June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

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 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.

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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