June Converse

My Journey from Awareness to Acceptance to Authenticity

Most of you know that I had a mental breakdown in April 2012. Since then I have this BEFORE June and AFTER June. Much of who I was before is gone. A simple example is my handwriting. BEFORE June wrote neatly. I could write in a straight line on plain paper. I could write upside down as fast and legible as right-side up. AFTER June’s handwriting is so bad, I cannot read it. And I’m not exaggerating.

Another aspect of BEFORE June was independence. While I have always leaned on my husband for some things, AFTER June became “dependent”. Anything that might have a tinge of conflict went to him. Anything that might possibly be overwhelming, he’d take over. I barely even know how to turn on TV because it requires more than one button. God help us all if cable or Internet is out.

BEFORE June would not think twice about going on a trip alone. AFTER June cannot imagine even making a hotel reservation!

There are aspects of BEFORE June that I don’t want to reclaim. But I do want to get on a plane and see the world with confidence and excitement instead of uncertainty and anxiety. So ….

I will be going to SCOTLAND ALL BY MYSELF. Just writing that gives me the eebie-jeebies – good ones and bad ones. I’ll fly from Atlanta to Amsterdam to Glasgow – that’s easy. Then I have to learn the train system in Glasgow so I can get to Inverness. I have to get to my room (which I booked all by myself), find food, find my way around, get to Edinburgh, find a new room, find more food. Then, I have to get myself over to Dublin. Whew! Heart pounding thrills!

I’m not sure who is more nervous – me or my husband. When I get freaked, I call him and he steps in. Well, he won’t be able to step in from across the ocean. I may still call him freaking out, he’ll be powerless to save me, and that will freak him out.

I will have to use all the skills I learned in rehab. I’m pre-thinking so that I’m ready for most anything:

BEFORE I GO

Be prepared. I have all my ducks in a row. My itinerary is printed. I’ve communicated with the innkeepers and confirmed my room so there will be no surprises.

Take care of my body. When I get hungry, I get HANGRY. So, I’ve already packed a box of protein bars and some crackers. Not the healthiest choice, but better than hangry. While I plan to taste the flavors of Scotland, I will also be sensitive to choosing foods that nourish and not just indulge. (And, no haggis for me.)

Stay hydrated. For some people, hydration is not as important as it is for me. I’ll buy a large bottle of water as soon as I get past security at the airport. I’ll keep it filled at all times.

Be sure my phone will work BEFORE I go. Same with credit cards. Take some cash (US and Euro) just in case.

Talk with my doctor about how to find sleep on the trip over. Exhaustion and hunger are my two worst enemies!

Take my Zentangle stuff. Usually a book is enough to take my mind somewhere else, but doodling can add to that calm.

Pack carefully – find the balance between too much and not enough. I won’t have Dave to be my porter so I need to be able to manhandle everything.

Have ibuprofen in my carry-on! And a blanket – I hate to be cold and those airline blankets are worthless!

Don’t drink alcohol on the plane.

IN SCOTLAND

Check that my phone works immediately so I can get it fixed if necessary before my meandering starts.

Keep protein bars easy to reach.

Ask innkeepers where it’s safe to go and listen. Use Uber, public transportation, or local taxis. Get up early rather than stay out late.

Keep a book with me at all times. When I have a book, if I’m stuck waiting or getting impatient or feeling overwhelmed, I can disappear into a story and find peace until I’m able to calm and think. (audio, ebook AND hard copy)

Don’t over plan the days! Again, I have to prevent exhaustion. I cannot see it all. I’ll just plan a second or third or fourth trip.

Sink into the accents. When stressed, I can close my eyes and just listen. It won’t matter what’s being said - the voice will be enough.

Remember that anything “bad” that happens is happening IN SCOTLAND! And, seriously, it’ll be great fodder for this blog!

ASK FOR HELP. People everywhere are nice.

And, when all else fails, remind myself that there is a CHANCE I’ll see Jamie from Outlander. I don’t want him to see me in a meltdown.

AFTER SCOTLAND

No matter what happens, find reasons to celebrate and reflect on anything that went awry.

Create the scrapbook, focusing on how proud I am of myself – I can even be proud of the issues I have! After all, I WILL HAVE VISITED SCOTLAND – by myself!!

I can do this. I know I can.

I will do this. I know I will.

I wrote last time about the selfishly aborted shopping trip the day before my mother fell and broke her hip. She died less than a week later.

On Sunday we were told she would not survive this fall and “if people wanted to come say goodbye, now was the time.” One of my jobs was to make telephone calls. I called cousins and one uncle, an aunt. I called one of my mother’s church friends (I’ll dedicate an entire blog to that call). I called their housekeeper, who also happens to be one of my closest friends. Her name is Sandy.

On Sunday, I returned with lunch around eleven AM and what did I see? Sandy sitting next to my mother, talking with her, calming her, stroking her arm, holding her hand. Even as I write this, the need to cry is overwhelming. Tears of gratitude but mostly tears of guilt and shame. But I won’t let the tears fall (a subject of another post).

As much as I needed to … as much as I actually wanted to … I could not sit and touch my mother like that. We are not a “touchy-feely” family. I can recall almost every hug my parents have given me because there are so few. I have never hugged my brothers or nieces or nephews. Even hugging my own children causes a low-level anxiety.

It’s not just me. My brothers and my father also didn’t touch her or each other (well, Dad did rub her arm in those final minutes).

She passed with me standing on one side of the bed and my father on the other. We held hands across that space until we realized what we were doing. Then – BAM – we dropped the hold. When my father started to cry (which I had NEVER seen him do), I walked around the bed to rub his shoulders. That was the best I could offer. No hug. No words of love or grief. A thirty-second rub. And I promise you he was not comforted by that – touch in our family is simply uncomfortable.

Others Try It

I have a few “huggy” friends and my in-laws like to hug too. I am so uneasy that everyone is tense. It’s so bad that many of these huggers just stopped trying. Others stand back, look me in the eye and say, “Hold on, I’m going to hug you.” Then I brace, hold my breath, survive. What most of these people don’t know is that I usually want to snuggle in and almost always choke back tears.

I have to give my in-laws credit. After 27 years of marriage, they haven’t given up on me.

My Own Nuclear Family

Whenever my son and his family visit (which is often), he and my husband always embrace. The same is true for my daughter and even her boyfriend. I sit on the couch so jealous and isolated. It’s horrible. But I cannot bring myself to enter that tenderness. Why is that? It’s more than just a family culture – it’s deeper and more insidious.

My husband wishes I was more touch-oriented. As a matter of fact, and sadness, touch is one of his love languages and I have the hardest time meeting that need. He’s adjusted but it should have been me to make adjustment.

Even writing about this is stressful to me. I want to be a hugger – to be tender with people. But more than that, I’d like to understand why it’s so hard for me and my entire family. Do we not think we deserve the touch? Did someone along the way make touch ‘wrong’ or ‘scary’? Do we not think people want our touch?

I’m wondering now why I never thought to discuss this with my therapist. I guess it’s one of those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ things. Maybe one day I’ll have the courage to investigate this deeper. Hopefully I can figure this out before my father dies and I’m left feeling sad that I didn’t/couldn’t reassure him of my love with hugs and caresses.

Instead of Hugs

I don’t think my son or future D-I-L read this blog, but if they do… Brian and Angelena, watching the two of you hug my mom, tell her you love her and then snuggling in close to my dad is one my most precious gifts. I’ll try to do better. I love you.

To Sandy P – Thank you for a million things! You made my mother feel special and my father smile. You accept me with all my idiosyncrasies. I love you.

As I write this, my mother is living in a rehab center after a fall and a hospital stay. This is at least the sixth time we’ve done the rehab thing. She is bored there. She is lonely there. I get that. It’s not a great place to be. But the kids, myself included, cannot visit all day every day. As a matter of fact, we cannot visit every day. We have lives, jobs, and responsibilities. She’s lonely. She’s bored. She earned this.

I am not saying my mother fell on purpose. I am saying that she has not done everything she could to prevent it (nor even close). For years, we’ve tried to get her to exercise – just walk around more, do the stationary bike for a few minutes a day. For that matter, just get up and do circles in the living room. For years, we’ve tried to get her to eat better. It took her almost 55 years to quit smoking. She used to tell me that George Burns lived to be in his nineties and he smoked. UGH!

I’m also suggesting that if my parents had entered a nice assisted living facility earlier, we very likely would not be facing this situation again! I realize I can’t know that – maybe she would have had the same problems. But I do know she would have been forced to walk to the dining hall (exercise!), her meals would have been more balanced (diet!), and smoking would have ceased once and for all. She would have been able to make friends and do activities (socialization!). She would have nurses checking in on her regularly and doing more preventative care.

As to her boredom, she would love surfing the net. She could shop and read gossip and listen to her favorite people. She could watch any show she wanted anytime she wanted, read any book that struck her fancy. But, every time one of us tried to teach her to use modern technology, she’d say “I can’t figure it out” and then she’d give up. My parents don’t even have an ATM card or a cell phone. How they do their banking is beyond me.

What’s my point? Last week, I told my husband that if anything ever happened to him, I’d have no idea how to manage all the media crap in our house. I told him I’d be stuck just reading. Does that sound familiar? (Note to self: have husband teach me everything!)

As I’ve been visiting my mom, I’ve let my exercise drop off and I’ve eaten like crap. And we all know that once we start putting crap in our mouths, it’s harder to stop. Does that sound familiar?

I’ve talked to many people in this so-called “sandwich generation”, and we all have similar complaints. Elderly people want to stay in their homes no matter the burden on the rest of the family, no matter the risk to their health and quality of life. As I stand here now in my healthy middle years, I say ‘I won’t do that to my kids’. I promise them that I’ll peacefully and happily go to assisted living. My parents said the same thing. Until, that is, the time came. So, how can I keep my promise to my kids? How can I NOT become one of ‘those’ parental units?

I do not want my kids having to take care of me. My parents did not want that either. But here we are. And this is NOT where I want to be in thirty years.

Maybe my kids can print this blog and force me to read it when I whine about having to move. My husband is looking into long-term care insurance. It’s pricey but money becomes a huge issue. What else can I do? Exercise. Eat right. Take care of my mental health. Refuse to isolate myself. Have real hobbies and interests. Keep up with technology.

I think I’ll write myself a letter (Dear Old Me). In the letter, I’ll lay out my plans, my promises, my willingness to move and get care. Then when I’m old and refusing to move, my kids can shove that letter in my face. Think that will work?

“Memories begin to creep forward from hidden corners of your mind. Passing disappointments. Lost chances, and lost causes. Heartbreaks and pain and desolate, horrible loneliness. Sorrows you thought long forgotten mingle with still-fresh wounds. The stone [of memories] feels heavier in your hand. [But] When you drop it … you feel lighter. As though you have released something more than a smooth polished piece of rock.”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Thank You

As we get closer to Christmas and 2019, I want to first thank all of you who read my blog. I’d like to send a special thank you to anyone who has reached out when something I’ve written resonates. These blogs are often hard to write because I try to be vulnerable – my appreciation for you is real and sincere.

Stones of Pain

Oftentimes, Christmas and the New Year bring painful memories, profound loneliness, deep despair, dramatic disappointments. Imagine each of these hurts as stones. Some of these stones are as small as grains of sand, others are pebbles or rocks or boulders or mountains. They are heavy and exhausting to carry. If you stuff your pockets with stones, you will drown.

What if you were to buy some smooth stones and write a hurt on each one? Be as vulnerable as you can (no one will see these but you). Spread the stones out on a table and look at all the weight you carry. Which stones can you eliminate?

You can’t eliminate them all. I wish you could, but you can’t. Some of the hurts are a necessary part of this season of life, some of the hurts you simply cannot control, some of the hurts you actually prefer to hold. That’s all okay. But, surely, you can find one or two or three or four to drop?

Look at your stones carefully. Separate into piles:

  • Ready to Drop
  • Want to Drop but Not Quite Ready
  • Don’t Want to Drop

Ripples: Ready to Drop

ripples from water drops

What if you could drop these stones into a lake? You will inevitably create ripples for yourself and others.

Some of these ripples will be tiny and barely noticeable. One of my stones is a sister-in-law that I discovered doesn’t like me. At first that seemed like a boulder. But, when I looked at it more closely – when I held that stone in my hand – I realized it was more of a pebble. My relationship (or lack of) will not impact my life at all. Plop – into the lake it goes.

I have a ‘friend’ who judges me whenever I order a healthy meal – she accuses me of not being true to my eating disordered self. She wants me to hold on to the eating disorder. You, too, will have people in your life that don’t want you to drop the stones. You may have to lose or change some relationships. Bigger ripples. Plop.

Which of your stones are because of your own choices? One of my stones is my ongoing battle with eating. It’s painful to know what I need to do and be unwilling to do it. Did you notice I said ‘unwilling’ not ‘unable’? I am ABLE to do anything I want. This painful stone may be because of past hurts, but I’m 53 and while I need to understand the source of my eating disorder, I do not need it to control me anymore. Plop. Plop.

Before you drop any stones, be sure you consider the ripples. Don’t get caught off-guard – if you do, you’re likely to dive into the lake, find that rock and put it back in your pocket. If that happens, the rock may feel heavier.

Want To Drop – Eventually

Some of your stones just can’t go into the lake yet. There are painful relationships that you can’t change – yet. You have financial responsibilities that may force you to stay in a painful place – for now. Maybe you’re a student and stuck in that environment – you’ll be done soon. Maybe there is a coach that hurts you and your options are limited – time will fix this for you.

Maybe you have some painful habits or situations that you can’t just drop on your own. But you can start to prepare yourself to drop that stone – find a support group, go to a therapist, find resources, talk to someone you trust, journal. If you truly want to drop this stone someday, start to prepare today. Who knows? In 2020, you might be ready to throw it into the center of the lake.

Don’t Want To Drop

You like some of the stones – you hold them close and aren’t ready to let them go. These stones are your ‘known’. The known is comfortable, safe. If you drop the pain, you enter the ‘unknown’ and that’s scary.

That’s okay! We all have those hurts that are like warm blankets. So, instead of dropping them in the lake, take the time to identify the pain. Don’t pretend you are holding tight to certain hurts. If you lie to yourself you’ll compound your pain. Begin to consider why you want to hold on. How does that hurt serve you? What might happen if you dropped it into the lake?

Let me give you an example of a pain I’m not ready to let go. Many years ago I had a friend who betrayed me terribly. I am unwilling to forgive her. I won’t even entertain the idea of forgiveness. I’m holding that hurt close to my chest. I’m not sure I can explain why – but I’m at least willing to investigate how that unforgiveness benefits me. Who knows, maybe sometime in 2019, I can drop that in the lake.

Not a Metaphor: The Water Calms

If at all possible, don’t let this blog be a cute metaphor. Buy some rocks, write down your hurts, toss them in a deep body of water (one rock at a time). Be intentional about letting those hurts go. Watch the ripples and you’ll see that soon the water calms again!

If rocks are impossible, write each hurt on a scrap of paper. Once you’ve chosen the ones to drop, strike a match and burn the paper (one scrap at a time). Blow the ashes into the wind. The wind will take the ashes away.

2019 Looms on the Horizon

Maybe we can all enter 2019 a little lighter. Plop. Plop.

See you in the New Year!

Smooth stones can be purchased at any craft shop or on Amazon.

The last two posts I have shared with you a problem that occurred while vacationing in paradise with my family (husband, daughter, son and future daughter-in-law). Basically, I got my feelings hurt in three ways (having breakfast alone every morning, my children not reading my novel, and my family playing without me). I used Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N method to settle my elevated emotional state. Now, let me move on to what happened next …

My husband showed up for breakfast and I started out calmly trying to tell him that I wanted him to spend more time with me – i.e., at least come to breakfast so I didn’t have to eat alone. That went fine but when it came time discuss my hurt feelings about my kids not reading my book and not playing games (which I brought along to play while hanging by the water), my hurt resurfaced and tears ran down my cheeks.

What I wanted my husband to say – what I needed him to say – was “You’re right, honey, it would hurt anyone’s feelings if their own children ignored their achievement.” AND “I think playing games sounds like fun. Let’s do that this afternoon when it’s too hot to be in the ocean anyway.” AND “I appreciate your getting up early every morning and making sure the family gets the best chairs in the best spot.”

What he said was ….. drum roll …. “Do you think you should take some Xanax?”

boxers

KAPOW!

All right, now let me say right now that my husband is wonderfully supportive, always always in my corner, has had to handle a lot of turmoil because of bi-polar disorder. He often – usually – says the right thing or at least doesn’t say the wrong thing.

But, I guess he’d had too much rest or too much sun or too many frozen beverages. Because what he did say was exactly the wrong thing to say.

Gaslighting

Do you know the term gaslighting? I think it actually comes from the movie Gaslight, which was produced in 1944 with Ingrid Berman and Charles Boyer.

The exact definition is: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

There is even an article on it in Psychology Today: (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201704/7-stages-gaslighting-in-relationship)

Now, my husband does not manipulate me in any way. In no way do I want to make light of the psychological effects of such manipulation. I am not a victim of gaslighting. But, this one episode made me feel like I was losing my sanity.

Feeling Crazy

Let me see if I can explain this better. I often worry that I’m “crazy”. My husband (and others) assure me that since I do worry about it, I’m not. According to him, only truly crazy people think they aren’t. I don’t know about that but it sounds good.

Anyway, when he asked me if I needed Xanax, it was as if he said, “You really are crazy and you need to be medicated.” This forced me to question if I was wrong to believe my kids should read my book, or wrong to want my family to spend time doing things we all enjoy, or wrong to want to eat breakfast with my husband. Was I just wrong? Was I being too emotional and was there no “rational” reason to be hurt and angry?

What made it worse is that the statement was from my husband. Remember, I said earlier that he is always calm with me, always patient, always helping me manage my distress. So, when he said this it felt like he was saying, “Okay, you’re going too far into crazy-land. Take a chill pill.”

Now What?

I spent the entire day in a bad place. Angry one minute. Despairing the next. I tried to stay in a shell as much as I could but there was no way my family didn’t notice that mom was distressed.

I was “over it” the next day – or at least, had put it on a back burner of my heart. But when we returned home, I felt …. I’m struggling to find the exact right term … distant, discordant, distrustful. It was like we existed on two different planets. I was on the “I’m getting mentally healthier planet.” He was on the “my wife’s got some serious problems planet.”

We got along fine. It was that I no longer trusted him to see me correctly. I felt like he saw me through the lens of mental illness. And, while I still struggle and always will, I am much healthier and able to recognize my symptoms and implement management strategies.

Help!

I began to seriously think we needed couple’s counseling. I felt so far away from him. We peacefully coexisted but we weren’t a team or a couple. Not a good place. At one point, I wondered if he’d notice if I moved out.

Thankfully, I had an appointment with my therapist. I told her about the entire scenario and she validated that my feelings are always right. She further reinforced that I did an excellent job using R.A.I.N to handle what in the past would have been debilitating emotions. When I mentioned my husband’s comment about taking a Xanax, this is what she said …

“For most of your marriage, he has lived with someone who didn’t handle overwhelming emotions in a productive way. You have gone through a significant change. You are a different person and he needs to re-learn this new you. Because you have changed, your relationship must also change.”

I likened it to a couple facing the empty nest or a couple with their first child. Life no longer looks the same. My often-unbalanced-self has left the home and we now must re-create our lives with this new, intuitively-grounded-self. Do I live in a perfectly adjusted wise mind? Heck no! But I’m better able to see when I’ve gone wonky and I’m letting emotions control the world. I also am able to sense when I’ve let my boundaries lapse and make the necessary adjustments.

I use R.A.I.N. faster and because of that, I am able to understand where my emotions are really coming from. That allows me to address the real problem.

I have been able to explain all of this to him and we are in a better place. Counseling may still be warranted – and he’s more than willing – we’ll just see.

This episode was very difficult but I think I learned to do better about figuring out what I need and asking for it in a very specific way. I think my husband is doing better not jumping to a “she’s just being too emotional” mindset. After 26-years, we will make it. One day at a time.

A Note To Dave

Dave edits these blogs so I can’t keep any secrets. So, Dave, thank you for all your years of rescuing me from myself. I think I can handle the life vest now! I don’t believe I could have ever faced all of these issues without knowing you are in my corner.

Also, feel free to write your own comments at the bottom of this. Every story has two-three-four sides and I never want you to feel your perspective is discounted.

Dave’s Comments:

So, to be honest, your statement of “Okay, you’re going too far into crazy-land. Take a chill pill.” was probably dead-on. I certainly didn’t “mean it” that way or certainly in any derogatory way, but that’s probably a pretty accurate statement and I certainly understand why you felt that way. I was shocked at the time that it upset you, because I’ve probably said that 20 other times over the past few years and every single time previously you have said something like: “Ya – that’s probably a good idea”.

The other thing from the “other perspective” is this: You stated “I got my feelings hurt in three ways (having breakfast alone every morning, my children not reading my novel, and my family playing without me).” I strongly supported (in my mind at least), the point about the kids not reading your novel. I said that I was very disappointed in that – didn’t defend them and thought it was a crappy thing to do. While I know they didn’t do it to hurt your feelings, it was something they should have done just to be nice if nothing else. I totally get “why” this hurt your feelings – and I feel those were totally “rational” and valid for anyone. The other two I’m not sure I “get”, but they’re still your valid emotions. From my perspective, the breakfast thing is really unfair as you went out of your way proactively to encourage me to sleep in every day since I was so tired and stressed from work. You even went so far as to say things like you enjoy your quiet time in the morning with your coffee – I bought-in that you were truly OK with it. And, I genuinely appreciated it (and still do). I believe (although wouldn’t swear to it) that I told you upfront if you ever wanted company, feel free to wake me up. And, on the ‘playing without you’ or playing the games you brought, my perspective is you simply should have asked to play games– we would have all been very happy to play. And, we did end up playing them and we all had a great time. Yes – it would have been nice for one of us to bring it up or suggest it earlier, but no one was trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. On the other activities, I did ask you virtually every time if you wanted to do it (although I knew you probably didn’t) so not sure what to do there – I know you want us to do stuff like that………. So, while I see two of them from a different vantage point, I do understand your perspective on those two as well – I really do. I just didn’t see them that way at the time. Reflecting on it now, I wonder if one thing hurt your feelings and the other two were mostly kerosene being thrown on the fire? NOT saying they didn’t hurt your feelings – just wondering if you could have handled them OK if the reading piece didn’t happen……

I love you – and I love your progress – and agree it’s a good thing for me to re-evaluate my going-in “take” when I see you being “too emotional” from my where I sit. JYou are a different person (as am I). And, yes – we’ll make definitely make it. We both need to tweak and adjust as we navigate the journey ahead, and that’s part of the joy of the journey. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Resource:

Tara Brach has many excellent resources. Use this link for an excellent article specifically on RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/

She also has several YouTube videos on this topic. Simply search: Tara Brach RAIN

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions!).

Seventy-five degrees. Swaying palm trees. Heaven. Paradise. Free food, free drinks and even pool boys to deliver. Warm blue water. Paradise. Heaven.

It’s 7:15AM and there I sat. The sunrise filtered through the trees and reflected off the pure white sand. The night before, my entire family laughed and teased and simply enjoyed each other. My coffee cup was full and the fruit was fresh. Tears streamed down my face. I was most unhappy in a very happy place.

Why would anyone be unhappy sitting in paradise? Well, this was day four of our vacation and day four of my sitting ALONE for breakfast. Every morning I rose at 6 AM, tagged the family beach chairs, read until 7:15 and then went to breakfast. Everyone else slept and slept and slept. That was fine at first. But on this day, I was lonely and …

The day before I had discovered that while my kids bought my first published novel, they had not bothered to actual read it. Wow! Punch in the gut. That hurt and as I sat alone (again), the hurt festered and became anger. Once the anger kicked in, warring factions in my mind started to fight.

Picture a boxing ring. In one corner stood “Rational Mind” and in the other corner stood “Emotional Mind”. Ding Ding Ding … let the fight begin:

boxing ring with masked cartoon boxer

Round 1:

Rational Mind: Dave has been under such stress. He deserves this time off. You should be glad he’s getting this time to sleep.

Emotional Mind: I agree – or I agreed – but come on, he could get up with me just once and have a nice breakfast. He would get up if daughter wanted to have breakfast. (Uh-oh, my jealous self has entered the fray).

Round 2:

Rational Mind: You haven’t even told him you want him to get up. As a matter of fact, you’ve told him you don’t mind getting up – that you enjoy the early morning. Etc. Etc. Etc. Do you expect him to read your mind? You know he would gladly get up if you just mentioned it.

Emotional Mind: He should WANT to have breakfast with me. At least once. I should not have to beg for my husband’s attention.

Round 3:

Rational Mind: It’s lovely here, isn’t it? You were worried about this resort being subpar. But, everything has really been great. As a matter of fact, you said that this is the first place you’ve come to you’d want to return to. Now, look at you!

Emotional Mind: Do you see that I am the only one sitting alone? Every other family is together. It’s embarrassing sitting alone. And now I’m crying. People are seeing me crying and wondering what the hell is her problem.

Rational Mind: I’m wondering the same thing…. What is your problem?

Round 4:

Emotional Mind: It really hurts that my own kids didn’t read my book.

Rational Mind: I agree! That does hurt and it’s okay for that to be hurtful.

DING DING DING

Somehow my therapist’s voice stepped between my fighting selves and suggested I use the RAIN technique to help me handle these overwhelming/competing emotions. RAIN is a mindfulness technique that “directs our attention in a clear, systematic way that cuts through confusion and stress.”* RAIN is an acronym for Recognize-Allow-Investigate-NonJudgment.

I’ve used RAIN effectively many times – either in the moment or afterwards to try to understand what happened and why I made a certain decision. It’s easy, private and can be done sitting in traffic. For me, the entire process requires that I develop a mindset of curiosity. In other words, I’m not trying to fix anything or find a solution. I’m just trying to move forward. There is no true goal with RAIN except to relax and get back living in the present.

Let’s let it RAIN in paradise:

[R]ecognize: What is Happening?

This is the easiest step – take a few minutes to feel your body, notice your surroundings and recognize the emotions swirling around.

My body is tight, my shoulders are pulled to my ears, tears clog my throat. I have an intense desire to tear a napkin to shreds and then take a taxi somewhere and let my husband worry about where I’ve gone. I’d like to climb back in a bed and howl at the moon.

The breeze is lovely across my shoulders. My coffee needs more cream. The eggs are making my stomach wonky.

My feelings are hurt because my children did not read my book and because my husband did not denounce them for that.

Rather than “hold” these hurt feelings, I am spiraling to anger. And once in anger, I am seeking justification to be angry. I am also bullying myself nasty names.

[A]llow– Just accept that this is where you are right now. Say “yes” to the experience.

The way I do this is very simple. I say – loud enough for only me to hear –

  • “The breeze feels nice.”
  • “The sun is warm on my back.”
  • “I feel sweat forming on my neck.”
  • “I am sitting alone drinking my coffee.”
  • “I am experiencing hurt feelings and some anger.”
  • “The man next to me has on a Hawaiian shirt and has a large plate of pineapple.”
  • “I would like more pineapple.”

By forcing myself to notice all that is around me, I am also forced to be in the moment and not in the past (where the insult occurred) or in the future (which I cannot control). I literally just state WHAT IS in the moment. Facts only.

[I]nvestigate (with Kindness)

I am often more settled and calmer during the “Recognize” and “Allow” portions of this process. But, because I could still feel the anxiety deep inside (which meant it would too easily take back over), I did this step too. But, “with kindness” is tricky. You’ll see what I mean …

There are many different questions you can ask yourself in this step. But what I find most helpful are these:

What am I believing about myself? How is this situation feeding my story?

--- this is a good place to stop for today … next week, I’ll open my heart and delve into what I believed about myself during this scenario. It will be a painful admission and likely will require more R.A.I.N.


Resource:

Tara Brach has many excellent resources. Use this link for an excellent article specifically on RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/

She also has several YouTube videos on this topic. Simply search: Tara Brach Rain

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions! J).

My Goal for Myself and This Blog

Over the last month, I’ve been considering what I want to accomplish with this blog. Over the last two years, I’ve tried to show what life is like inside a bi-polar mind – the good and the bad. When I embarked on that writing plan, I had several goals in mind: a) show people they are not alone in their internal pain and struggles, b) help people put words to their struggle, c) share new insights into coping strategies, d) help people better understand the struggles of those they love. Based on feedback, I’ve at least partially achieved these goals.

But – and this is a big but – if I can share not only my struggle AND my process for working through the pain AND how I use my ‘problems’ to meet my life goals then so much the better. I still struggle – daily – with excess emotional energy (my term) and when I let this energy take over, I lose sight of myself and often make bad, painful, hurtful choices for myself and others. My goal for myself is to continue to intentionally seek balance between ACCEPTANCE and TRANSFORMATION. My goal for this blog is to help anyone who also needs or wants this balance.

A Few Technical Things

The next few paragraphs may be boring … but I think they are necessary as an explanation for how this blog will change and hopefully become more useful to all of us.

Do you know what the DSM-5 is? It’s the manual of “mental disorders” physicians use to designate the proper diagnoses for you and me. Can you guess how many pages are in the DSM-5? Seriously, jot down a guess.

The copy I most recently held has 525 pages … and the print was so small I had to find my strongest reading glasses. That’s 525 pages of labels. Just the eating disorder section has 10 different codes and a myriad of subcodes.

The table of contents is 9 pages. Take a look at the table of contents – it’s fascinating: https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/.../DSM/APA_DSM-5-Contents.pdf.

Once the proper (hopefully) diagnoses are assigned, the provider moves to the ICD-10 code book. This huge book assigns each diagnosis an alpha-numeric code. It is primarily used for insurance reimbursement.1

For example, I have two DSM-5 labels and these have associated ICD-10 alpha-numerical codes:

  • Bipolar II is F.31.81
  • Eating Disorder, unspecified is F50.9

If there are 525 pages of diagnosis options, then how many treatment options must exist? I suppose it’s unlimited. So far, in my various treatment settings, I have been exposed to: ACT, DBT, CBT, EMDR, RAIN, EFT. That’s just the treatment modalities that use an acronym. Alphabet Soup. I’ve also learned about schema theory, Jungian theory – etc. etc. etc.

No Treatment Plan is Perfect

What I’ve discovered is that NO MODEL is the answer to all problems. YET EVERY MODEL has something of value to offer. Thankfully, I have been able to pull nuggets from each treatment modality to put in my toolbox. But, over the last year or so, I’ve forgotten about these tools, these techniques, these helpful nuggets. It’s not that I’m not using any skills – I have to actively use skills in order to have quality relationships with myself and with others.

But, I have gotten into a rut and therefore my coping mechanisms have become less effective, less interesting. In a word: boring! Therefore, I’m going to revisit all the wonderful – helpful – healing techniques my great therapists have taught me. I’m going to crack open the pages and pages of notes. I’m going to re-read the books on my suggested reading lists.

Read or Transform?

Reading about a strategy is educational – but not transformational. My life goal – and one of my most important values – is to attempt to see myself honestly and ACCEPT all that I am. It doesn’t stop there. I also seek to improve my life and my relationships. I strive to TRANSFORM.

The Upcoming Journey

I’m hoping you’ll come along with me on this re-discovery journey to healthy strategies. Each week, I’ll continue to write about a specific painful struggle I’m facing. But I’ll also present a strategy to implement. It is my hope that these strategies will help me reduce suffering and direct me to a positive outcome. Maybe the strategy will work – maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m meeting my goal to hold all that I am with tenderness.

Suggested Reading

I have so many books that therapists have recommended. Some of these are now sitting in front of me and I am committed to re-reading them and using the author’s expertise. I’ve included that list below2. My shelves are full but I’ve selected these to get started:

These resources were not chosen at random. They are on my shelf only because a professional recommended it to me.

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions! J).

NOTES

1 The DSM-5 and the ICD-10 system are used for insurance reimbursement. This, of course, assumes you have insurance coverage. We all know that insurance coverage for mental health issues in the US is either wholly inadequate or non-existent. That is a topic for another day. Whether you have insurance or not, your provider will use the DSM-5 and ICD-10 system for your records.

2 There is also a tab on my website. I will keep this tab updated with any resource I utilize.

The first time was in eighth grade. The little bottles were arranged like soldiers. There were fourteen bottles -- one for every year of my life. I didn’t make that connection then but looking back that seems poetic or foreshadowing.

The little red one I remember the most. It was the exact size and shape of a Good & Plenty candy. Rather than pink, however, it was harlot red with a thin blue line. I wanted to collect them all, but worried I’d be caught, I only stole two. The next few were more inline with my previous experience: white powdery circles that I knew would taste bitter.

I placed my treasure – 33 in total – in a sandwich baggie. Enough? It had to be. This baggie went with me everywhere. In English class, I’d put the plastic treasure chest between my thighs and squeeze each one while Mrs. Darden made fun of me. I’ll show you, I’d think. On the school bus, I’d put my nose inside, breath deep and enjoy the aroma I could not name. While struggling with my homework and my father’s savagery, I’d place a pretty red one between my fingers and roll it around, careful not to crush the tender coating.

The day finally arrived – the day I’d swallow my treasure. I have no idea what precipitated the decision, what final insult I could not survive. I planned to tell no one. My treasure, my secret. Darren saw the bag. He sat next to me in English class. He was funny and kind and skinny and pimply. His blue eyes found mine and he simply asked, “What’s that for?”

I clutched the bag to my chest, shrugged. Even now, I don’t know what Darren thought. Did he think I was planning to become a drug dealer? Did he understand my goal to leave this place? Funny, you know, I was never scared of killing myself. It was just a decision. Not even sophisticated enough to be called a plan. Just a way to have some control. But Darren said the one right – or wrong – thing. “If you throw it away, I won’t tell.” In retrospect, I see that his “telling on me” shouldn’t have mattered. I would not be around to suffer consequences anyway. I was fourteen, of course it mattered. I flushed my treasure away at the next opportunity.

That was the first abyss I remember. I had no way of knowing that I’d spend a lifetime becoming a master pit builder.

Pits of despair are universally understood but individually experienced. Whether these chasms are created due to circumstance or hand-excavated, we all sit in our pits alone. Not alone, exactly. We share the hole with guilt, self-pity, exhaustion and a healthy dose of blame.

Even though each pit is a unique creation, I’ve learned there are some commonalities among pit-dwellers. Pits are dark and the smell of culpability permeates the walls. Tears – yours and others – force mud to ooze between the toes. There is only cold. Wails, even the silent ones, echo off the walls.

Each pit is furnished with two vital pieces of equipment: a shovel and a permanent marker. With the shovel we can dig deeper, making the light at the top smaller and smaller, the climb harder and harder. I’ve carved crypts and rested, I’ve flagellated myself or beat the walls in anger.

With the marker, I use words to prove my need to stay in the abyss longer. I use my creativity and pain to slander individuals or the entire world. Whatever we write on those pit walls, we also chisel into our soul. The words may fade but never disappear – they will be waiting in the next pit.

People see me in my pit. Some pretend they don’t notice the desolation carving wrinkles on my face. Other people rush on past, afraid I’m carrying a contagion. A select few – and these faces I will forget or forgive – throw more dirt in my hole, enjoying my dark reality. Then there are the angels who put in their hand, offering me a chance out. Sadly, these beautiful people are often forgotten.

The shovel and the marker are also tools of rescue and redemption. When I let enough light in, I redesign or reconfigure cruel, hurtful words. Pasts cannot be re-written but they can be reframed. New truths can be constructed, new strengths developed. I can cling to the infallibility that the sun rises every day – just look up -- my hole may be deep and the sunlight narrow, but it is there, it is giving me light.

I met a man yesterday whose wife of 52-years died in her sleep nine months ago. He’s in his pit but he’s using his shovel to create footholds and the light is getting brighter. He’s extending his shovel to those of us who are willing to help pull him out. He’s used his marker in anger for her leaving; for guilt in things not said, promises not kept. But, when he remembers their years together, he adds hearts to her name and memories to each letter. It’s okay to rest in your pit for a season. Sometimes the pit is the best rest you’ll ever have.

I wish I could say I’ve never created another baggie. I have. Oh, it looked different – I no longer need to steal from my mother. But I’ve stood on the edge, both arms extended, wanting so badly to crash into the darkness and take permanent residence. But a version of Darren peers in, extends his hand, and waits on my choice. That’s the thing about pits -- we can stay, we can entrench ourselves or we can climb.

When -- if -- you decide to climb, it will be your muscles that hurt, your heart rate that explodes, your sweat pouring forth. Only you can face the doubt – the doubt in your ability to make the climb, the doubt in your right to leave the pit. Only you can do the work. And, let me be honest, it’s easier to dig pits than it is to ascend the depths.

I alone experience my version of despair. I alone know what I experience when I lose, fail, or suffer. You too have suffered. But you do not suffer like I suffer and I do not suffer like you suffer. You cannot be my strength and I cannot be yours. While you can stay in the bowels as long as you like, when you are ready to leave, only you can put one foot in front of the other.

I went to school with Darren for five more years. We ran in the same circles. He never spoke another word to me. Not one word. He also never told. He could have destroyed me with one juicy piece of gossip. I doubt he thinks of me. I think of him daily and have for 38 years. Without meaning to, he saved me.

There is one more universal element to the pits. We all have them. Look behind you. Do you see the scars on the ground, the newly planted grass, or the unsettled soil? Look ahead. Do you see where shovels sit and wait? Get ready to climb. Build your muscles. There is danger ahead. Look to your left, to your right, look up – hope is there somewhere. Take her to the pits with you.

I have purple hair. My husband wears a three-piece suit. We have a dragon for a pet.

Our dragon – let’s call her Dammit – loves Oreos and has discovered coffee is quite tasty if it costs $5. Dammit rests on the precipice between an unruly toddler and an insufferable teenager. Give her the Oreos, she bats her long lashes and coos. Deny her the Oreos, she uses her spiked tail as a weapon of mass destruction. She’s impossible to ignore, impossible to hate. Harder still to love. Her motivations are always simple: she wants what she wants, whatever that is, whenever she wants it. She’s never been seen or introduced, but everyone has met her.

The purple hair was her idea. It started with a tattoo.

“I’d like to get a tattoo,” I told my conservative husband of twenty plus years.

He pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes. The wheels in his mind searched for the right words, the proper combination of syllables to say no without saying no. Then, he snorted. My perfectly put together man snorted. Dammit awoke. After all, snorting is the language of dragons.

“Well,” he started his measured response, “I don’t have to worry about this. You won’t even get a flu shot. You’ll never volunteer for the pain of tattoo needles.” My husband is supposed to be the dragon-slayer but sometimes he forgets Dammit exists.

I heard her cage rattle. I felt the heat of her expelled fire. Turning her direction, she stared at me with her tiny arms across her large chest. “He just called you a chicken,” she said to me. “You cannot let him get away with that.”

Laughing, I said to Dammit, “I am chicken. I think he wins this one.” I too chose the exact wrong combination of words.

Dammit’s bushy eyebrows rose into her hair and her blue eyes narrowed. “Oh no. You will be getting that tattoo.” Her tail appeared around her body and, like a bully sporting for a fight, poked me in the shoulder.

As parents sometimes have to do, I walked away.

Dammit may be immature, but she’s no dummy. Wherever we went, Dammit pointed out cool tattoos or unique designs and previously unnoticed tattoo shops. She fed me fun phrases. She found people I respected who had body art. When I ignored her, she turned up the temperature. “Get something religious. Get Brian to go with you. It can be mother/son bonding experience.”

Children have lots of unique gifts. But their most well-developed genius is understanding when our defenses are down. Dragons have the same instinct.

It was a Friday night after a long week. My dragon-slaying husband was out-of-town. Tired + Lonely + Alcohol. Do I need to finish this? I now have two – yes, two – tattoos for a religion I no longer embrace. Dammit loves them!

My husband’s response started as shock. Once recovered, he again rattled Dammit’s cage. “One tattoo can be sexy. Two is a bit weird. Three would be trashy.”

Dammit wants more! Opinions abound in Dammit’s mind. Rational arguments hold no sway. She’s a dragon. Her body is much larger than her reptilian brain. She’s already chosen the next tattoo. She’s just waiting on the right time to strike.

But purple hair? Dammit did not like us turning fifty. She wants to stay thirteen. She started off easy – streaks of a funky red in the blond. Subtle. Pretty. We did not get enough attention for the red. No one was shocked. No one gave us a second look. Hot pink was next.

We’re at a concert on my pink-hair premier. My husband kept looking at the pink swatch. Angry? Disappointed? Frustrated? Perplexed? Embarrassed? I think he experienced them all in equal measure. Remembering Dammit was close by, he wisely kept his mouth closed.

A young woman stopped me at the beer stand. “I love your hair,” she said.

After thanking her, Dammit and I turned to my husband with a “so there” grin. He shook his head. “Honey, look,” he pointed at my new friend. “Is that who you want complimenting you?”

Butt cheeks hanging out of torn jean shorts. Stilettos that had seen better days. A bra in lieu of a shirt. A beer in one hand. A bottle of rum in the other. A spider tattoo on her neck. Some weird design decorating her hamstrings. Piercings everywhere and anywhere. Hot pink hair. Even Dammit got the point.

Pink changed to purple. Now we get honest compliments. My husband endures it. He may even like it. Dammit is satisfied – for now.

She lives in a gilded cage in the center of my chest. When she’s angry, she grips my sternum and pulls until I breathe fire. When she’s sad, she twists my throat until it burns. When’s she proud, she calls and calls and calls for Oreos. She won’t be denied her coffee. She is my best friend and my worst enemy. She is my protector and my adversary.

She’s impossible to ignore, impossible to hate. Harder still to love. She is me.

Do you have a special pet that lives inside you? Do you listen to her? If not, you need to -- the less we listen, the louder and more obnoxious the pets get! What does your pet look like? What is she trying to tell you?

This year, I will continue to write about my goals/ habits/ trials/ success/ anguish.  I will let you into a mind that suffers.  

I’ll continue to crack myself open so that YOU feel safe to be who YOU are, feel what YOU feel, realize YOU are not alone, trust YOU are valuable just because YOU exist.  I will strive to create a “non-judgment” and “authenticity” zone.

But on this first day of the New Year, I wanted to tell you my most important goal:

Accept Myself

Including….

  • All my emotions
  • All my eccentricities and idiosyncrasies
  • All my necessary boundaries
  • All my good habits
  • All my bad habits
  • All my awesome decisions
  • All my poor decisions
  • All my body – its curves, wrinkles, dimples
  • All my thoughts
  • All my struggles
  • All my successes
  • All my failures
  • All my fears
  • ALL of who I am, I will EMBRACE in 2018

Happy New Year!  Let’s get to work on ACCEPTING who we are while also BECOMING who we want to be!  

This wave of despair started on Friday, December 1.  Today is December 31 and I have tried everything I know to alleviate the darkness.  I’ll dig out a few feet and then sink  deeper.  I’m pushing through my third wave of suicidal and self-harm thoughts and plans.  So alone.  So scared.  No one to talk to and even if I had someone, my thoughts and words would make no sense.  My thoughts run away in tangents and even I recognize they are jumbled, contradictory, bordering on madness.  I think that’s what most people don’t understand – even if someone sat next to me and asked me to talk, I’d make no sense.  Opening my mouth would be tangible evidence of my insanity – for me and for anyone listening.

Touch freaks me out.  Innocuous comments send me tumbling.  Desperate to be alone but angry that I am.  Watching others have fun, feeling left out and isolated but unable to join.  Bad mother, bad wife, bad friend … bad.  Just bad.  Disappointing to everyone.  Always have been – my parents wanted a ‘nice girl’ and instead ‘they got me’ – heard that all my life.  Must be true.

Have you seen the commercial where the woman talks about not being able to get out of bed?  I bet many of you think “just get up”.  But it’s not an unwillingness to get up – it’s an INABILITY to.  Do you see the difference?  Unwillingness describes a choice.  My choice is to not feel this way.  My choice is to be normal – not exceptional but just normal.  My body, mind, and soul are not obeying my choices.   I hate myself and I hate everyone around me. 

What if this is the time I find the will power to go through with it?  I know how.  I’ve got everything I need.  What, exactly, is stopping me?  I could stop hurting.  In just a few minutes, with almost no effort, I could be asleep.  My family would no longer have to walk on eggshells.  I would no longer have to fight and claw.  I would no longer have to find normal and then live on pins and needles waiting on the next fall into the pits.

I have no more tools to try.  All my coping techniques are failing me.  Even writing this is not alleviating the pressure in my chest or the clog in my throat or the desire to sleep. 

My husband is in the next room, getting ready to go exercise.  When he leaves, I’ll be alone again.  I’m desperate for him to leave and desperate for him to rescue me.  So, I’m faking it, holding on by my fingernails.  The second he walks out the door, I will collapse into --- tears and then sleep --- an abyss.  He thinks the sleep is good for me – that I’m tired.  I’m exhausted because I’m fighting my impulses with every fiber I have.  Fighting not to eat a gallon of ice cream, fighting not to buy buy buy, fighting not to throw things through the wall, fighting not to say the words that are clogging my throat, fighting not to swallow every single pill in this damn house.  I’m fighting to appear normal.  I’m fighting to do the next thing – anything – productive.  Fighting to make my thoughts coalesce into something linear.  I’m choking on tears so much that the back of my head feels like it will implode from the pressure. 

I want – need – him to leave.  I want – need – to be alone.  But some part of me recognizes that being alone is going to increase the anger, energize the fight, ignite more despair, prove my unworthiness to be with others, validate that everyone is better off without me.  Still, he needs to go.  Soon.

I can’t pull out of the spin.

As I often do, I told a new acquaintance about my mental breakdown.  I don’t do this with everyone – only with people who I think may make a good friend, or who seem to “need it”, or maybe I tell because I want to excuse my erratic behavior.  This woman asked me if I was stronger now?  I gave her a nice, compact, trite answer.  Now, sitting on my deck in the beautiful fall weather, I’m trying to decide the truth.

It’s been over five years since the breakdown.  Just as a quick reminder, this was a classic storybook type of breakdown.  I have 3 days of missing memory, followed by weeks of near catatonia, followed by weeks of inpatient rehab, followed by years of rebuilding something.  But am I stronger? 

Is Different Stronger?

I am different.  For the first three to four years after the breakdown, I genuinely didn’t recognize the person in the mirror.  Now, I’m used to her.  I like bits and pieces of this new me and I hate others.  Have you ever taken the Meyer’s Brigg personality test?  According to my latest results, I am an introvert, intuitive, feeler, perceiver (INFP).  Don’t worry about the lingo….my point is simply that five ago, most of these letters were the opposite.  (a fun, simple source for this test:  16personalities.com)

The same is true for an Enneagram test – I moved to the opposite side of the circle.   

I used to have to be around people.  I used to stand in front of students, parents, anybody and teach.  Now, people make me nervous.  Last night I was at an event with ten other people.  My hands trembled so badly I imagine people thought I had some sort of neurological disorder.  Nope.  I was just freaked to be around so many people.  I used to host my husband’s company Christmas party.  The past few years, I go to the parties and hide in a corner. 

But, stronger?

I Lost  (& Gained) A Lot

After it all shook out, I lost a lot – most of my friends, my career, my faith.  Five years later, none of these have returned.   

I’ve learned to cook.  I’ve learned to write.  I’ve learned a bit of Spanish.  I’ve jumped out of an airplane.  I’ve learned when to keep my mouth shut (mostly).  I’ve learned to see frauds from a mile away.  I’ve lost fifty pounds and can hike for days.  I’ve learned academic performance matters not at all in comparison to character and integrity.  I say ‘no’ often.  I no longer buy friends.  My sex life is awesome! 

But, stronger?

Opening my thesaurus, I found the following broad categories:  healthy, powerful, determined, resolute, distinct, unmistakable, extreme.  So, let’s see …

  • Healthy – yep
  • Powerful – uhhh?
  • Determined – most days!
  • Resolute – once I make up my mind, oh yea!
  • Distinct – I have purple hair, so I’ll claim this one!
  • Unmistakable – Back to the purple hair!
  • Extreme – uhhhh?  Well, I have jumped out of an airplane, swam with feeding sharks, written a novel.  I suppose I can claim this one too.

I think looking at the opposite of an idea helps you to understand the idea itself.  For example, want to understand freedom?  Study slavery.  Let’s look at some antonyms:

  • Broken – I’m like a pinned bone– I’ve lost some calcium but I’ve also added some new minerals
  • Delicate – I’d like to be able to say no to this – but, I sit on the edge much of the time and really have to use skills to stay balanced
  • Insignificant – to most of the world – but not to my husband or my kids – and that’s okay by me (but is it really okay? – maybe it’s not, maybe I write this blog and other materials because I do feel insignificant and don’t want to??? – I’ll save that deep reckoning for another day)
  • Lazy – no – never that – not before, not now
  • Vulnerable – yes, but why is that the antonym of stronger?
  • Weak – hmmmm -

Powerful or Weak?

I stumbled on both of those.  The terms are too broad.  I’m more powerful in body.  Weaker in my spiritual journey.  Powerful with my true friends.  Weak at making new friends.  I yield no power over anyone.  I don’t want power over anyone.  With my writing, I jump between powerful and disastrously weak. 

Vulnerable – Now I’m Pissed!

It pisses me off that vulnerable is the opposite of strong!  Who isn’t vulnerable?  My husband is likely the strongest person I know but when it comes to his kids (or me), you can bring him to his knees!  I think people who say they aren’t vulnerable are the weakest among us.  If you think you aren’t vulnerable – think about San Juan or the tragedy in Las Vegas or Katrina or the Equifax breach – you are vulnerable.  Vulnerability is the human condition.  Why do we have the fight or flight response?  Because vulnerability is built into our DNA. 

Let me get off my podium now!  I’ll get back on in another blog! 

So, Am I Stronger?

I don’t know if I’m stronger in the worldly sense.  Probably not – just admitting to a mental breakdown makes me weak in most people’s eyes.  I am stronger where it counts – where it counts to me and mine.  In your world, I may be weak.  But, in mine, I’m perfectly imperfect and that’s all the strength I need. 

Next Time I’m Asked

Next time I’m asked if I’m stronger, I know the answer:  I’m strong and weak in equal measure – just like most folks.

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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