “I am sorry for your pain.” While empathy is “I feel your pain.”

Sympathy is distancing. This I can do.

Empathy is connection. This is murkier.

Empathy is the ability to identify with feelings, thoughts or attitudes of others. But let’s refine this even further.

  • Affective empathy is the ability to feel or share in another person’s emotions. It’s sometimes called emotional empathy or primitive empathy.
    • The key words:  feel, share, emotions
  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to recognize and understand another person’s perspective and emotions.
    • The key words: recognize, understand, perspective and emotions
  • Somatic empathy involves having a sort of physical reaction in response to what someone else is experiencing
    • The key words: physical reaction

Some Research

A few, small bipolar studies have shown people who are bipolar struggle with affective empathy, but cognitive empathy is less a problem. I found no research on bipolar and somatic empathy, but I can say that I never have somatic responses.

I am an enneagram 7 and that type scores the lowest on the compassionate scale. “Their desire to seek happy experiences, fear of emotional suffering, and a tendency to think rather than feel results in a type who is low on empathy.”1

Hmmm … seems I’m going to struggle with empathy both with bipolar and natural tendency. Yikes!

Is Empathy Important?

It seems that everyone agrees that empathy is important “for survival”.

  • Empathy allows people to build social connections with others. By understanding what people are thinking and feeling, people are able to respond appropriately in social situations.
  • Empathizing with others helps you learn to regulate your own emotions. Emotional regulation is important in that it allows you to manage what you are feeling, even in times of great stress, without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Empathy promotes helping behaviors. Not only are you more likely to engage in helpful behaviors when you feel empathy for other people, other people are also more likely to help you when they experience empathy.2
  • Empathy moves us to share in another’s pain, to really see the world through their eyes. When we do, it very often changes the kind of decisions and actions we take.

“Build Social Connections With Others”

As I have mentioned many times, I have difficulty creating and maintaining deep relationships. It’s a little too easy for me to walk away – not in anger but because [well, I’m not sure why].

While I’m happily married and have a good relationship with my children, I do struggle here too. I can “turn it off” when I begin to feel too deeply. The deep emotions [including love and passion] scare me.

When conflict arises, my anger takes on a kind of mania. When I’m letdown, my sadness takes on a kind of depression. So, as you can imagine, I pull back when those emotions start to ramp up.

I think instead of NOT feeling empathy, I feel TOO MUCH empathy. Or, more accurately, I begin to feel too much empathy and it’s better NOT to feel than feel too much so I shut it off.

  • Is this an excuse and a way to justify the truth that I actually don’t feel empathy?
  • Do I lose relationships because I’m not empathetic (or at least don’t show empathy?)?
  • Do people “feel” my lack of empathy and therefore easily walk away from me too?

Well, shit, I found a quiz: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/results/empathy

  • It told me my empathy score is 59 out of 110, indicating a moderate level of empathy in general.

I must say that I’m surprised. I expected a lower number, a less-than-moderate empathy. But if I pull in my math skills, a 59 out of 110 is a 54%. That’s a discouraging score.

Conflict and Empathy

Do empathy and conflict management intertwine? Do I struggle with conflict because I’m not empathetic?

Research suggests – and my therapist agrees – that both empathy and conflict management can be learned. I’ll look at this more deeply next time. I’ve done enough research and soul-searching for one day!

Can I be honest? I feel too old to change my levels of empathy and my ability to handle conflict. It’s all so exhausting, isn’t it?

And yet, tomorrow I’ll put on the boxing gloves and dig in.

Click HERE for the Journaling Activity that Accompanies this Blog!

1https://www.truity.com/blog/why-enneagram-type-3-and-type-7-score-lowest-empathy-and-how-they-can-change-it

2https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562

I don’t have many triggers* but the word ‘disappointment’ makes my heart pound with anxiety. My father told me several times I was a disappointment. He told me he could never be proud or brag about me because whenever he did, I turned around an embarrassed him. So, being a disappointment is a deep wound for me.

My biggest fear is disappointing someone. And this fear has impacted every aspect of my life. My boundaries are hard to maintain because of this. I hate conflict because of this. My tendency to ‘buy’ friends is based on this. Even my eating disorder is grounded in this fear.

It’s going to sound strange, but only recently did I “feel” the difference between –

Disappointed IN versus

Disappointed WITH

What’s The Difference Between “IN” and “WITH”?

  • I am disappointed IN you.
  • I am disappointed IN life.
  • I am disappointed IN our government [or whatever].

Do you see how “IN” is more focused on the internal or the essence? “IN” hits the heart and soul. “IN” is more a judgment of the whole.

  • I am disappointed WITH that decision.
  • I am disappointed WITH that behavior.
  • I am disappointed WITH the outcome.

Do you see how “WITH” is about the external? It’s an assessment of a specific thing or event.

When we are disappointed “with” something we have a chance to identify something specific and work on a strategy to overcome.

IN and WITH Demonstrated

Someone I’ve very close to recently made a decision that was so painful and so wrong, it took our breath away. My first thought was “I am so disappointed IN him.” But that’s judging the entirety of who he is. What I meant was “I am so disappointed with his decision to do this.”

It’s a subtle difference but it’s also huge. “In” attacks the person. “With” attacks the situation.

Had my father told me he was disappointed WITH how I behaved when I did xyz, I could have processed my mistakes. Instead, he told me I WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT.

Not my behavior. ME.

Disappointed IN  … Disappointed WITH … one word, one syllable, one wounding, one helpful.

Click HERE to download the Journaling Activity that goes with this blog.

* Trigger - to cause an intense and usually negative emotional reaction

Recently I wrote a blog on spirituality versus religion. The concept of spirituality has been swirling in my mind ever since. As most of you know, I was raised on the Baptist version of God and can no longer accept aspects of that belief system. But I do miss some aspects of that version of God, too.

I live with a murky, confusing duality. Can you miss something you no longer believe? Or does the fact that you miss something mean you do believe but you’re pretending you don’t? I can’t believe in a God who rejects massive groups of people because they don’t say the perfect verses. But I do miss several aspects of my former religious dogma.

What I Miss

I love gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. In the past, I considered these a gift from God. I had “someone” to thank. Now, I acknowledge that nature is a gift of the universe or the Godiverse. I can still feel gratitude but that feels different.

When you spend a lot of time in Bible study and prayer – and  when you believe ‘God so loved the world’ and ‘all things work together’ and ‘more valuable than the birds in the air’ – then you feel special. Chosen. Now, I recognize I am just one of millions of created beings. Sure, I have a bigger brain and I am more evolved than my dog. But I’m no more special than the atheist next door. Let me restate – I AM as SPECIAL as all of creation.

Being part of a church is having a ‘group’. A ready-made place to fit is one of the best and worst parts of organized religion. But a group is often exclusive and judgmental of those not on the inside. I learned this the hard way. Once I started to evaluate my belief system, I was summarily dismissed from the inside track {not everyone dismissed me, but most did}. I’d like to say that I was better than this. But, truthfully, when I look back on that time, I only had friends with the same beliefs. I was as exclusive as the next guy.

Another benefit of being a Bible beating Christian is a readymade excuse TO or NOT TO do xyz. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said – and heard – “I’m waiting on direction from God” or “God hasn’t put that on my heart” or “God told me not to …” or “God told me to …” Want the truth? I never once heard from God. Or if I did, it sounded a lot like what I wanted rather than some outside power. Now when I say yes or no, I have to own it.

Just as I could use a message from God to do or not to do something, I could blame God when it went to shit. Or even better, I could claim that every failure or consequence would eventually ‘work out to the good’. If I could profess God ‘told me to’ then obviously I could blame God when what he told me to do didn’t work out. Now, I have to own my decisions and I have to own the consequences.

One more benefit:  When there is a god in your life, there is always someone to talk too! And in the Christian faith, you believe that somebody is listening and actually cares whether I go for a walk or not.

Treat Other As I Want To Be Treated

I’ve yet to find a belief system that fits. Maybe there isn’t one. Or maybe I’m being too fastidious. Do I need a belief system at all?

When I look at all the belief systems, there is one commonality: Treat others as you want to be treated.

For now, that will be my dogma.

Click HERE for the Journaling Activity that goes along with today's blog.

“Doubt is the motor for failure.” ~ Professor T available on Amazon Prime

I’ve heard many cutesy quotes about doubt and about failure. But for some reason, this particular quote struck a chord and it keeps rolling in my mind. I decided to look at the ways I doubt and evaluate if these doubts are causing me to be unsuccessful. How are these doubts a motor to failure?

But I don’t want my blogs (or me) to focus only on the negative and the struggle. So, after I look at the struggles, I’m going to look at the successes. And – dammit – I’m going to have more successes than doubts.

Doubt and Failure

  • I doubt I’ll ever be satisfied with my body.
    • Motor:  I haven’t opened the Body Kindness book that more than one therapist has suggested.
  • I doubt I’ll ever be a great, bestselling writer.
    • Motor: I haven’t bothered to research, with any seriousness, publishers or self-published marketing techniques. If I don’t try, I might fail.  Yikes! That’s wrong. I need to think:  If I don’t try, I will definitely fail.
  • I doubt I’ll ever stop compulsive behavior (spending or taking on too much responsibility).
    • Motor: I often tell myself – “Go ahead and do it. You know you’re going to. So quit trying to talk yourself out of it.” – That is a LOUD motor.
  • I doubt people like me for me.
    • Motor: I have a tendency to buy things for people. Kind of a ‘buying their love’ attitude.

Courage and Success

There are many antonyms for doubt. But I think the opposite of doubt is courage. The courage to risk failure and find success. I may have areas where doubt drives failure but I have more where courage drives success.

  • I am courageous when I write and share these blogs.
  • I am courageous when I work on my novel and listen to my writing coach (tammyletherer.com) and work hard to get better.
  • I am courageous when I go the gym and let a trainer push me farther than I could ever push myself.
  • I am courageous when I let @EmilyAborn (emilyaborn.com) manage my social media and allow her to post pictures and problems that make me vulnerable.
  • I am courageous when I keep teaching classes and force myself out of my bubble.
  • I am courageous when I host a party every quarter so that I maintain the new friendships I’ve developed.
  • I am courageous when I don’t pretend to have faith or pretend to have it all together or pretend to be anyone other than who I am.
  • I am courageous when I clean my house but don’t make that more important than my family and friends.  (My mother was more concerned about having a clean house than anything or anyone else and I don’t want to repeat that pattern.)
  • I am courageous when I maintain my boundaries and self-respect even if that means I have to walk away from friends.

I did it! I found more courage than doubt. But that doesn’t change the truth:  I need to fight doubt with every fiber of my being.

Fighting Doubt

Actually, I believe this blog will help me fight because I’ve discovered and admitted these problem areas. Often, we don’t change because we don’t take the time to investigate. I won’t try to work everything because that might set me up to fail and failure will just add fuel to doubt. But I will:  Open that damn Body Kindness book.

Once I’ve done that for a few days (long enough to prove to myself I can handle and benefit from the information and activities), THEN I’ll tiptoe into publishing and book marketing. It’s an overwhelming topic with no clear answers or direction. There are a lot of frauds and bad information and people simply asking for money. It’s hard to navigate … Do you recognize those last few sentences as more doubt fueling more failure?  This one may be a harder nut to crack. I will find a way.

Doubt is the motor for failure.  AND

Courage is the motor for success.

Click HERE to download the Journaling Activity that goes with this blog

All of my novels, at least so far, have an element of mental illness within a character. Decide to Hope is the most autobiographical in that I struggle in many ways exactly as the female protagonist.
- J.C.
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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