I Never Needed A Makeover

A friend of mine is in town for the week (I love her ) and we were talking last night about a time in my life when I (significantly) lacked confidence and what that felt like. Honestly, I think we all struggle with confidence from time to time but there were times when I thought that I was just not good enough at anything.

This post makes me so sad for the person I was.

There was a time in my life when people would tell me how to dress, how to do my hair, or what I should act like or talk like. My laugh was too loud and my opinions were too much. When I shared these stories with my friend, I could see her sadness and that made me sad. It’s just not nice to tell people that how they are in the world is wrong. I never needed a makeover, I was good enough, what I needed were people that love me just the way I am.

If I want to wear sneakers with a dress, I will do just that.

If I want to laugh out loud, I will do just that.

If I want to share my opinions on issues that are important to me, I will do just that.

I was doing a training with adolescents last week and a table of young women were asking such incredible questions. One young lady asked why I did not have children and I answered that it was complicated. She looked confused and made some guesses that were sweet but incorrect. I summed it up like this:  it takes a lot of courage to live a life true to yourself and some people will never understand or agree with some of your life choices and that’s okay. If you pause and consider your life honestly, you will know what an honest life for you looks like for you. It’s scary but it’s worth it. It is so worth it.

When I was in first grade I wore fake glasses without lenses to school because I thought they looked cool. This is who I am.

Why is this such a radical way to be in the world?

If you are struggling with confidence and the people around you are always picking you apart, you don’t need new clothes, you need new people.

Love.

Are You Safe? Decision Fatigue.

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I was at a training last week and it was held at a facility next to the psychiatric hospital. A person came up to me and asked “Have you ever been in that place (the psychiatric hospital)? I’ve heard horror stories about what goes on in there” I nodded and responded that I had, in fact, been in that place but did not go into details as to why. That story is long and winding and not appropriate for that interaction.

But, if you follow this blog at all, you know that my life is replete with mental illness. Psychiatric hospitals don’t scare me. I think once you have spent a few Christmases in certain places, they lose some power over you.

I talked to a friend later that evening and told her that I often get mistaken for “The white girl that had a pony” Before I go on, I know that having a pony does not mean you had a good, perfect, or even okay life. It’s just an expression or joke that fit the conversation.

What I also learned at this conference was the concept of decision fatigue. This is not the decision fatigue associated with what to wear or what to watch on television. This is the type of decision fatigue related to “Are you a safe person to share these parts of me and my story with?” “Are you going to judge me if I tell you about me?” These questions are constantly swirling in my head because there are real life consequences to sharing something with someone and having them think differently about you.

I know this from experience.

When I learned about this concept I had a profound “Aha” moment. I am constantly assessing the people around me for safety. I have been known to ask directly if someone is safe to share information with. The truth is, it is human nature to make assumptions about the people we share time with. It is also human nature to judge people based on their life experiences.

I have stacks of letters related to my grandmother’s struggles with mental illness in the 1960’s and make no mistake, she was a warrior. The horrors she endured due to ignorance were unbelievable, barbaric, and inhumane and many of these treatments are still happening today.

One could guess that being a therapist was the only real logical place for me in the world.

I know that I was born to tell the truth. my truth. It is the way I make meaning out of the things I’ve experienced, learned, and endured. I stopped trying to figure out why I am built the way I am and now I just flow with it. Telling my truth is when I feel whole and connected to my divinity. It is also why self-censoring is so unbelievable exhausting for me.

I did not have a pony. I’ve spent a lot of my life in prisons and psychiatric hospitals. Those places do not scare me because those places are filled with humans, just like you and me. I think sometimes we forget that.

This is part of my truth (an abridged version) and as the great Brene Brown says:

“When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story.”

She Loved It All.

A few years ago, I read a story that hit me in my guts. A woman, about the age I am now, was dying of breast cancer and her husband was documenting her fight through photography. In the pictures you could see the pain, suffering, and fear in her eyes…but you could also see how much he loved her by the way he captured her experience.

One of the last days of her life, her husband asked her what her favorite part of her day was. This being a day spent in intractable pain in a hospice bed staring death in the eyes. She answered “I loved it all”

I loved it all.

Yesterday, my birthday, I was surrounded by so much love it took me out. I talked to my dearest friends on the phone, received beautiful texts, and Facebook oozed with love. But, one person made me feel badly and that brought me to tears. It’s crazy how powerful perceived rejection or dismissal can feel even when I was saturated in such love.

I called my brother – a warrior. He is the only person that can talk to me in the way that he does. It’s magical. The love I have for him is beyond unconditional – it covers all space and time. He is my courage and my heart.

I told him how I was feeling and he reminded me, in his way, that more than enough people love me. I immediately stopped crying – he was absolutely right.

I am loved beyond measure.

I danced my heart out later that night with people I love beyond measure.

And, about yesterday, I loved it all.

 

My Dad Had A Love Gun.

2016: Day 1

September 21st 7am: The alarm goes off and my partner tells me that he doesn’t have to go into work until a little later. He’s been working a lot so I’m happy to spend time with him.

7:05am the phone rings and I let it go to voicemail: “Casey this is Doug, I need you to call me ASAP”

Doug is my dad’s home manager

7:06 am: Doug answers and tells me that my dad’s heart stopped early this morning and he’s at the hospital. I need to come now.

7:20 am: We’re in the car heading the 3+ hours through a tsumani storm. I can’t stop crying.

1990 (ish)

My dad invents this thing called “The Love Gun.” He makes the symbol for love and shoots us with it before my brother and I go to bed at night.

2016

The hospital calls  as we are en route to say they are putting in a pic line. I don’t know what this means. One of my best friends is a physician. He’s on speed dial for the next few days.

1992

I make fun of someone with alopecia to their face and my dad lectures me on the importance of being a nice person. I can tell that kindness is important to him by the way he’s talking about this.

2016

My in-laws go ahead to the hospital to see if there is anything they can learn before we get there.

1995

My dad does the Carlton dance from Fresh Prince of Bel Air when every single time I have friends over. He thinks this is hilarious. I am mortified.

2016

They ask for family history. I answer that everyone is dead except me and my brother. This is an odd statement to say out loud.

1996

My dad works in the oil fields. He’s in a major explosion and suffers second and third degree burns all over his body. He goes through several surgeries to heal.

2016

We arrive at the hospital and my dad is sedated and intubated. They don’t know why his heart stopped. They say the CPR administered by his home manager saved his life.

1998

My dad gets to volunteer for the Arizona Cardinals and is on the field running films back and forth during the game. His hair is parted to the side. I’ve never seen him happier.

2016

My dad is agitated and they have him in restraints so he doesn’t pull the tubes out. They up the sedation and continue to run tests and scans.

2000

My dad changes jobs and his mental health quickly deteriorates. He’s paranoid. He’s doing crazy and scary things.  My brother and I don’t understand what’s happening.

2016

I sit with my sister next to my dad and just stare at him with the tubes and the wires. I don’t say it out loud but I’m scared out of my mind he’s going to die. I don’t want those words to touch the air.

2003

A man from a hospital in Traverse City calls me to tell me that my dad has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The bottom drops out from under me. I’m a psychology major in college.

2016: Day 2

They lower the sedation but he’s still intubated. Tears are rolling down his cheeks as he mouths “I’m sorry” and “I don’t want to die”

2006

My dad gets moved to Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital and I visit him weekly during visiting hours. We talk about anything and everything. The room is musty and dark.

2016

They remove the tube and my dad mouths with little voice “I love you so much” to me. I can’t breath.

2007

I graduate from Western and my dad gets  a day pass to leave the psychiatric hospital. My grandfather brings him real people clothes and he gets to shave.

2016

The speech guy shows up to help him swallow. He asks my dad about what he does for a living. My dad doesn’t want to tell the man about his life. I change the subject. The man asks about his kids and my dad responds “They’re the best thing I’ve ever done”

2009

A horrible tragedy occurs and my dad literally takes three different modes of transportation to get to my brother and I.

2016 – Day 3

He had a rough night and pulled his pic line out. He bled a lot and he was tired. We still don’t know why his heart stopped.

2011

My dad does whatever he has to do to see my brother when my brother needs him.

2016

He’s stable and they keep saying they’re going to move him out of ICU and into a regular room. He’s joking with my brother and my brother’s girlfriend. My brother always makes him laugh in a special way.

2013

I have to relinquish guardianship of my dad. I live too far away and something bad might happen. I’m devastated to know this is the best solution for all parties. I feel like I’m giving up.

2016 – Day 4

He’s moved into a regular room. They say he’s the healthiest person there. We are still not sure why his heart stopped.

2016…days before

I call him to ask a question about my aunt that has long since died. He talks about her and his other sister that his also died. He says, “I wonder about me sometimes” I change the subject.

2016 – Day 5

They are waiting for his blood thinners to work. Blood clots have been their best guess but they are not certain why or where they came from. He can return home once the medication is where it needs to be.

2016

I still have my love gun.

I’m Not An Idiot Liberal.

“If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake,” is how Scalia once described their lifetime appointments. “As annoyed as you might be about his zinging dissent, he’s so utterly charming, so amusing, so sometimes outrageous, you can’t help but say, ‘I’m glad that he’s my friend or he’s my colleague,’ ” Ginsburg said. Sometimes, she said, she had to pinch herself to not laugh in the courtroom when Scalia said something audacious.”-  Irin Carmon,  What made the friendship between Scalia and Ginsburg work

My grandfather was a staunch republican and the best person to ever live (in my opinion). He was a marine in the Korean War and then worked for Army Intelligence in Georgia. Where he jokingly proclaimed he protected the nation’s secrets from the liberals. He only talked openly to the people he liked and I think there were maybe four or five of us.

Once at a picnic, a punk kid was talking about war like it was some Call of Duty game. I could see my grandfather getting uncomfortable. He spoke up (which never happened) and firmly told the kid “Listen, war is Hell.” The kid’s eyes widened and I don’t think he said another thing the rest of the night. It was probably for the best.

He spent thirty plus years partnered with my grandmother, a feminist liberal. They kissed a lot in front of me. And, he loved me, another feminist liberal. We could talk for hours about the role of government. He taught me to how to debate ideas without attacking the person. I was allowed and even encouraged to have a different opinion. In a lot of ways, I think he liked that I had a lot of opinions and ideas that differed from his. We learned from each other.

Naturally, the debates got heated sometimes. Once, I challenged him on universal healthcare and landed a solid point. He looked at me with a frustrated smile. I waited for him to respond but instead he changed the subject. This had never happened before. I felt like a debating ninja. And, It wasn’t that I changed his mind (or his values or his beliefs) but I was able to change his perspective. I learned that was the point of a debate.

I know that there have always been aggressive people on all sides. My grandfather would say that these people were insecure and unsure of their opinion. He would say that if you knew what you were talking about you wouldn’t need to use force. Intellect was always better than brute strength in a politcal debate.

I wonder what he would think today. My grandmother and I talk about who he would support if he were still here. I don’t think he would appreciate the current climate in politics. I don’t think he would respect the way these campaigns are being operated.

John McCain was his main man and I don’t know how he would feel about the disparaging comments made about him. Especially in relation to war. In my grandfather’s opinion one did not get to speak about war unless they had been there. My grandfather loved this country and he served it well.

I don’t know how we arrived at this place. But, I can’t hear you if you’re screaming at me. I won’t listen to you if you call me an idiot for my beliefs. I won’t respect you if you punch me for thinking differently. I think it’s cowardice. I don’t trust that you believe in what you’re saying if you communicate it using verbal or physical violence. I believe that if you are speaking your truth, you must do so with confidence but not violence.

I’m so lucky to have been loved by such an incredible man. A life-long conservative that proudly raised and supported a feminist liberal granddaughter. Man, I miss him.

“Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.”

[Address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 23 November 2004]”
Desmond Tutu

Love.

Validation: You Matter.

“What is an example of an invalidating experience? Let’s say a child is hungry and says, “Mommy, I want to eat.” The normal response is that the mother feeds the child. However, if a mother repeatedly denies the validity of the child’s experience by saying, “No, you are not hungry,” that child learns to distrust her own inner voice, her own physiology, and her own emotions.” -Sheela Raja

Today’s post is simple in text but complicated in feeling.

When we are children (birth to at least age 25) we are developing our sense of self. And, we develop our sense of self by interacting with the people around us. This is primarily done with parents but also with other family members, teachers, clergy, and anyone that a child interacts with.

The act of validation is one of the single most important things an adult can give a child and it looks like this:

Validation

Child: “I’m sad about Charlie not wanting to play with me”

Adult: “I understand that you’re sad, you care a lot about Charlie”

Child: “Mom, put your phone down and look at me”

Mom: (puts phone down) “You have my attention”

Child cries

Dad hugs child and comforts child

Invalidation

Child: “I’m sad about Charlie not wanting to play with me”

Adult: “It’s not that big of a deal”

Child: “Mom, put your phone down and look at me”

Mom: “Hold on, let me finish this email”

Child cries

Dad: “Stop crying! It’s not that big of a deal”

If you are validated quite a bit as a child you learn to trust yourself and your feelings. More importantly, you learn that your feelings are valid and they matter. If you are invalidated as a child you may seek a lot of external validation from others (from the wrong and unhealthy others that may not be able to validate due to their own challenges), you may often feel “crazy”, you may feel like hysterical, and you may feel misunderstood.

Invalidation as a child, may also lead to an inability to validate another person. This is when someone is always contrary or looking for an argument. This is when someone takes an opposing view all the time. They were never taught that it’s safe to agree or validate.

You can learn to validate yourself and heal this part of you. First, you have to notice how you are thinking and feeling and practice saying to yourself “It’s okay to feel this way, I’m human and I have a lot of feelings and emotions. I don’t need anyone else to tell me how I feel is right or wrong. I am allowed to feel how I feel.” It’s hard work but it is some of the most important work you can do to live a happy healthy life.

We talked about validation in adult relationships in a past post: Validation! The Ninja Skill.

“Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”
Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey

“The one person you’ll be spending the rest of your life with is you. Treat yourself with love and respect.”
Elle Sommer

Men, You’re Worth More Than A Paycheck

“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”
Jonathan Swift

“… for men, the overarching message is that any weakness is shameful. And since vulnerability is often perceived as weakness, it is especially risky for men to practice vulnerability.”- Brene Brown

Dear Men,

I once had a man tell me he was worth more dead than alive. He stated that his life insurance was a hefty sum of money and that if he died his family would be “all set.” This literally brought me to tears. What’s worse, is I was unable to help this man understand that he was worth so much more than money. He could not hear me say that his kids needed his hugs and kisses more than they needed a tablet. He would not listen when I said that his wife needed his reassurance and love more than a new car. In fact, the only thing stopping him from suicide was that the clause in his life-insurance that stated it would not pay out in the event of suicide.

Men, you are worth so much more than your career and your money. I know so many of you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders at three in the morning. I know you hide your tears behind rage and anger. I know you aren’t allowed to be afraid because being fearful makes you look weak. I’m so sorry that we’ve taught you that you’re only allowed to express your feelings through rage. I’m so sorry that we’ve taught you that you must be strong all the time. We set impossible expectations and then shame you when you don’t meet them.

Men, I know that you’ve experienced shame for expressing needs and emotions. I know you were told to toughen up when you cried as a child. I am so sorry we did this to you. It takes a tough man to cry and we lied to you when we told you it was weak. I am so sorry you were taught that your only value was in the form of zeros on your paycheck. Men, please believe me when I say, you are worth so much more than your title at work.

Men, I am sorry that we never told you that a deep and meaningful partnership is built on vulnerability and openness. I am sorry that you were taught that it was all on you to make it work. I am sorry that we never taught you how to be soft and kind with the people you love. I wish you knew it would be okay if you stayed home with the kids and your wife worked. I wish you knew that you could be a starving artist and still be worthy of love. I wish you knew that the image of masculinity does not capture what it means to be human. I wish you knew that you are lovable even without any money.

Men, you do not have to be rich to be loved. You don’t have to be aggressive (in fact, this will make you lonely and scary and confused). There are so many messages that tell you that the weight of the world is on your shoulders. I know this causes immense shame and feelings of inadequacy. I know you hide your sadness and fear under a coat of rage or distance. I know that leaves you feeling lonely and unloved.

Men, please believe me when I say, you are worth so much more than your paycheck. You don’t have to toughen up or stop crying. And, please try to take better care of yourself. It’s tough out there.

“Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness illicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak”. ~ Brené Brown

Love.

Dear 15 Year Old Sissy.

Dear 15 Year Old Sissy,

I see that you are busy on your teen line talking to your friends. Perhaps, someone called the operator to bust into your conversation and see what is taking you so long to end your conversation. Sometimes you turn the ringer off so you can read some Maya Angelou or American History. Sometimes you turn it off so you can take naps. I suggest you keep the naps up because sleep will never come this easy again.

I am not going to tell you the things that are coming for you. I can’t bring myself to shatter your adolescent comfort of pizza, popcorn, boyfriends, sleep-overs, and friends. I will tell you that friendships you make now and over the course of your life will sustain you so I’m glad you made your relationships such a priority. Your friends will be your family.

I wish I could tell you to go downstairs and look at your parents as they are right now. I know they’ve made a lot of mistakes and you resent them. But, please just put the phone down and walk down the stairs. Maybe your dad is embarrassing you dancing like Carlton from The Fresh Prince and your mom is cleaning (again). I don’t want to regret taking those moments for granted anymore: so go watch them be parents. It will be nearly impossible to remember what that was like in 20 years.

If I could whisper something in your ear, it would be “It’s going to be okay even when you have no reason to believe this to be true.” I’m not going to tell you what is coming for you because it would terrify you. And, you have no need to be scared right now. Right now, you are too busy borrowing CDs from Tiffany or watching Menace 2 Society with Trina. Maybe you’re calling Billy or Nate and asking them to pick you and take you on an adventure.

I’m not going to tell you that everything is going to fall apart and you’re going to feel like you are drowning for years. I’m not going to tell you that you will lose everything you thought was yours to have. You will realize that nothing is yours to have and everything is borrowed. This makes things and moments so much more precious to you.

I am going to tell you that in ten years, you will walk down the hall and see a handsome man sitting at a computer and you want to talk to him. Doing this is the best decision of your life. Talk to him, ask him out. It is scary and out of character for you but it changes everything. You will find that you’ve been crossing paths for most of your lives and never knew it until now. You will believe in serendipity because of this.

I am going to tell you that it’s okay to cry for days on the bathroom floor and it’s okay to take medication to make the bad a little less bad. I am not going to tell you to be brave because you don’t give yourself any other choice. There will be times where you believe that you will never feel good again.  I mean, the kind of good where you feel a deep sense of contentment. But, one day on a warm afternoon you will be walking your dogs and contentment will pour over you. It will take your breath away. I will tell you that when you arrive at that moment the beauty of your life will overwhelm you.

I’ll see you when you get here.

Love.

 

 

 

You Are Survived By Me.

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I woke this morning to a text that my dad’s roommate “Bob” died. (we’ll call him Bob because persons with disabilities have the right to privacy). It’s been said that Bob has never had a bad day. It’s true that Bob was one of my favorite people in all the world.

My dad lived with Bob for about ten years. I looked forward to every moment I spent with his sweet soul. He was one of my most kind and loving men I’ve ever known. To the best of my knowledge, he did not have family in the technical sense. He wasn’t visited much if ever by people outside the home. This makes me sad for all the people that did not get to know the love and kindness that Bob radiated.

Obituaries are often a list of life’s accomplishments, such as so and so graduated from here and did this with his life. I never understood how that captured a person’s life.

Bob’s accomplishments were that he lit up a room. He gave the best hugs. He never stopped smiling. He asked you how you were doing. He remembered what you told him. He made the best of a clearly challenging life. He loved peppermint patties and sour cream. He liked to take seconds at dinner. Bob was kind and loving to every person he ever interacted with. He had a contagious laugh. He was genuine and you could feel it. After all, he never had a bad day. He seemed to know the secret to contentment.

Bob is survived by a home filled with men who loved him. And, men that never understood how he could be “so damn happy” all the time. He is survived by home staff that loved him. He is survived by my husband and my brother. And, my sweet Bob, you are survived by me. My heart breaks knowing that I will not get to share time with you again.

I will never forget your sweet, kind, and loving soul. You were a gift to this world. I am better for having known you. Thank you.

Hey Bob, we’ll be seeing you then.

Love.

“Your skin,
Oh yeah your skin and bones,
Turn into
Something beautiful,
Do you know,
You know I love you so” – Yellow, Coldplay

Well That Must Be Nice!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.”

– Marianne Williamson

(Side note: I am super into Marianne Williamson right now.)

Few words frustrate me more than the phrase, “Must be nice!”  When I share something I am excited about or an adventure I am planning, and someone responds with, “Must be nice!” It really hurts my feelings.

Why does this hurt me? 

One, happiness is a choice. A choice I try to make every single day. Happiness entails concentrated efforts to identify that which makes you grateful. It is a way of life. Two, I have been through plenty of times in my life that were not easy, great, or even manageable. Three, I worked my tail off (and still do) to live a life I love. Put simply, if you think “must be nice” fits my life: you do not know me at all.

But beyond my hard work and effort, a person should not have to share with you their struggles (or lack of struggle) for you to be happy for them and with them. We cannot assume that we understand what a person went through to reach where they are now. It is true that some people have it easier and better than others. However, resenting how good someone else has it will only make you miserable. If you want to have a “must be nice” kind of life than please spend your time making that life as opposed to resenting others.

Finally, I know that I will still face struggle and hardship. And, there are struggles I am facing right now. I know that life is not fair and the bottom can drop out again. I recognize how fortunate I am to have the things I have. Countless people work harder than I work and have a lot less. Because I know these things to be true, I will delight in the good when it presents itself. I will use any excuse to be happy. I would love to share these moments with you. I love when the people I care about do the things that they love. Goodness, the world needs a lot more happy people doing what they love and a lot less resentful people trudging angrily through the daily grind. I will not dull my sparkle and I beg you to let your own light shine. Life is not a competition and when you let go of that thinking it feels a lot better.

Spoiler alert: We all die in the end.

“Every time a friend publishes a blog post. Every time an acquaintance’s story gets viral. Every time a colleague gets a better job. Every time a childhood friend posts about his travels to the end of the world. Every time.

Every single time, I need to remind myself: Their success is not your failure. Just because they are succeeding, that doesn’t mean you are failing. Just because they climb higher steps, that doesn’t mean you are walking two steps behind.”  – Marcella Purnama

Love.