I Have The Perfect Daughter.

“She was drowning, but nobody saw her struggle”

I’m working on a presentation on Smiling Depression/High Functioning Depression. This is when someone appears to have it all together but they are imploding and at high risk for suicide and self-harm. In preparation, I was reminded of a young woman I shared time with in my late teens early twenties. I’ve since lost touch with this woman.

She came from what she called the “perfect” family and her mother told her from the time she was born that she was perfect. She would tell me about how her mother would tell her how perfect she was and compare her to other members of her family that didn’t have it all together. She dated the perfect man and she was going to get the perfect job. She talked about having the perfect wedding and the perfect house. It was all going to be perfect. I remember feeling really uneasy with all this talk of perfection. It could be that no one ever told me I was perfect combined with how perfectionism makes me incredibly anxious.

This goal of perfectionism left her devastated at the perception of failure. She was unable to have real lasting friendships or deep meaningful relationships because there was always something that needed to be done or worked on. She was always worried about being overweight and never missed a workout or ate an ounce of fat. She looked on in judgement as people went on adventures and tried new things. She would talk about how reckless they were. It was obvious that she was speaking through jealousy and pain.

At the time, I admired her strength and motivation but now I see that she was a beautiful bird caged in false perfectionism. She could see the world but she could never be part of the world. There was too much danger and risk of failure if she left the cage. She desperately feared disappointing her family; particularly, her mother. Because, she was the perfect daughter.

As I read about smiling depression, I hope she was able to break free of that horrible cage. It’s lonely and desperate in there. I hope she was able to accept that she would never be perfect but she could be magnificent. It scares me when people call their children, partners, and parents perfect. Setting the goal of perfect is like chewing on razor blades.

If you think you might struggle with smiling depression, please talk to someone. The association between this type of depression and suicidal ideation is dangerously high.

“I’m the type of girl who smiles to make everyone’s day. Even though I’m dying on the inside.”

 

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Just Me And My Worried Thoughts.

“After all, what is happiness? Love, they tell me. But love doesn’t bring and never has brought happiness. On the contrary, it’s a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; it’s sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony.”
Paulo Coelho, The Witch Of Portobello

I tend to be a bit of a tortured soul. I spend a lot of time worrying about things (what could go wrong, how to fix this, what to do about that, what are they thinking, why do I care what they are thinking, and on and on). This is a combination of genetics and environment. It’s also never going to change. I’m never going to be a chill person.

Anxiety exists on a spectrum and we need anxiety to survive. For some people it doesn’t work enough and they end up in dangerous situations time and time again. Or, for others, they’re held up in a bunker lined with aluminum foil.

Then, there are those of us in between.

If the anxiety scale goes from one to ten, I hover around an eight and my partner around a two. We experience the world differently. But, being an eight is not wrong and being a two is not right (or vice versa). There are benefits and challenges to both ways of existing in the world.

If I go off the scale, it’s called a panic attack and I have medication to get me back on the scale. I have no shame when it comes to medication. Panic attacks are hard on the body and hard on relationships. I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to be the happiest and healthiest version of myself.

I’ve had people tell me that taking medication is a weakness. I smile and nod at their ignorance around mental health. To be clear, taking care of your health is never a weakness and it is always a strength.

I’ve learned to accept that I’m an eight (and a lot of us hang out up there). There are benefits to being an eight: I’m sensitive to the needs of others, I’m a natural problem solver, I notice little changes, and I’m attentive. There are challenges: I worry a lot, I can be a perfectionist, I solve problems that aren’t problems in an effort to prevent future problems, I struggle to stay in the moment, and I can be reactive.

In sum, try to love who you are, challenges and all. The goal is not to make anxiety go away, we need it to survive and stay safe. The healthier goal is to understand where you hang out on the scale and get a better understanding of how to best manage this in your life. I will never be a two and that’s what makes me who I am. If I hated myself for this, that would be cruel (and futile). And, if you are a two, please never tell me to calm down or that I’m being irrational. Just because I’m an eight does not mean I’m broken and need to be fixed. That would be akin to me telling you that you don’t care enough or that you’re a robot person.

“Don’t worry if people think you’re crazy. You are crazy. You have that kind of intoxicating insanity that lets other people dream outside of the lines and become who they’re destined to be.”
Jennifer Elisabeth, Born Ready: Unleash Your Inner Dream Girl

Baby, They Ain’t Gonna Change.

“Stepping onto a brand-new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation, which is not nurturing to the whole woman.”
Maya Angelou

The season finale of Sex and The City had me so angry. Namely, Mr. Big had an awakening. He realized that, after all, he was in love with Carrie.  And, he rescued her from the mean artist ballerina guy. All the viewers received the message: If I wait this out they’ll change for me. 

NO!

I loved that show. I lived on that show. I wore out my VHS tapes watching that show. That finale was a bag of BS! (well, now the show is 20 years old and quite dated)

In many ways, I’ve dedicated my life to the belief that people can change. I know that with a lot of hard work, improved insight, self-awareness, loving support, and on occasion, a damn good therapist (sometimes medication) – you can absolutely change your life. Let me also mention, it takes a lot of humility to employ all the necessary components to set your life on a different track.

This post is dedicated to the people waiting on a certain person in their life to change. “If they just change/realize/see how much I mean to them.” Please stop doing that. Your sweet life is too short to waste waiting on another person to do anything to make you happy. If they wanted to change, they would. It is that simple. It is also that hard to grasp. We like to complicate things as a way to avoid the truth. If a person wants to change their life, they will change their life. There are stages of change but we can talk about that on a different day.

What if I leave and I never know if they could be the person I need them to be?

My response: Are they the person you need them to be right now? No? Have you told them what you need and nothing changes? Yes?  And they still didn’t change? ….

It’s that simple.

I use the phrase comfortably uncomfortable a lot. This means that your current situation is not what you want it to be, but you are too scared to do something different. So, you stay thinking, praying, and hoping that it will change.

Truth: your situation will not change unless you do something different. Your happiness is your responsibility and no one else’s.

Sometimes you have to shake up situation and step out for awhile. Let the person know that your words and actions are consistent. You need (and deserve) certain things from a relationship and if the other person can not give you those things, you need to not be in that relationship. Then, you need to follow through on this statement. The more you threaten someone that you’ll leave if they don’t give you what you need, the less they trust your words and the less you trust yourself.

This does not mean you have to end things, but you do have to make the situation uncomfortably uncomfortable to see if that brings about change. Sometimes this works and sometimes it does not. The best shot you have is to align your actions and your words. If you say this is not working and do nothing but complain, the other person simply stops listening to you. Truthfully, the situation might be working just fine for them, so why would they change?

I can tell you for sure what does not bring about change: badgering someone, threatening them, texting/calling incessantly, begging or crying for them to pay attention to you, name-calling, telling friends and family, and airing your troubles on social media.

It boils down to this: Tell the person what you need and pay attention to what they do, not what they say (talk is so cheap my loves). If they don’t give you what you need, you have a choice to make: accept the relationship as it is or change your situation.

Love.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Rumi

Addicted To Fear.

“Then she told herself to stop her nonsense. If you looked for things to make you feel hurt and wretched and unnecessary, you were certain to find them, more easily each time, so easily, soon, that you did not even realize you had gone out searching.”
Dorothy Parker, The Portable Dorothy Parker

Are you watching the news right now? Please, turn it off. Humans are sponges and we’ve been absorbing the gross fear and negativity that the media is shoving down our throats for years. I am not encouraging ignorance. I am merely suggesting some moderation.

The 24 hour news cycle is destructive to our psyches because fear is addictive. Our brains are wired to seek out problems in the environment. When we turn on the news we are stimulated by the bright colors and sounds and we are sucked in by the the fear machine. We talk about it at work. We call our friends and share our fears. We beg them to be fearful with us. We want them to be safe. We are scared. 

Pause. Breathe. You’re safe.

Fear makes us reactive and defensive. Fear causes people to use the primal part of their brain when problem solving as opposed to the logical rational part of our brain . This leads to poor decision-making.

In small doses fear is the emotion that helps keep us alive. When we are healthy, our fear safely guides us through life. However, we are absorbing fear through every pore in our body by watching the news, scrolling through social media, listening to talk radio, and reading online. Then, we get angry. Fear tells us we are under attack. So, we end up in needless arguments or barricading ourselves in our homes.

Why do we buy so many guns after a mass-shooting? We do so to protect ourselves. But, how many guns can you use at a time if you were being attacked? The stockpiling of arms is fear based problem solving. Frankly and kindly, life is not like a Die Hard movie and most of us aren’t trained military or law enforcement. We are vulnerable even when we’re armed, no two ways about it. I would prefer not to spend my time here scared, worried, and angry.

Please, turn off the TV and step away from the computer. Take a vacation from the news this weekend. Hug and kiss the people you love. Play with your dogs and sit in the sun. Even better, watch a Pixar movie. I firmly believe Pixar is the best thing about this country. Soak up some love this weekend. The fear will be waiting for you on Monday if you want it back.

Image found here. 

Well Shoot, This Did Not Go As Planned.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “My life shouldn’t be this hard!” or “My life should be different!” When this happens, I  start looking around the room. I am looking for the person that told you that life was going to be easy or that your life would go as planned. I want to find that person and tell them to stop talking.

This is the awful truth: life will most certainly be hard sometimes. In fact, it might be so incredibly hard, that it feels unbearable. In those moments where you feel like you are drowning in all the awfulness of life, I encourage you to hold on to your support system for dear life and keep swimming.

Life will also be incredible sometimes. If you allow yourself to ride the waves without a lot of expectations and shoulds, you will find that life will bring you amazing moments and gifts. In my experience, these fantastic moments and gifts were never what you planned. If you are open to what life has to offer, these moments will come about as surprising little offerings of joy.

I wince in pain when I hear people map out their lives, “I want to married by 25, have a house by 26, have two kids by 30, and be financially established by 35.” I again, look around the room for the person that told you that you get to map out your life that way.

We get so caught up in what we think our lives should look like or what we think we deserve, we fail to notice those little offerings of joy. In fact, so few things in our lives go as planned, that it is best to only refer to our map as a general outline.

“All human plans are subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the powers behind the Universe.”
Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two

It is important to have a general idea of where you want your life to go. But I promise you, you will spend much of that time being sad, disappointed, and resentful if you plan out the details of your life and hold fast to that plan. You will feel like someone did you wrong when it does not go that way and it most certainly will not go that way.

That is both scary and incredible.

When that happens, it is best to pause, refer to your map, and find a different course. Basically, find the next step. It is a waste of time and energy to feel like it should have gone the way you wanted. It didn’t and you were never promised the life you planned. Also, you might not really want that life once you arrive at those decision points. I also hear people say “But I made the right choices and I’m not happy.” and I respond “Maybe you made the choices you thought you should rather than the choices you really wanted to make.” (we will talk more about that in a later post)

If you find the person that is going around telling people that “life is fair”, or “go ahead and plan out the details”, or “you’re entitled to a good life”, please tell them I am looking for them.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Pema Chödrön

Don’t Tell Me I’ll Be Fine.

“This is the problem with dealing with someone who is actually a good listener. They don’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you, allowing what you do manage to get out to be lost or altered in transit. Instead, they wait, so you have to keep going.”
Sarah Dessen, Just Listen

I think of myself as an optimistic person. For the most part, I try to see the best in people and situations. However, in the event that I am not feeling very optimistic or hopeful, the worst thing you can say to me is “Oh, you’ll be fine” or “It’s going to work out.”

These responses make me want to, simultaneously, scream and cry out in rage. It feels like I’m being ignored. These feelings are not because I do not believe you. I am sure things will be fine and will work out. The problem is in the right now, that is not the case. I need you to be in the right now with me.

A more understanding approach would be “I can see that this is hard for you” or “you look like you’re having a hard time?” The goal, as a listener, is not to fix the problem. The goal is to make the person expressing their thoughts feel validated and heard. 

It is not so much about what will be fine as much as what is in terms of how I feel right now.

As we talked about in the post of Validation: The Ninja Skill, I have the right to feel and think the way I do, even if your perception is different. In my moments of sadness or hopelessness, I need the people that love me to be willing to sit with those feelings as opposed to trying to fix them or force me out of them.

The same is true for when I am feeling hopeful about something. I would like it if you could share in that hopefulness, as opposed to telling me all the reasons it might not work. My worried brain has canvased the Dreadful What If Land terrain and I know that land mines can and will pop up.

I think, If you love someone, you have to be willing to meet them where they are and just listen to them. This demonstrates that you are willing to sit with them without fixing anything. Ultimately, we are not broken and needing to be fixed we just feel broken.

If I may suggest, please refrain from phrases like:

You will be fine

This will work out

She or He is in a better place (even if you/we/they believe in Heaven, this can feel invalidating during grief)

I know how you feel (that’s impossible)

This is what you should do______

I cannot talk right now

Ignore the person

You are always so dramatic

Ask how do you always end up in these situations?

Instead try:

I cannot imagine what this is like for you

I am so sorry this is happening

Kind Questions:

It looks like you are feeling pretty overwhelmed?

Is there anything I can do?

Do you need anything?

Some people do find themselves in bad situations again and again, and I am in no way obligated to go through those situations every time to demonstrate my support. In that event, I can say “I cannot be there for you like I wish could.”

This is an example of communicating honest, kind, and healthy boundaries

In my own experience, I tend to use “you’ll be fine” expressions with people I love the most. It’s selfish on my part because it hurts me to see them hurting and I just want all the hurt to stop. It is partly my attempt to convince myself that it will be fine. Sometimes, it’s a reflexive response that may unintentionally communicate that I do not care about how you are feeling.

I think we all just want to feel like our feelings matter to another person.

Love.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne

The Dreadful “What If Land.”

“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.” ~Dan Millman

I have struggled with insomnia almost all of my adult life and have tried all the medications that my doctor could think of to help me sleep. They offer little help. My medical record (because we can see them online now!) literally, reads “patient doesn’t sleep.” Naturally, that is an overstatement. I do sleep, but not much. Unfortunately, I am not awake at 2am having a dance party or planning a great adventure. I am spending a lot of my time in the dark and dreary What if Land.

What is What if Land?

What If Land is the place in my mind where all the things that might go wrong play out in what if a variety of scenarios and at 2am it feels like my charge is to solve the problems before sunrise. This is when I work through every possible worst-case scenario until my mind is exhausted but I am still not asleep. Sometimes, I even wake up Mr. Beard to ask him his thoughts on a given scenario. I am sure that is buckets of fun for him.

In addition to medication to help me sleep, I have tried mediation, prayer, reading, writing, and watching television. Sometimes those things work but sometimes they do not. What does seem to help the most is reminding myself that I actually live in What IS land and to remind myself of What IS actually happening in the right now. Usually, it is that the house is quiet and my life is going pretty well. It helps to take several deep breaths and slow down. If there are problems I need to solve in the morning, I keep a note pad by the bed and jot them down.

This is a skill in mindfulness and staying present. 

What if Land is a function of my anxiety. My anxiety is the main culprit behind why I don’t sleep. I have what some have termed a fiery amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for our survival and for some odd reason my anxiety tricks the primal part of my brain to go straight for What If Land and get to work at 2am.

We all have anxiety, and on a scale from 1-10, I am the type of person that consistently hangs out above 5 whereas plenty of the people I share time with float closer to 3. Now, if it is 2am and I’m wandering the streets of What If Land I am probably closer to a 9. This makes traditional methods of stress management a little more challenging to implement.

“A stress response is a natural part of our survival pattern. The amygdala is believed to be the part of your brain that processes basic feelings. The amygdala plays a big role in sounding an alert for threatening situations and triggers fight or flight behaviors. This works well as long as there truly is a threat that you need to run away from or defend yourself against. Otherwise your body suffers from being on high alert when it doesn’t need that reaction.” – Karyn Hall, PhD

I often wish that 2am Sissy and 2pm Sissy could sit down and have a chat over some chamomile tea. It seems that 2pm Sissy has a much better grasp on her anxiety and is better able to avoid What If Land.

I have accepted that sometimes I will find myself wandering around What If Land knocking on doors and peaking in windows. I think my knowing it is probably always going to be there makes it a little less scary because I always have the power to bring myself back to What Is.

Love.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
Eckhart Tolle