June Converse

My Journey from Awareness to Acceptance to Authenticity

No aspect of me is actually an enemy.  I need every single element of my personality.  BUT, let’s be honest, sometimes parts of who we are feel like the enemy, wound like the enemy.  Even though all parts of me are actually trying to help me thrive and survive, some aspects are more misguided than others.   As I watched Game of Thrones this afternoon (yes, I’m at GOT junkie) Tyrion said the following: 

“You need to take your enemies side if you’re going to see things they way they do.  And you need to see their side if you’re going to anticipate their actions, respond effectively and beat them.”

He left out one extra piece – we have to identify the enemy.  So, let’ start there.

Identify Your Own Personalized Enemies

Let’s state unequivocally that feelings are NEVER the enemy.  I say that because my first impulse was to say that “fear” is an enemy.  Fear is NOT an enemy.  Fear is information.  I had to dig deeper … here is what I came up with:

  1. The Inner Critic
  2. The Teenage Rebellious Dragon
  3. The Sugar Monster
  4. The Hamster on The Wheel

Yes, these are all “voices” but the subtle distinctions are important.  Each voice speaks differently, uses a different tactic, has varied volume and strength.  While I’m sure there are many more, these four were very obvious, loud and often insidious.   I actually think I battled each one sometime in the last 24 hours.  Let me show you how:

Today’s Specific Battles

  • The Inner Critic – she was quite loud today – telling me to give up my novel because I’m not good enough (and, let me be frank, I lost this battle today – I “pretended” to write by reading articles, thinking through plot lines, etc. I did NOT pick up my pen and actually create).
  • The Teenage Rebellious Dragon – One of my goals is to stop eating sugar and processed carbs.  I’m not doing this because I want to lose weight – I’m actually happy with my body at this very minute.  Immediately that dragon that lives in my chest started to rattle and rebel – not because I “needed” sugar but because she, quite simply, did not like being told what to do.  She also does not like begin told she must do something.  She’s 13 in a 52  year old body and she’s dang embarrassing!
  • The Sugar Monster is a bit different.  This guy specifically yells at me via cravings.  This monster assures me I have to have to piece of chocolate.  It tells me that I cannot LIVE without it.  Like, literally, that I’ll die without one morsel of sugar.  Right now, this enemy is the loudest.
  • The Hamster on a Wheel – we all know what this feels like – those thoughts that just won’t stop or spiral in a vortex of pain.  This one is running strong right now beating me up about not writing, about having to struggle so much against a tiny piece of sugar, about spending money on stuff I didn’t really need.  Shall I go on?  The hamster wheel turns and turns. 

You have a different list, I’m sure.  But I think you get the idea.  Our personalized enemy is that part of us that seeks to hold us back or drag us down or force us silent. 

“Anticipate Their Actions”

Just doing this small bit of writing has helped me identify the enemies’ actions.  But I must be more vigilant.  I must pay better attention and I must be attuned to all of their strategies.  A good commander has sneaky methods of attack.  Sometimes the attack is direct, sometimes it’s sneaky.  The only way to anticipate the actions is to pay close attention.  One thing I have begun to see more clearly is that when one enemy fails, another rises to the same challenge.

For example, I was able to beat the sugar monster by having a cup of coffee sans sugar.  But now the teenage rebellious dragon is rattling in her cage, demanding I drive to the ice cream store.  I won’t be able to do that, so my guess is the Inner Critic enemy will rear its ugly head and tell me how weak I am.  Well, you get the picture.  

All I can do is be intentional in my watch for the attack.  Just seeing the attack will help defend my authentic self.

Respond Effectively

That’s what this entire blog is about – developing strategies to respond effectively.  Every blog is an attempt to anticipate and find ways that work for me.  One skirmish at a time.

Here are a few responses I’m using today:

One:  I’ve been doing this great 5-5-5 breathing thing – breathe in for five seconds, hold it for five seconds, breathe out for five seconds.  It’s been amazingly effective in calming me down. 

Two:  I’ve also posted several notes to remind myself of my goals, my strengths.  Every day I found a new one … this is today’s:

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily.  The secret to your success is found in your daily routine.”

John C. Maxwell

My day is coming to a close.  Tomorrow, I’m going to have the following routine:

  1. Make the bed – sounds silly, but I’ll explain it in another post
  2. My healthy shake (no sugar J)
  3. Exercise
  4. Walk Dog
  5. Morning Pages
  6. Meditation
  7. Actually go into my office – stay there for four hours – even if all I do is fret and worry – I will act like a professional writer
  8. End my “working” day designing my routine for the next day
  9. Read Blink (that’s my current non-fiction)
  10. Take the Spanish class
  11. Cook dinner

Three:  My morning pages is also a strategy – it’s a place to put in writing my battle plans.  It’s a place for me to whine and then close the book.  It’s also a place for me to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.  It’s a place I can be perfectly, wonderfully authentic!

Those are all SMALL acts – but they are doable and they are footsteps on the path of success.

Four:  I’ve already laid out the ingredients for healthy eating tomorrow.  It’s kind of like going into to battle with all my supplies ready and within easy reach.  The less decisions I have, the less I have to listen to any voices.  Oh, I’m no fool, I know the enemy is strong and will have many tactics to throw my way – but, I’ve done what I could for now.  And, that’s all I can ask of myself. 

Beating The Enemy

As I get stronger, as I recognize their voices, as I identify their battle plans, I can develop my own battle plans, my own strategies.  I can win the next battle.  That’s all I can do for now. 

Soldier on!

We all know how that phrase ends ….

If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all (my father said it better … If you can’t say something nice, then keep your damn mouth shut.)

What the phrase doesn’t say is that if we can’t say something nice then lie!  Re-read that so you have the words correctly on your tongue …. if we can’t say something nice doesn’t mean we should lie.

So, why do we violate our own authenticity on a regular basis?  Are you raising your eyebrows at my calling us all out as liars?  See if any of these scenarios fit:

  • A friend walks in with a new dress that does NOT look good – yet, we say, “Oh that looks so nice on you.”
  • Someone you haven’t seen in a long time crosses your path – do you tell her you’ve missed her (when you haven’t) or that you can’t wait to see her again (when you don’t care one way or another) or that it was nice to see her (when it was, at best, neutral)?
  • Or how about when you tell someone you’d love to do this or that (when if you do it, you will be cursing them and yourself soon)?

I can go on with the examples and I get ‘social niceties’.  But here is what bugged me – and has me on a soapbox – last week an acquaintance posted on a social media this wonderful tribute to her husband on their anniversary.  She went on and on about what a great guy he is, how supportive, how she appreciates him … lovely!  EXCEPT, I happen to know this couple is so unhappy they barely speak. 

Now, I’m not suggesting she should have broadcast what a jerk she thinks her husband is or how disconnected they may be.  I AM asking … why say anything at all?  Why not ‘keep her damn mouth shut’ as my father would say?  Why lie?

Another person on social media had a birthday.  Well-wishers came out of the woodwork … lovely!  EXCEPT I know some of those well-wishers not only can’t stand the birthday girl but actively trash talk her.  So, again, why lie?  Why not just keep your damn mouth shut?  For my part, this person is not someone I want to cultivate a relationship so I simply didn’t post anything.  If I had chosen to wish her a happy birthday, that would have been inauthentic! 

We preach ‘authenticity’, ‘be your own person’, and ‘it doesn’t matter what other people think’ – but do we live it?? 

One last example – and this may be what has me in a tizzy – an old acquaintance (someone I might have once called a friend) posted a picture of me from years and years ago.  She ‘tagged’ me and wrote this sweet comment … lovely!  But, was it authentic?  I haven’t seen or spoken to this person in YEARS.  I can’t help but to wonder what inspired the sudden loveliness?    (*see important note below for a rational mind’s interpretation)

​​How can we play nice and also be authentic?? 

If you can't be nice, be quiet meme

Want me to be super authentic – the picture that former friend posted was one of my least flattering.  My inner critic, my inner bitch, is trying to convince me she intentionally posted that very picture to make me think badly of myself and to make her look good.  My rational brain says that’s crap.  My emotional brain is banging a war drum.  I’ll spend a bit of time calming the beast within. 

Calming that Beast – What Method Will I Choose?

One of the reasons I write this blog is to give people who struggle with Excess Emotional Energy ideas for calming themselves and using that energy to make the next best decision. 

I’m struggling right now because I want, desperately want, to use my writing time to beat up this person and beat up myself.  You see, the picture was from “before” my mental breakdown and it showcases all that I lost (my career, my friends, even my religion) … so it’s very painful to see that picture and more painful to see it on social media. 

I WANT her to have posted that to purposefully hurt me.  Why?  Because then I can wallow in how awful she is instead of wallowing in how awful it feels to have lost so much.  If she intentionally hurt me, then I can focus all my energy on hate instead of healing!  Hate is easier.   Do you see how an emotional mind often becomes about self?

Hate Or Heal?

I have a choice to make – in this very second, I have to decide what to nurse or how to channel this excess emotion.  It’s too flammable to take out and hold right now.  I need to cool it down.  I’m shuffling through all the techniques I’ve learned in therapy, rehab, life. 

Strangely, I have the Wall Street Journal with me (this is the first time I’ve ever bought one) … I’m going to read two articles, circle any ‘big’ words, look those words up and use them in a sentence.  By the time that’s done, I’ll be better able to choose healing over hatred.  I’ll be able to look at that picture and hurt.  It’s okay to hurt – it’s a part of being human and emotional.  But the difference will be that I hurt because of what I’ve lost not because of what someone else said or did.  But, I also am able to remember that picture and remember some of the wonderful moments of ‘before’.

If it still hurts, I’ll take it therapy!  Eventually, I have to deal with all that my career was and how badly it hurts to have lost it.  That’s one area that stays too hot to handle! 

**Important – Please read!

First, my husband was reluctant to have me post this blog.  He’s worried that the people I’m mentioning will recognize themselves and I may cause problems.  He’s right.  But, I promised authenticity and that’s what I’ll give.  And, seriously, if they recognize themselves then maybe that’s okay.

Second, my husband operates out of a rational mind most of the time.  He said that maybe the person posted an old picture of me in an effort to “have a genuine and safe way to reach out and see if there is any mutual desire to reconnect or mend.”  Every thing we see, think or believe can be viewed from a different lens.

I’m a bit disappointed – I’ve read six articles and no ‘fun’ words.  But, the desired effect was met.  I’m calmer.  I will NOT be wasting time on hating … and, I think I’ll have to take the career loss into therapy – it’s just too hot for me to hold by myself.

I learned a lot reading those articles – I learned there is a lot more to learn!

Our inner critic has one favorite activity – knocking you off your game!  I just wrote another recipe that helped to shut the critic’s mouth.  As I did those activities, I realized I was having a ton of fun with one specific activity:

Imagine you are at dinner with a [fictional] character you absolutely HATE.  (Every story has a villain, right?)  What would you talk about?  What you would want to say?  What do you imagine the character would say back?

As I played this game, I realized my inner critic was having the time of her life!  And, since it was a fictional character, I could do/say/think whatever I wanted.  My inner critic is really pulling out all the stops – I’m truly laughing at her exuberance. 

Who do I hate? 

Let’s go with Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)

What would I say?

  • You killed your own kids – yes, you did.  You may not have pulled the trigger but you did it!  You are one cold-hearted b*$%^.
  • And, gross, sleeping with your own brother and having all these incestual kids – okay, it’s a different time but you had to know those kids would be frigging warped!  True, Jamie is cute but come on – show some integrity!
  • Do you ever listen to anyone other than yourself?  Just shut up, will ya!
  • I do have to admit – as much as I hate it – that blowing up your enemies was too cool.  But don’t you see how that might backfire – karma and all that?
  • Did you see Jamie’s face when you sat on that throne?  He’s the king killer – looks like he may be coming for you.  How do you plan to control him?
  • Who do you really think killed Joffrey?  You know it wasn’t Tyrion – you just blamed him to get rid of him.  And why do you really hate Tyrion so much – because he has integrity? 
  • Are you worried at all or do you just think invincible?  Can you not see the forces lining against you?
  • And people all around you really are starving – can you not live quite such a lavish, indulgent lifestyle?
  • Do you care that almost all viewers are looking forward to your demise?  Oh no, you don’t think George R Martin has the guts to get rid of you – ha!

Can you see why my inner critic is frolicking?  I’ve given her free reign (and trust me, she’s being more graphic than I can be here) ….

My inner critic is focused elsewhere and since I’ve given her such a dramatic character, she’ll stay busy for a while.  If I know her, she’ll move through all the characters in Game of Thrones.  I’ll have lots of time to get things done without her voice bringing me down! 

Trust me, Cersei won’t mind!  After all, she’s fictional.  And my having such vehement feelings just proves Lena Headey is a great actress!

What do you when your inner critic rattles your cage?  You know what I’m talking about – you’re trying to do/change/become something and your inner voice tells you why you can’t/ shouldn’t/ won’t.   Before you keep reading, find that voice and let her get a few jabs in – that way, you’ll know if this activity helps you or not.

My inner critic is having a high-old time telling me:

  • “You aren’t a good writer – just look at what that critique just said!”
  • “You’ll never be successful – you’ll just be a drain.  Go find a real job!”
  • “You keep going two steps forward, 100 steps back!”
  • “All you can say you accomplished is the laundry!  Where is your value?”
  • “You have no authority to write about mental health issues.  No one cares what you have to say.”

She needs to SHUT UP … (I wanted to use much more colorful language!)  How can I put a sock in it?  (Note:  first you have to recognize the voice – which requires you to pay attention to your thoughts!)

Ingredients (what you need to do this activity):

It would be great if you have paper and pen but you can just do this in your own brain! 

Actually, trying to “hold” all of this in your mind will really stretch you and force that inner critic to hush – there won’t be room enough for both!

Recipe (how to do this activity):

Recognize that negative voice! 

Choose one or more of the following topics and just think about it.  Dig deep for the answers – don’t settle for easy, superficial answers. 

  1. What are your 5 favorite movies or TV shows and why?  What draws you to that movie – plot, characters, setting?  Be specific.  Think of the people in your life – who would benefit from this story?  Why?
  2. What are your 5 favorite books and why?  What draws you?
  3. What 5 characters would you like to have for dinner or coffee (book, TV, movie – choose a fictional character)?  Why?  What, specifically, would you want to talk about?
  4. Imagine you are at dinner with a character you absolutely HATE.  (Every story has a villain, right?)  What would you talk about?  What you would want to say?  What do you imagine the character would say back?
  5. Imagine you have to write a fictional short story.  Come up with 5 story ideas.  Why do these ideas interest you?
  6. Using your favorite book, TV, movie, as the basis …  Imagine it’s five years later – what is happening with the characters? 
  7. Going back to your favorite books, TV shows, movies - what lesson was the writer trying to teach you (and yes, they all have some lesson)?  Did you agree with the writer’s opinion?  Did they make their opinion clear?  For example, in Cider House Rules, a large part of the story was about abortion.  What did the author want you to believe/think/do?  Pretend to have a debate with the author – even if you agree with him– challenge yourself to argue the other side.
  8. Put two of your favorite (or least favorite) characters from DIFFERENT works into a conversation.  Imagine they have met a dinner party – what would they talk about?  (Example:  Imagine Mr. Darcy talking with Christian Grey.)
  9. Be the Inner Critic for one of your favorite characters.  For example, I love Tate in Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley.  If I got to be his inner critic, what would I say?  (Example:  “Tate, no wonder you’re stuck with Neeta – you deserve each other because you can be such a jerk.”  “That bike does not make you the man you think it does.”) 
  10. Use an early scene of something you’ve recently read or watched.  Now, change it and then follow the story with this change:  Would there even be a story if the beginning changed?  (Example:  In the TV show River, one of the first scenes is River chasing a suspect to his death when he jumped off a roof.  I can re-imagine that scene with the suspect not running.  How does the story change?  How would it develop differently?)
  11. Choosing again, change the setting this time:  How would the story change?  (Example:  Sweet Dreams is set in the tiny fictional town of Carnal, Colorado.  How would the story change if it was a beach, or a large city, or a foreign city, or outer space?)  Or add your mother/sister/friend (not yourself) to the story. 
  12. If the story is both a book and a movie, compare them.  What was left out of the screen version?  Why would the screenwriter leave that out?  How did the scenes get selected?  Would you select different ones?  Usually the book is better, but either way try to figure out why.

Did you notice that I stayed in a fictional world?  That was intentional.  Our inner critic can’t criticize something that’s not real.  Oh she may try to critique your choices or answers, but her voice will be diminished because there is no basis in reality.  In a fictional world, your choices don’t matter – it’s all in a world someone else created.

Assessment (did this activity help you):

Is your Inner Critic quiet?  Or at least quieter?

Did you find another way to entertain yourself instead of listening to negativity? 

Did you learn something about yourself based on your choices?  (I did – I really was able to understand what types of stories bring me joy and why.)

My personal example:

I’ve been watching The Fall on Netflix.  The story is simple – a serial killer is being pursued by a detective.  What makes it so interesting is the character development.  I HATE the main detective, Stella Gibson, who is played by Gillian Anderson.  If I could have her over for dinner what would I want to know?    I’m only ½ through the series, so I started asking questions I hope get answered before it’s over.  Here are a few:

  • Do you feel any moral code when it comes to sleeping with married men?
  • How many have illicit affairs have you had and what have the consequences been?  Would you even call them ‘illicit’ or is that my judgmental word?
  • Do you really just go up to an attractive man and give him your hotel room number without any other form of contact?  How often does that work?  Is the sex good – better than in a committed relationship?
  • Have you ever been in a committed relationship?  What happened?
  • Do you worry about diseases or your reputation or his reputation?
  • Do you consider the wife at all?  Or is that the man’s problem?
  • Are you as cold as you seem?  Have you always been this way?  Do you have any “real” friends?

Okay, so my inner critic is now beating up Stella Gibson – it’s better to beat up some fictional character than me!  And, I get to feel virtuous – I may not be the next Elizabeth Gilbert but at least I’ve never slept with a married man! 

Lastly, and this is just a side benefit, I’m pulled even more into the show – in a way, I’ve entered the show – which will just enhance my watching experience.  As a matter of fact, I’ll be asking these questions to my husband – we should have some great conversation!

An Extra Comment:

My husband does my editing … here is what he added:

“Your Inner Critic is a moron.  If I was violent, I’d kick her ass from here to Hades.” ~ I thought that was sweet and wanted to share.  

Does your brain ever send you negative messages?  I’m not talking about the Inner Critic.  The Inner Critic likes to beat you up for being you.  The Negative Brain just likes to whine about what is.  For example, the Negative Brain may say, “This day sucks.”  The Inner Critic says “this day sucks because you suck.”  A very important distinction.  Today I’d like to talk about the Negative Brain.  Let’s call her Nelly.

I slept late, didn’t have any syrup, and I had appointment that required me to hit Atlanta traffic.  Sitting completely still in the traffic, I had to use the bathroom.  Then one of those idiot drivers who think they are more important darted in front of me, almost taking off my front end.  Nelly sent me a nice negative thought:  “You’re having a terrible day.” 

My initial response, of course, was to agree and to delineate all the ways my day had not been perfect.  After that, my guilt-o-meter reminded me how wonderful I have it, how some people are starving.  I let Nelly and my guilt argue for a bit. 

I hit the 3rd red light in a row.  Nelly threw her hands in the air and screamed, “See, you are having a terrible day.”  Nelly invited me to spiral into the wonderful world of woe-is-me.  For some reason, I immediately pictured a toddler not getting her way.  That made me smile and that made Nelly mad. 

One of the ways I used to handle my children was to distract them with games.  Why can’t Nelly play a game too?

How Could I Let My Negativity Nelly Speak Without Falling Into the Trap? 

“Nelly,” I thought (yes, I actually thought these words), “we like words.  We like to read.  Surely you can come up with a better word than ‘terrible’.”

She jumped into the game – after all, I wasn’t fighting it.  Instead, I was giving her full reign to tell me more. 

“Horrible,” she said.

“Come on, that’s no better than ‘terrible’.”

“Horrendous.”

“That’s too close to horrible to count.  Can you find a four-syllable word?”

After a search inside my grey matter, Nelly excitedly said, “Insufferable.”

“Very nice---” I said but was quickly interrupted.

“Unendurable.”

I smiled at Nelly’s creativity but said, “That’s an impressive word.  But, don’t you think you’re being a bit melodramatic.”

Nelly crossed her arms over her chest. “Unproductive,” she said with a self-satisfied grin.

That was a good one because Nelly knows I like to be productive.  “Maybe,” I said back.  “But I’ve finished the laundry, exercised, fed the dog, canceled that subscription, balanced the checkbook.  Can you come up with something that’s more accurate?” 

I could feel Nelly looking around for a new word.  Finally, I could sense her settle into a satisfying response.  “Frustrating, annoying,” she blared at me.

I smiled (the person in the car next to me must have thought I was nuts) and said aloud, “Those are only three-syllables but I think those are perfect choices.”

Nelly wiggled in excitement for the validation.

“But,” I said, “frustrating and annoying are not the same as terrible.  So, my helpful Nelly, let’s try to find the right words from now on.  Okay?”

She fluffed off in annoyance.  She may have left irritated but she left! 

Next Time

She’ll be back.  She’s in the corner of my mind looking for reasons to whine right now. 

Sometimes I’ll have the wherewithal to stop and play a game to get her diffused and focused more on truth.  Sometimes I will accept the invitation to the whoa-is-me party. 

Regardless, this worked and therefore I have a nice new strategy.  Even if I accomplish nothing else today, I was productive!  Take that, Nelly!

Now I’m wondering what other games I could play.  

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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