When My Mom Ruled The Dinosaur Kingdom.

One of my favorite memories of childhood is with my mom and me. I was in first grade and I was really sick. So sick, in fact, I had to miss the field trip to the dinosaur museum. I was devastated. I listened as my mom talked to the teacher begging her to bring me back a souvenir.  I sobbed in the background. I was so devastated.

On the day the class went to the museum, my mom set up my bedroom like a dinosaur museum. She strategically placed my stuffed animals all around the room. She labeled each one like it was a dinosaur. We spent that day in a magical fantasy land. It was the most perfect day ever. I was certain my mom was the ruler of the dinosaur kingdom. In fact, I believe I had a better day than any of my classmates.

Like a lot of women, my mom was told she couldn’t rule the world. She was told her opinion didn’t matter. She was not allowed to rule the kingdom. I wish she could see in her what I saw in her that day. I still wish this for her.

Politics aside, to watch a woman stand on that podium last night reminded me of that moment in my life. I know so many women that don’t believe in their own greatness. I know women that have had their voice literally beaten out of their body. I personally know the social consequences of having an opinion in the world. Most importantly, I know the magnitude and strength of womanhood.

Today, I will celebrate my voice. I will give thanks to the women that came before me to allow me my own podium. I will rest in this moment of sweetness for now.

Roar.

The Disease To People Please.

“The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.”
Ming-Dao Deng, Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony

I was spending time with people I love this weekend and I made a comment about something someone (outside of this group) said that hurt my feelings. One of my friends said, I thought you don’t care what people think about you anymore. I responded with of course I do, I’m a human with feelings.

I don’t think it’s an option not to care about what people think about me but I do believe I have a choice as to what to do with that information. At this point in my life when someone says or does something that hurts my feelings I know that I have choices as to how to respond. For example, I can tell them they hurt me, I can set healthier boundaries, or I can just notice that it hurts. What I am not willing to do is compromise my values in order to please another person.

The disease to people please would make me miserable for a lot of reasons. The most important one being that I would be being dishonest with myself about who and what matters to me. Each of us are built uniquely and that should be honored and respected. The next most important reason it’s important to be honest about who and what matters to me is that I want to be surrounded by people that share my values. If I lie about what matters to me, I run the risk of being surrounded my people who do not share my values and I would feel bad about myself all the time.

One of the top regrets of the dying is wishing that they had lived a life true to themselves. The great thing about this kind of life is that if you are true about who you are, you will be a magnet for others like you. These last few weeks have been a testament to that in my own life. If you spend your life people pleasing and saying or doing things that are not consistent with who you are and what matters to you, you will find that the people in your world make you feel bad about yourself and you may not even know why you feel bad about yourself all the time. I believe that at the core of our being we know who we are and what’s important. When that is not honored or respected it leads to a lot of problems both physically and psychologically.

It take courage to stand in your truth (as Brene Brown always says) but for me there is no other way to do this life. I am not going to shrink or lie about myself to make you like me. I refuse to treat myself with such disrespect. There will be some people who just don’t like me or agree with me and sometimes that hurts and that is okay.

In conclusion, this does not mean that if we disagree we get to treat each other poorly. I think it is all about being selective about who you share time with. I know that there are a lot of situations where we don’t get to choose who we spend time with. In these cases, I will not try to convince another person to agree with me or like me. This is futile and a secret way to try and people please (I need you to agree with me so you like me). I can rest comfortably in the truth of who I am and what I believe about my experience in this world.

Go forth and find your tribe, you will know they are your tribe because you can be all of who you are with them.

Love.

“If nothing else in this long and short life, let me be true to my conscience, to the dignity of my own heart. Let me act in a way that says, I have honored my spirit as truly as I have honored others’. Let me stand tall and rooted as a mountain in the face of a quaking world.”
Jennifer DeLucy

The Internet Empathy Epidemic.

“Mirror neurons have been hailed as the cornerstone of human empathy, language, and other vital processes” – Jason Marsh

I first wrote this post in the Fall and now I believe it to be true more than ever. We are lacking empathy at a rate that I have never experienced in my nearly 17 years studying and practicing psychology. When you comment on something or post something online – you are still responsible for the emotional impact of this comment. However, we are more disconnected than we have ever been and we lack empathy for this reason.

The 300, 400, 1000, 2000 friends you have on social media are not real friends. I’m not trying to be cruel, I’m explaining how social creatures like humans are built. We are wired for social connection. This means real-life social connection. There is no substitute for this. When someone looks you in the eyes and says “You matter” or “I love you” it has a significant impact on your sense of self-worth. This is not the case for social media and texting interactions.

We are addicted to likes and comments because they give us an immediate buzz but this is not the same as a real-life conversation with another human. Our brains are wired for human to human contact – this is why there is a significant lack of empathy. We are not connecting with people face to face anymore.

Our mirror neurons (empathy drivers) are activated by eye to eye, face to face, and human to human contact.

Have you ever said something to someone and immediately had the feeling that you hurt them? This is how our mirror neurons operate in the brain. This experience is on a spectrum with “empaths” feeling another’s experience more intensely but we all have this capability.

Months ago, the brilliant, beautiful, and talented Leslie Jones was harassed violently on Twitter for hours. This attack was led by Milo Yiannopoulos, a notorious coward and online bully. He was subsequently banned from Twitter for inciting this violence. People viciously attacked her looks by likening her to a gorilla and sending her pictures of gorillas attached with racial epithets. It was a horrific lynching made possible by human disconnection and lack of empathy.

Does this happen in real life? Absolutely but not to that scale or for that extended period of time without an escape for Ms Jones. There is a growing lack of empathy that makes these events more common and our feelings of guilt less likely. There is a social responsibility that comes with expressing yourself in front of actual humans that has been lost online or over text.

As Glennon Doyle Melton wrote in a blog last week, “Who you are online is who you are, there are not two of you”

This means if you feel comfortable calling me a dumb bitch, I’m an idiot liberal, or that I’m going to Hell – you are saying this. Not internet the you safely behind the keyboard – you, the real you is saying this to me, the real me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media, I’m writing this blog online but I spend time with humans in real life.  When I comment online I try my best to pause and think would I say this to their face? If not, I try to not say it. I’m not always perfect at this but I’m trying to be mindful that there is an actual human on the other end of that screen with feelings and emotions.

We have to mindful of the speed in which technology is evolving and how that is impacting our relationships both in positive and negative ways.

“Mirror neurons enable me to see you as an intentional being, with purpose and intention” – V.S. Ramachandran, Neuroscientist

Freedom – SB Gamble

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” 

Toni Morrison

As a black man with some semblance of awareness, standing in the face of innumerable social forces, systematic racial oppression, mass incarceration and economic despair, I find myself often preoccupied with the idea of freedom. It’s an important concept for me, one that in face of recent events, is constantly in flux. I know my race, my community and culture had its roots in slavery, and I can see its effects echoing all throughout my community and also within myself. But I know, my story and the Black American story is so much more than that. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors, my grandparents and my mother. I am very aware of the plights they have faced in their lives, so now in the modern day, in this supposed “Post Racial” America, I feel I have an obligation to live as free as I possibly can in the finite life. People died, and fought and endured so I could do everything, from put on suit and stroll into my office job to something as fundamental as read.

The balancing act becomes how do I acknowledge the past? How to endure the greatness, the cruelty and weight of that legacy and also maintain my own humanity, my own faith in decency, my own fractured belief in the most fundamental of American principles—that if I work hard I’m free to pursue my own idea of happiness? How does one do this when one’s very existence is steeped in such a legacy? How can I be truly free? But as I grow older and wonder, now understanding the weight of the past, contemplating the recent violence against Black Americans, how does a Black person really attain or even live up to American ideal of freedom?

Is it even for me and people who look like me? How can we as a society continued to excuse the recent violence against Black American by police officer who are supposed to protect them—even in the face of damning videos? And when I pose these questions, it isn’t an attack on our police officers. Any logical member of our society understands the vital role they play in our communities—nor am I disputing the real danger they face on a daily basis. Or moreover, condemning them as a whole—but just like I, a person of reasonable thought, can extend them the benefit of the doubt, where is mine? If video evidence, if protesting, if complying with hands up isn’t enough to hear the voice and plight of Black Americans, what is?

And with all this questions weighing heavy on me, it all goes back to freedom. How free can I be if my heart skips a beat when a police car drives pass me as I’m walking? How free can I be if I earnest conversation with my friends, telling what picture to use if I end up killed? How can I be freed if I’m deemed a criminal on sight? How free am I if worry about become this week’s trending hashtag?

What can I do when these questions pressed down on me?

I could choose to let them harden me, cause me to become caustic and cynical, or I could use them as source of strength. I can look to the past as undeniable evidence that Black Americans have survived. We have maintained our dignity, our bravery, our lives. We have bucked against institutions that sought out to destroy us and devalue us. Every day that I get up and love, laugh, dream or cry is an act of freedom. I strive for greatness and hope for those who died recently and those who have died in the past for me to stand here. I have to press on.

Every day I strive to speak up when I need to, to become a more whole, more descent person to honor those in the past. And it ain’t easy. Some days it takes herculean efforts to just get out of bed. Some days I’m angry. Some days I have no answer for all these questions. Some days I’m deep saddened. I am human, after all.

And to all of those feeling low—we are still here. I am still here. You are still here. You are no longer property. You are longer three-fifth of man. You, like every American, are a person of value. A person that matters.

 “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” James Baldwin

 

SB Gamble is an author, playwright, and a semi-retired party boy. He has written several plays and short stories. His plays have been performed on stage and on local radio in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He won awards as a playwright with NAACP’s ACT-SO competition and Kalamazoo’s Black Arts and Cultural Center. He currently lives and works in Chicago. He is driven to write works that underline his wild belief that people are all equal and have more commonalities than differences. 

His first novel The Last Party is set to be released in August 2016. Please take a chance to learn more about this extraordinary man and his art here. 

 

 

My White Experience at a Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest

My beautiful friend Una cruised into town after a trek from Pittsburgh and I asked her if she was down to join me at a peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter after such a long drive. As my friends go, she immediately answered let’s do this thing.

I’ve participated in these things before (I’m not patting myself on the back I’m giving context) and this was the first time I was really scared. To be clear, I was not scared of those at the rally I was scared of the death threats leveled at the organizers and the black trucks with American flags circling the park that made it clear they were carrying concealed weapons.

My role as a white person at this event was to listen. This was not a time to talk about my experiences in the world. I was brought to tears when over and over again the message was “black lives matter, too.” I was asked to look into the eyes of the man standing next to me, a man of color, and after just a few moments he asked me not to cry (I wish he hadn’t felt the need to care for me at that time). We hugged tightly. Just two humans trying to make sense of all the bad.

The consistent themes of the event were love and listening. One women filled the park with her cry of “Don’t talk over me”

If you think the Black Lives Matter movement is in opposition to Blue Lives you are not taking the time to listen. The truth is, people of color are more likely to die at birth, die from treatable illnesses, suffer in poverty, and be profiled. If you can’t accept that their experience is real and it’s caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism, you’re not listening.

It’s okay to feel badly about this as a white person. That’s how change happens. In my experience, we get defensive and we don’t listen or appreciate another person’s experience. We ridge up and say they deserve what they get because they’re doing it to themselves.

It’s easier that way isn’t it? To say someone’s pain is not real because maybe I played a role in causing it or allowing it to continue.

Well, this white lady will not talk over you. I will stand next to you and say that your life does matter. I will examine my own implicit and explicit biases. I will not stand in silence because I’m scared of what others might feel about me.

When you look back on history at things like slavery, the holocaust, Jim Crow, and the AIDS epidemic: they endured because of the fear of the people to say this is wrong. I will do my best to use my social capital that is my white privilege to speak truth to power.

As it turned out, the protest, was in fact peaceful and powerful.

Yes, all lives matter, of course. Yes, blue lives absolutely matter. We just need black lives to matter, too.

Love.

Salt – nayyirah waheed

As the headlines once again read “massacre in this land” and “let’s remember those lost” I find myself crawling into a book of poetry to find solace.

Full disclosure: I’m developing compassion fatigue and feeling a little disoriented. I also can’t shake the heaviness in my chest that asks “what next?” This is not healthy for me so I’m wrapping myself in someone’s beautiful words like a warm blanket on a cold world day.

If you haven’t heard of nayyirah waheed, I hope you give her a read. She organizes words like no poet I’ve read before. As anyone that follows this blog knows, I am a lover of poetry and she is my newest love.

The following selections are from her collection entitled “Salt” and it’s exquisite.

 

 

can we speak in flowers. it will be easier for me to understand.

– other language

 

I knew you before i met you

i’ve known you my whole life

– nafsi

 

she asked

‘you are in love what does that look like’ to which I replied ‘like everything i’ve ever lost come back to me’

 

i am such a sensitive summer thing.

i found flaws and they were beautiful

-ugly

 

 

if i write what you may feel but cannot say.

it does not make me a poet.

it makes me a bridge.

and i am humbled

and

i am grateful

to assist your heart in speaking.

– grateful

 

 

if we must

both

be right.

we will

lose

each other.

– exile

 

 

i will tell you, my daughter

of your worth

not your beauty

every day. (your beauty is given. every being is born beautiful).

knowing your worth

can save your life

raising you on beauty alone

you will be starved

you will be raw.

you will be weak.

an easy stomach

always in need of someone telling you how

beautiful you are

-emotional nutrition

 

Love.

I’m Outraged!

The past few weeks have been hard. It feels like the world is heavy with hate and fear. Honestly, I still believe that most of us are good people just trying to do the best we can.

However, I think we do an awful job at listening to each other. I don’t have permission to tell you how to feel about what you see happening in the world and you can’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel.

I can appreciate the outrage but I can’t hear you if you’re screaming at me and telling me I’m a bad person. This approach has never and will never result in change. This is why the heroes of our time spoke about the great importance of love and compassion. They knew that the only way to change hearts and minds was through love.

There will always be rage filled and self righteous individuals. This is not where our focus should flow. Their hearts are hardened and their pain and fear are too great. We must focus on the majority of people that just want a peaceful world.

On a human to human level most of us are not monsters. The media highlights the darkness in the world but there is so much more light. I’m no Pollyanna because my life experiences have not afforded me that naivety. But, I do know that if we want change we need to connect human to human and listen without judgement or defensiveness to each other’s experiences.

We are responsible for one another and this includes people who don’t look like me or value what I value. We’re failing because we’ve forgotten this. This is not just a problem for people of color, law enforcement, the poor, the refugees, lgbt populations. This is all of our problem.

Maybe just try to listen to someone today. Try to listen without judgement or defensiveness. Try to imagine what their experience might feel like. Try not to impose your values or expectations. Try to say I hear you, I see you, and I care.

Is it really that much to ask?

Love.

 

 

 

To Be An Empath When The World Burns.

“Empaths did not come into this world to be victims, we came to be warriors. Be brave. Stay strong. We need all hands on deck.”
Anthon St. Maarten

 

For as long as I can remember, I have felt all the feelings all the time and very intensely. The world is an overwhelming and overstimulating place for me most of the time. My therapist once told me that I don’t see people, I feel people. I think she nailed it. I have always been much less concerned about someone’s objective attractiveness as much as I’m concerned with how I feel when I’m around them. I think this sometimes gets so crossed in that I’ve had arguments with some people about who I find attractive.

I have a hard time watching the news or any kind of horror movie. I have a physical reaction when people use violent or aggressive words. I can easily read between the lines and understand what someone is actually feeling because often, I can feel it too. I have a sensitive startle response. I can feel the vibes of a room when I enter. I have been known to walk out of movies or situations for no other reason than “something was bad.”

It’s no accident that I’m a therapist. It’s a gift and a curse to be highly attuned to the emotional states of other people. It’s a gift in that I can help people understand their feelings and it’s a curse because I take on other people’s feelings without realizing it or knowing what to do with it. It took me a long time to sort out what was mine and what was theirs. Honestly, I still struggle. Living with compassion is not an option for me, it is the only way for me. It’s how I was built.

I have to be extremely mindful of my boundaries with certain people/places or I get physically sick. I once became violently ill after someone disclosed a trauma that I was not prepared to hear. As a therapist, I have self-care techniques to protect me from that type of response but when I’m caught off guard it’s not a good situation. I have zero tolerance for hateful, aggressive, racist, hurtful, and/or violent language or actions. It literally makes me sick. I have to cover my eyes when I see horrible things play out on movies or television or  I feel sick. I ask my husband to fast forward through scenes on shows and movies or leave the room because it’s painful.

Until I met my therapist, I thought that I was some weak and broken mess. She helped me realize the advantages of living life this way. She also helped me understand why people are built like this and the purpose they serve in the world. She told me that we need cohesion and compassion and that I was built to keep peace in the tribe. The research indicates that Highly Sensitive People make up about 20% of the population. So, we’re out here existing like an exposed nerve. The world needs engineers as much as it needs feelers. And, I am on the high end of feelers.

I write about this today because the last few days have had a significant impact on my emotional and physical health. I am not saying this to take away from the real life victims that have had their lives ripped apart by the violence. I am saying this to help people understand that feelers can’t help but feel and it’s hard for us when the world is like this. I’m not histrionic, I’m not broken, and I’m not overreacting. I’m simply feeling it all very intensely.

Highly Sensitive People and/or Empaths must always be mindful of self-care. I am doing what I need to do to make sure I’m as healthy as I can be and I hope all of you are doing the same. The world needs more love and compassion. That’s the only thing that will heal the hatred and violence. To act in love is the most courageous thing one can do in times like these. Please do not let the fear and hate consume you as it has so many others. I beg you.

Love.

“The Empath is often said to have such a great degree of empathy that they can literally feel what others feel, and thus intuitively know many of the yearnings, sensitivities, tastes and even thought patterns of the people they’re around.”
Aletheia Luna, Old Souls: The Sages and Mystics of Our World

My Special White Skin.

“All skin colors, whether light or dark, are not due to race but to adaptation to life under the sun” – Alan Goodman, Biological Anthropologist

Race is not real.  To all my fellow “white folks” your skin looks the way it does because where you come from required less melanin to manage sun exposure. Naturally, in places like Africa a person would need more melanin to manage sun exposure as compared to someone from Europe. The concept of race was created as a way justify the power and privilege of some and the maltreatment and murder of others.

A person of color is simply a person with more melanin in their skin than a white person. That’s it. It’s ludicrous that because I have less melanin I am afforded more opportunities and a safer existence than someone that has more melanin.

Our brains like to categorize things. It makes it easier to sort through the millions of bits of information that come at us every second. However, we somehow lost the ability (or the willingness) to critically think about the categories we create. I think this is because white people like the illusion of superiority and the real life privileges afforded to us based on some arbitrary biological adaptation.

I know Justin Timberlake wants to believe we are all one human race and scientifically he’s correct but just because race is not a real does not mean I am allowed to be color blind.  I must acknowledge the fatal consequences of these false categories. I must speak truth to the experiences of people of color and validate their anger, fear, and pain. I must take responsibility for how my privilege has allowed for hundreds of years of oppression.

Most importantly, I am in no way a better or more special human because of my melanin situation. I am so sorry that people that looked like me were and are so selfish and insecure that they used/use something as basic and adaptive as skin color to justify their barbarism and continue to do so.

“As primates who uniquely use language to create categories, we readily give names to these differences. Since the mid-18th century, skin color has been the single most important physical trait used to define human groups, including variously named varieties, races, subspecies, and species.”  NINA G. JABLONSKI* AND GEORGE CHAPLINHuman Skin Pigmentation as an Adaptation to UV Radiation

I’m Begging For My Misery.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

I saw a meme recently that praised Eeyore’s friends (Winnie the Pooh and them) for standing by him and letting him be depressed. I felt differently. Emotional states are contagious and I am quite particular about who I share time with. This is not to say that I think people should be happy all the time because that is impossible. I know the people I love will struggle and have hard times. I know that I will (and have) struggled and had hard times. Life is hard and we’re allowed to have bad moments, bad days, and a bad few years. But, why would you want a bad life?

One of the greatest regrets of the dying is: I wish I had allowed myself to be happy.

Happiness is a choice. It’s a choice to focus your attention on the good things in life. It’s a choice to be kind and compassionate. It’s a choice to be particular about who you share time with. It’s a choice to make a change.

Each day you are presented with thousands of choices. Do you pause to notice the beauty in your child’s smile? Do you pause to appreciate a blue sky? Do you pause to tell your partner, friend, family that you love and appreciate them? Do you let someone go ahead of you in traffic? Do you hold a door? Do you smile? Do you call a friend just to say hey how are you?

Do you know that this could all end in the next moment? 

Life will always be hard and present challenges. There is never a time in the future where all of your problems will cease and life will be easy and happy. I’ve worked with clients in their seventies and eighties and they told me that this was one of the great epiphanies of growing older: They learned to be happy despite their challenges. And, they were happier because they survived challenges. They learned not to take one moment of this precious life for granted. All you can ever do is get up and do the best you can and do the same thing tomorrow. That’s it.

Frankly, Eeyore needed to take responsibility for his depression, get on some medication (because depression is a real and serious medical condition that cannot be toughed out!), and see a therapist. I’m concerned that his friends were enabling him.

It was no one’s fault, darling, but it’s still all on you. – Cheryl Strayed