Someone very close to me made a series of decisions (and behaviors) that forced his life to implode. I know the word “force” is strong, but he put two or three people into situations where they had no choice except to react harshly. I’m going to call this person Y. Y is an adult – and not a young adult – Y is and adult-adult.
He was married to a great woman -- not a perfect woman but a woman who loved him and his children. He had a great job – a job where he’d advanced and won the support of upper management. And then …
I don’t know how to finish that thought. And then what?
Y came to us for counsel when the first detonation blew. We begged him to get professional help. But he’d labeled himself a ‘sociopath’ and said, “that can’t be fixed”. I’ll admit this label scared the shit out of me. Is he a sociopath? Is a sociopath always a sociopath?
I did some research and spoke to my own therapist. Y is not a sociopath. But Y may be a narcissist. He certainly lacks empathy. He absolutely has some buried trauma that needs to excavated. The adjective doesn’t matter. Y needs help – serious help, long-term help – counseling for sure, medication probably.
He went to one or two counseling sessions because his boss required it. We pleaded. We offered to pay. We found and presented several different options. Nope. Nada. No way.
At first, I was so angry I couldn’t be in the same room with Y. It wasn’t just him he was hurting – it was his kids and his parents and his friends. I had to go ostrich and stick my head in the sand.
And now …
I don’t know how to finish that thought. And now what do we do?
Y is a man’s man (I know that’s sexist, but you get what I’m saying). Is that part of his refusal?
Does he think he truly can’t be helped?
Or, as Dave believes, he thinks he deserves to be punished for these bad decisions –he deserves to wallow in the emotional pain.
We’ve beat our heads against the wall over this. He’s an adult so we can’t drag him kicking and screaming. We’ve talked until he no longer listens (if he ever was listening). We’ve talked so much that we rarely hear from him now – and when we do, it’s always light and fluffy…..avoiding any “serious talk”.
Dave used to talk to Y several times a week. Now, they communicate maybe every other week and Dave usually has to initiate. All communication is on text so you can guess how superficial it is. As for me, I get pictures and am looped in on some text conversations. If I reach out with something that even tiptoes into ‘how are you doing?’, I get no response at all.
Just as there are several reasons why he refuses to get help, I imagine there are several reasons why he avoids us:
I’m sure all of those are correct and that the list is even longer.
I am still angry – both because of his decisions and because of his refusal to get help. I have lost some respect and I would have to fight not to give another speech. The one time I tried to talk to him, he was so closed and so uncaring, I was shocked and appalled. And, I’m still dealing with that – even as I write this, tears are burning – tears of sadness and regret and hot anger.
I’m not sure I am in his corner anymore. So, to the sadness and regret and anger, I can add guilt. I want to be in his corner. I should be in his corner. But wanting and “shoulding” doen’t make it so.
I don’t know. I’m writing this blog six months after the implosion. It’s taken me this long because I couldn’t handle it – I couldn’t write about it, think about, analyze it. I’m still holding back because the emotions are so enormous it’s frightening.
He’s avoiding us so I can’t comment on Y’s situation or mental status. Outwardly he is doing all the ‘right things’ – going to work, being a dad, paying his bills, etc. Inwardly, I have no idea and we can’t ask.
We are powerless. We can keep reaching out with the superficial and hope the ice melts. But – and here is the truth that hurts – if he’s unwilling to get help and try to be a better person (for himself and others) – I don’t know that I want more than the superficial. If every time we are together, I know he doesn’t really care about me or mine, then it might be better if we keep distant. If every time we are together, we are all dancing through a minefield, then we’ll all be miserable. If every time we are together, I’m noticing all the continued bad decisions, should we be together?
I’ve spent several sessions with my therapist talking this through and I’ve not been able to thaw. This is MY internal problem to handle. But the difference between me and Y is that I am at least trying to work through my own shit.
Can I thaw if Y doesn’t try?
Click HERE to download the Journaling Activity that accompanies this blog. Who is like this in your life? Where are YOU like this in your life?
If you read one of my recent posts, I had planned to start doing what I’ve been told to do. I had decided to take all that excellent professional advice instead of finding excuses and continuing to whine. I had planned to work through Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN.
I bought the book. I bought a journal, some colored pencils, some post-it notes. I placed all my supplies on the corner of my desk where they still sit today.
I could not do it. I could not open that book. Even now, several weeks later, the idea of opening that book creates an ache in my chest and a burn in my eyes. Why? What’s wrong with me?
I consider how much money I’ve spent trying not to let food and my hatred of my body control me. The amount is astronomical and still I can’t open a $15 book that asks me to be kind to myself and love my body as it is. Why? What’s wrong with me?
I spent over twelve years in therapy. I’ve been to groups. I’ve been in inpatient treatment. And yet, here I am AGAIN. Why? What’s wrong with me?
Before I get too far into the negativity, I admit that all of that treatment has helped me in other ways. I no longer drop into deep depression because I recognize the signs and work hard to stop the drop. I have been able to fight through many battles against fear. I have developed and maintained deep relationships. Heck, I still write this blog.
And yet, this eating disorder controls me. Why? What’s wrong with me?
And yet, today I look at myself and see someone who looks “okay”. Yesterday, I looked at myself and saw every grotesque chunk of blubber.
I’ve developed strategies to manage other compulsive behaviors (mostly). But this eating thing defeats me. I used to say that my eating disorder was a two-year old dragon who simply wanted her way. I created this cute image in my head. My dragon had pink hair with a bow. She smiled with a charming manipulative innocence. She rattled her [my] cage when she wanted one more bite.
Now, I don’t see her as cute or charming. She’s a monster with super strength. She’s ugly and snarling and devious. She’s both overt and subtle. She’s able to keep me from opening a simple book and reading one paragraph. She needs a name so I can talk to her, try to understand her, help her love herself. Any suggestions?
I’ve found a new therapist and I’ve begged her not to waste time digging into my past. I’ve done that enough – I have the t-shirt. I’ve asked her not to bother with DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) – I’ve had so much of that I could teach the classes. What does that leave? I have no idea but she says she can help me.
If only I believed her.
Click HERE to download the Journaling Activity that correlates with this blog and follow along with a journaling activity of your own!
You’ve likely heard the word ‘triggered’ or someone saying ‘that’s a trigger for me’. I had a woman in my life who was triggered by people talking about weight loss conversations. She had the balls to tell her coworkers not to discuss dieting in the work place (even at lunch in the break room). I understand being triggered. But, my triggers are MY problem not my family’s, not my co-workers’, not society’s.
I thought it may be helpful to explain what a trigger is by using an example in my own life.
My mom is in a rehab center because of a fall. This is the sixth time she’s been in rehab and each time I am triggered. I step into that facility and I remember (re-live) my own experience in rehab. I remember the people, the smells, the rooms, the work, the exhaustion, the drama. Every time, I feel my heart rate increase. I feel extreme anxiety.
Then, like clockwork, my mom will complain about the food or the loneliness or the boredom. ANGER rises, chokes me, spews out of my mouth. I was gone for nine weeks. NOT one visitor. NO food choice. NO television. NO technology or contact with the outside world outside of regulated phone calls with my husband. NO breaks from 6:30AM to 10PM at night. NO hiding in my room when I wanted space or quiet. NO feeling of safety. NO one did my laundry or brought me a milk shake.
That’s what it’s like to be triggered. I spewed that anger on my brother last night. Emotions swirl and dance and spin you out-of-control.
So, should I tell my mother to quit going to rehab because it triggers me? Is it her job to change her world or is it my job to find ways to deal with my own issues?
The world is full of triggers. The world will not bend to my needs. Nor should it. Desserts trigger my binge-eating gene. Does that mean my husband should not have a cookie? Hell no. It means I learn, develop and use skills to lessen the impact of the trigger.
For example, my mother is in rehab right now and today she complained about not having visitors. TRIGGER. I know one of my best skills is writing. So, rather than throttle my mother with my anger, I’m writing this blog. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go for a long walk, or read a trashy novel, or even disappear into a movie. I’ll journal and allow the words I can’t speak out loud to pour out. But, regardless, it’s my job to manage myself.
If someone tells you that your behavior is a trigger for them, gently explain that your behavior is appropriate (assuming it is). Ask that person what skills they have to manage the emotions that have been triggered. Ask that person how you can help them use their skills. Regardless, remember it’s their problem, not yours.
NOTE: I apologized to my brother first thing this morning. I think he reads my blog so I want to say publicly that he and his wife do an amazing job with my parents. A job I could not, would not, and should not do! Thanks S&S.
Six hundred hours. That’s how many hours I have spent in individual therapy. Plus group, classes, psychiatry, and on and on. If you did the math, that equates to a one-hour session every week forTWELVE years! And??
Is there anything wrong with twelve years of therapy? Fifteen? Thirty? Absolutely not. If you’re in therapy and you need therapy, stay there. But, at some point, you may want to take a step back and evaluate. I’ve been doing that for the last six weeks (notice, I did not make any impulsive decision).
I love my therapist. If you are in the Atlanta area and would like her name and a reference, please contact me. I can honestly say that I have improved in every area of my life because of her. But, for the last six weeks, as I drove to my appointment, I could not think of anything I wanted to talk about. That’s not to say my life is roses and sunshine. But where I have weeds and rain, I also am able to accept that, use skills to cope.
If you were thinking that I quit therapy because I have no issues left, you’d be horribly wrong. I’m quitting therapy because I finally feel able to do the work of therapy on my own. As a matter of fact, before the group leader (my personal therapist) spoke, I knew exactly (word for word) what she would say. And, she said it. It’s not that I could lead the group. I’m not a therapist. Don’t want to be a therapist. But I can draw on six hundred sessions and do the work.
The other reason I feel safe stopping now is that I can always go back. If I discover twelve years still wasn’t enough, I pick up the phone and make an appointment.
Lastly, and most importantly, I spoke candidly with my husband and my therapist. Both of these trustworthy people supported my decision. My husband will let me know if he sees me needing support again. My therapist will be there if I call. So, I said my goodbyes.
I thought it would scare me when the door closed behind me. But it didn’t. My step lightened, my energy increased. I am not “fixed”. I am not without issue. But, I am ready to let go of the tether.
Please, if you need therapy – get it. Stay as long as it helps. Find the right therapist – don’t just choose someone on a list. Research the different types of therapy (and there are many). Don’t stay with someone who doesn’t make you feel safe. In my twelve years of therapy, I moved therapists at least five times. Sometimes I stayed for well over a year before I moved on. We need different things and different voices at different times.
I don’t think my last therapist (who I worked with for three years) reads my blog. But if she does … Pegah, you are so special to me. A gift. A treasure. The best Sherpa I could ever have.
One last thing – I haven’t dropped all support. My issue with food is still a struggle (and will always be). So, with my therapists help, I have found a nutritionist who works with disordered eating and who will help me continue on this path of healthy food choices and acceptance of my struggle.
Wish me luck as I do the same for you.
Remember my disclaimer: I am NOT a therapist. I am simply a fellow journeyman!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
This will be the hardest piece I’ve ever written -- it is the piece I never wanted to write. It is the piece I’m scared will destroy me. But, it must be written as it is important and in some ways, eating me alive. I am not a therapist. I have no statistical studies for what I’m about to tell you. This is my experience, my story. That said, over the years, I’ve learned that I’m not that unique – I thought I was this crazy person who lived in a world no one understood. That’s not so. My willingness to be vulnerable – and go to therapy and group sessions – I’ve seen that I’m not so unique. With that knowledge, I share this hoping someone will feel less alone and that family and friends can see a bit more into the suicidal mind.
I’ll just lay it out for you – I’ve tried once (and now that I’ve opened this wound, I’ll give you all the details in another blog soon). I’ve planned and prepared three additional times. I’ve planned but not prepared countless times. As recently as 10 weeks ago, I sat on my deck with the Suicide Prevention number tapped into my phone. All I needed to do was hit call. So, yea, I’m qualified. Over-qualified.
A new show, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, aired recently. Excited because I love Jason Ritter, I tuned in without understanding the premise. I liked Jason Ritter, the commercials looked cute, that was enough for me to give it a try. The premise, though, punched me right in the gut. Kevin, you see, had tried to commit suicide and is now back in his hometown with his twin sister seeking a new path. Kevin is not a good person – he’s selfish, narcissistic, a jerk. Yet, he’s been tasked by the Godiverse to develop kindness and anoint 35 people to help save the world. Pretty quickly, I’m tense and hurting and worried and anxious and frightened – the unexpectedness of this topic hit me hard. In retrospect, maybe I should have turned the show off.
At one point in the show, he has angered his sister and she’s pretty much done with him. She’s been his champion and he just refuses to carry his end of the relationship. I won’t be able to quote her but basically she said … When you tried to kill yourself, I realized then that you don’t care about me. You only care about yourself.
My body went rigid, my throat closed, I reached toward my husband but did not touch him. This topic is raw for both of us. It is him who found me, rushed me to the ER, stood over me while charcoal was forced down my throat, watched as the police arrested me (it’s a crime in GA apparently) then loaded me in a paddy wagon.
I wondered if he felt the same way as Kevin’s sister. Did he think that my attempt at suicide was about me?
Kevin didn’t get the chance to defend himself – or he didn’t take the chance – so maybe he agreed or maybe he just couldn’t make her understand. Or maybe the writers of this show have no idea what they’re talking about.
Each and every time I’ve contemplated taking my own life, my over-riding emotion was “MY FAMILY WOULD BE BETTER OFF” – it was ALL about caring about them. Yes, sitting here today, feeling good and healthy, I see the error and flaw. I see that killing myself would harm my family greatly. BUT IN THE MOMENT, IN THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR, all I could see was the BURDEN I was. If I was gone – these are my thoughts in the darkness – my family would be better off financially, my children would no longer have to put up with a mother who changes personality with the waxing and waning of the moon, my husband could find a woman that provides peace and calm to his life. I was NOT thinking about me.
I understand that this is not the case for everyone who considers or completes a suicide attempt. But, I’ve spoken to lots of people who dip into the pits of despair and they are more like me – wanting to make life better for those they love. The logic is faulty, the results disastrous but the intention is to love our families in the best way we can at that moment in time. It’s a very dark place to be.
I think they are AWESOME, VITAL. Yet, I’ve never called one. Because when I believe that I will make my family better if I’m dead, I don’t want to be talked out of that. Does that make sense?
During the fight, I’ve never told anyone – I’ve never dialed a friend or my husband. You sit on the edge of the abyss, with thoughts like a runaway train and you believe that no one could understand. You know that you couldn’t even form a coherent explanation. You’d sound like the nut you believe yourself to be. So, I hold my breath and try to find some light.
Can I be honest? I’m not alive because I fought the fight and won. I’m alive because I’m chicken … afraid of pain or brain damage or being thrown into an institution with no rights (that’s what happened the one time I took the bottle of pills). I’m not alive because I’m strong. I’m alive because I’m weak. I’ve never said those words before.
I want to tell you how to handle a suicidal loved one. I want to give you a step-by-step rescue guide. I’m sorry, but I can’t. I don’t know what would have helped me in those times – you are utterly alone in that darkness – and at least for me, I sought isolation and used great excuses to obtain it (headache, tired, sick) … never once did I let on that I was lying in a pit of muck.
If you are worried about someone, pick up that phone, make that call. To them. To a crisis center. To a pastor. To someone who can enter into the darkness with the sufferer.
The sister’s comment in Kevin (Probably) Saves the World hurt me deeply. I wanted people to know that it’s more complicated than a deep, dark pity-party. And, if I’m totally honest, I was pissed off. I am pissed off.
Maybe my honesty will open the door for someone to tell the truth of their situation or seek help in the darkness. Maybe my honesty will allow family members to view this through a different lens – see at least a touch of selflessness rather than selfishness. Maybe my honesty will help me to heal a bit more. Maybe my honesty will get you to pick up a phone and find professional assistance.
If you want to ‘discuss’ this in more detail, you are welcome to email me directly via the website. I will hold your confidence completely. Please do not write to attack me – I can handle that all on my own.
Copyright 2021 June Converse, All Rights Reserved.