Safe Spaces

I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Safe Space.”  It’s one of several often used buzz words that are thrown around so often that they’ve sort of lost all meaning.  “Holding space” for someone is another one.  It’s partly that they’re so overused, and partly that they’re sort of, I don’t know … fluffy.

But someone recently asked in a group I belong to what the phrase meant to us.  Specifically, what were our own safe spaces.  The interesting thing is that I didn’t hesitate for a second.  They were immediately in my mind.  Two actual physical locations, and one more people-centered.  I’m sure I could think of more, but these are the first ones that materialized.

Around my kitchen table, with my people.  The six of us have dinner together every night, and our conversations are legendary.  Last night, after trick-or-treating together, we hung around the table for ages, eating candy, chatting, laughing, and just generally enjoying each other’s company.  Our family conversations run the gamut from the light-hearted to the serious, and often always include things that would make your mother blush.  We’re open and honest and unfiltered.  We laugh.  A LOT. We make jokes that most people outside the family would never understand.  We have discussions that most people outside the family would be shocked (horrified?) to overhear.  We’re us.  And the true beauty of it, the thing that makes it such a safe space, is that it doesn’t leave the table.  It’s just us, in the moment, being the rawest versions of our true selves.  I never have any worries that something is going to leave the table and get into the wrong hands or ears.  I never have any worries that I can’t be anything other than completely open and honest.  I never have any worries that I’ll be judged. Granted, it took some time and reminders when the kids were younger, but now it just goes unspoken:  Our table is sacred.  A true safe space.

My therapist’s office. I was actually surprised to find this one on my list, since it is a place that is so associated with emotional turmoil.  But it’s a non-judgmental space.  I feel like I can say anything there – literally anything – and that it will not be judged.  It’s a place that holds all my deepest darkest secrets.  It knows every story, every wound.  It takes my demons and exposes them to light. It’s weird and it’s freeing and it’s powerful.  And despite the fact that it also holds many uncomfortable moments, painful moments, scary moments (because growth can be uncomfortable and painful and scary), it is in fact, safe.  Indescribably safe.  And while I talk about it like it’s the physical place that’s safe, it’s the person.  He makes me feel safe, even through the yuck.  Even through the really really big yuck.  And for that I’m so thankful.

With a few trusted girlfriends.  I’ve never been one for tons of friends.  Even in highschool, I had my one little group, and while I was perfectly friendly with lots of people, the ones that I really let in, the ones that I could truly call friends, were few.  The consummate introvert, I am slow to trust, and slow to connect.  But when I do connect, I connect hard.   I often feel like I have no one (mainly when I am not sleeping and/or depressed), and I have had some painfully fractured and downright broken relationships this past year.  The people that I trust are ever evolving, for a variety of reasons, but those couple of people who stick around for both the good times and in the muck and the mire are INVALUABLE.  I have people I can text when I’m having a bad day.  I have people who send me things to pick me up, and to outright HOLD me up when I need it.  I have people who get it.  (And so. few. people. get. it.)  I have people I can go to with the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. People who will not judge me, who know me well enough to know that I don’t want advice:  just ears and shoulders. These few people… they make me feel safe.

Those are my safe spaces.  I’m sure there are more, but that’s where my list starts.  That’s where my feeling of safety starts.

For anyone who’s willing to share, I’d love to hear yours!

And if you’re not keeping up with me on Patreon: I am challenging myself to write a new blog post every day in November.  I have absolutely no specific plans, so it will essentially be a month of stream-of-consciousness, slice of life musings.  I would love it if you followed along. If you have something you’re dying for me to write about, send me a message, or find me on my Facebook page.

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The weather is (finally) cooling off, I’m sitting outside, and I’m watching the kids on scooters and skateboards.   Another safe space is clear: outside, with my feet firmly planted on the ground, and the fresh air on my skin.

Just like the other three “safe spaces”, nature never judges, never chastises.  It accepts you.  It just lets you….. be.

The ultimate in safety.


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Why I’ll Never Make My Kid Apologize To Yours

I have never made my child apologize to someone else.

And please don’t misread that to mean that I ignored any offenses.  I didn’t. On the contrary, I always tried to be right there, ready to help, intervene, and problem-solve.  But the familiar refrain of, “You tell Johnny you’re sorry!” was not one that I ever uttered, for a few reasons.

First, an apology that is coerced is nothing more than empty words.  The words, without the feeling, are literally worthless.  I never want to give an apology (nor receive one!) that is not sincere.  And let’s face it…. sometimes you’re just not sorry.  Maybe you just need more time, and you’re not sorry yet.  Maybe you feel justified in your actions.  Maybe you’ll never be sorry.

Making someone say something they don’t feel is, to be really blunt about it, teaching them to lie.  And learning to lie about feelings is a slippery, slippery slope.

Second, a forced apology can cause even more resentment, escalate the situation rather than help diffuse it, and actually hinder the possibility of an authentic and sincere reconciliation.  I remember very well being a child, and being in a situation where I was just plain pissed off (usually at my sister), and told to apologize for whatever infraction I’d just committed.  I would be sorry later – I always was – but being made to apologize in that moment just made me more angry at my sister, more angry at the situation in general, and now carrying the added insult of being angry at the apology-enforcer as well.

Finally, forcing apologies takes away autonomy, and the owning of one’s emotions in a big way.  It is literally trying to tell someone how they should feel.  If there’s anything we should be able to feel ownership over, it should at least begin with our own feelings.  Our feelings are ours (or at least they should be!), in all their messy glory:  hurt, sadness, anger, joy, love, and yes, remorse.  One thing I have worked incredibly hard to learn, as an adult, is that my feelings are okay.  All of them.  I don’t want my kids to have to do that work as an adult.  I want them to be able to recognize and accept and embrace their emotions now.  Telling them how they’re supposed to feel is not going to help on that front.

I was on the receiving end of an apology today.  One that I’ve been deeply, deeply needing for the past 3 months.  It was a sincere one too, and even included a painfully honest, “I don’t like to admit that I’m wrong.”  An apology like that is a true gift, for both parties.  It’s a step – a really big step – towards healing, for all involved.  It’s a step towards reconciliation.  It opens a door to forgiveness, and to deeper, more authentic communication in the future.  It allows us to be human.  This literally happened two hours ago, and I have thought about nothing else since.  I did not yet accept the apology out loud  (mainly because I was too emotional and didn’t want to cry, and well, see my comment up above about still learning to own my emotions) but I absolutely DO accept it.  I do, with every fiber of my being… precisely because it was sincere. And right now, I’m sitting in a big emotional soup that includes feeling bad for bringing up the thing that preempted the apology in the first place, feeling glad that I brought up the thing that preempted the apology in the first place, but mostly feeling genuinely and deeply moved for being given that gift.**  There are so many “sorrys” that we never get, that we will never get, so the ones that do come?  The ones that are real?  I’m hanging on to them, and I’m treating them with the care and the reverence that they deserve.

Apologies aren’t something that should be taken lightly.  And they most certainly aren’t something that should be faked.  At the end of the day, this being-a-human-thing, this connecting-as-a-human-thing, leaves no room for falseness.  No room for force or coercion.  It’s about being real, right there in the moment.  Real with yourself, real with the other person, and real with your feelings.

I will always be there to help my kids navigate (kids who are not so little anymore, but still need their mom sometimes).  I will always be there to intervene when needed, to have the hard conversations, to share empathy, to model forgiveness, to walk beside them as they dredge through the joy and beauty and heartbreak and yuck that comes with human relationships… be they platonic, romantic, or professional.

But I will never, ever tell them how to feel.

**Update, a week later.  It turns out that the apology wasn’t as uncomplicated as I’d thought, and the giver is, at the present time, not my biggest fan.  The ironic thing is that I’d actually had every intention of making it a positive, happy resolution.  “Hey, thanks for the apology.  I forgive you.”  I must be the only one who can f*ck up something as benign as accepting an apology.  But I did.  I kept talking, and I made it bad, and now…. I dunno.  I still accept the apology, no matter what it meant or didn’t mean, because life is just too short.  And I still stand by this post, perhaps even more so.  This stuff is HARD, even for adults, and I think more than ever we have to be there for our kids, helping them figuring it all out, without forcing them to say things they don’t mean.  But dang.  Life is hard.**


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When To Call In The Professionals

People often ask me for advice.  They always have. I don’t know why exactly, except I’d like to think that I’m a good listener.  The great irony of course is that it takes a lot – a lot, a lot – for me to ask anyone else for advice, and advice that is unsolicited lands squarely in my top three pet peeves of all time.  I actually like giving advice though (when it’s asked for) because I like helping people.  It’s something I do a lot due to my blog… obviously not as a professional, but as an unschooler of four kids, and as a parent of nearly 21 years.  I’m not any kind of expert though, nor do I claim to be.  On more than one occasion, I’ve had to tell someone who emailed with an extreme concern (for example, their teenage child was being physically violent) that I didn’t know how to help them.  And that, honestly, it would be inappropriate and irresponsible for me to try.

Sometimes you just need a professional.

As a yoga teacher, I’m always happy to answer long distance questions about my favorite mats, which DVD series I’d avoid , or which stretches are good if you wake up feeling stiff. But if I cannot actually see you, teaching from afar is not comfortable for me.  It’s way too easy to do things incorrectly, and/or to push yourself to0 far and cause or exacerbate an injury.  Instead, I’ll always recommend seeing a professional in person, even just once, to help avoid bad habits and poor form.

I very rarely take my kids to the doctor.  Most things that people go to the doctor for – rashes, sore throats, flus, colds, fevers, stomach viruses, minor injuries – can be safely and effectively handled at home.  Plus, by keeping them home, I’m not out there spreading all those germy germs to the entire Phoenix valley.  But when one of my boys landed wrong playing basketball, and his ankle swelled to the size of, well, a basketball, we took him in for an x-ray.  (Lo and behold, a broken bone in his foot). And when that same boy had an array of weird and concerning symptoms that culminated with a symptom on the “never-to-be-ignored” list, we went straight to the ER.  Broken bones, cuts requiring stitches, serious injury, illnesses that are getting worse instead of better:  I don’t ask Facebook, I don’t fiddle around with essential oils.  I GO TO A PROFESSIONAL.

I wouldn’t have wanted anyone other than a professional to do my shoulder surgeries or remove my gall bladder, and that goes doubly for placing my kidney stent.

I don’t know how to fix my car.

Or fix my toilet.

I would most certainly struggle with doing my own taxes (being married to someone who works in finance is a big boon in this area.)

If I wanted an addition put onto my house, an addition that wasn’t at great risk of the walls caving in, I’d call someone who actually knew how to do that.

Sometimes you just need a professional.

Mental health should be no exception.

It’s alarming to me how many people either 1) completely ignore their own declining mental health (been there, done that), 2) think that they can fix it just by “thinking positively” or getting more exercise or spending more time in the sun (been there, done that, too) or 3) Seek counsel from people who aren’t actually trained or qualified to give such advice.  I recently saw a post on a natural health Facebook group that I belong to that rang some serious alarm bells for me.  The poster was asking what natural remedy they could use for alcoholism and EXTREME mental lows (emphasis is theirs).

Can I just say, as a general, blanket statement:  If you’re feeling extreme mental lows, seek professional help.

If you’re feeling extreme mental lows that are making you think you’re in imminent danger of harming yourself, go to the emergency room.

If you’re feeling extreme mental lows that are interfering with your life, go to a mental health professional.

A mental health professional, it needs to be said, is someone who has gone through years of schooling, rigorous training, and a rather long and arduous licensure process.  It is not someone who is just really good at listening.  It is not someone who attended an 8-week life-coach certification course.  It is not someone who paid $97 for an essential oil starter kit.  I’m sorry, but it’s not.

Just like the broken foot and the broken toilet and the yet-be-done taxes: if you want to get actual help, you need to go to the appropriate person.

And I get it.   OH MY WORD do I get it.  It’s hard.  It’s hard and it’s scary and no matter what anyone tells you, there is still very much a stigma about seeking mental health treatment.

Go anyway.

You don’t have to wait until it’s extreme, either!  In fact, as someone who waited until it was quite extreme, I’d very much advise not to wait until it’s reached that point.  I think that anyone could benefit from at least a little bit of therapy, in much the same way anyone could benefit from twice a year dental cleanings.  I didn’t used to think so, either.  In the interest of full disclosure, up until 18 months ago, I used to be rather anti-therapy. But because (take your pick:) people change, people grow, life happens, I value myself more than I used to…. I’m now perhaps the biggest pro-therapy champion you’ll ever meet.  I have SEEN the darkness of unchecked mental illness ….. and I so much prefer the light.

Therapy and medication quite literally helped save my life.  The hard work was mine (and make no mistake, it has been really freaking hard work), but I could not have done it without the professionals.  I wouldn’t have known how to do it were it not for the professionals.  I AM HERE – not here on my blog, but HERE, on the earth – largely because of that professional help.  I’m glad that I’m here.

Sometimes I think about it; about would have/could have happened had I not sought help when I did.  It’s not a particularly cheery thing to think about, and I know it’s not productive to dwell in the what-ifs.  But every now and then, it’s there, in the corners of my mind.

And it reminds me…

Reminds me of where I was, reminds me of how far I’ve come, reminds me of where I am now.

I’m likely going to be ending therapy soon.  Not because it didn’t work, but because it did.  Words can’t quantify how much I’ve learned from my therapist.  I’ll continue to see my pdoc for check-ins and med refills, and if I ever felt like I needed it, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and schedule another therapy appointment either.  (Except, I’d probably hesitate just because I so dread making phone calls.  Tony, if you’re reading this, maybe we should work on my phone phobia next.)

But I would call, and I would get more help, because it’s important.  It is so, so very important.

I figure my life is – at a very bare minimum – at least as important as a broken toilet.


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Screen Time Is Like Crocheting

Last night, I was trying to crochet.  I say, “trying”, because I’m really not very good at it.  It’s just one of many hobbies that I’ve picked up, played with a little bit until I got bored, then moved on to something else.  It’s also one that I return to from time to time, because I really do enjoy it.  I’m quite confident that with a little more practice I could make a coaster, or, if I’m feeling really adventurous, a scarf.

But right now, I make little misshapen rectangles.

So last night, I was feverishly working on my latest misshapen rectangle.  I was incredibly focused… frustrated every time I dropped a stitch, elated every time I successfully did a few in a row.  I’m a creative person by nature, so the feeling of creating something new with my hands is exciting and empowering.  I started with yarn, and with it, I was making … well, a misshapen rectangle.  But I was making something new, something that literally had never been in existence until that very moment.  It was just me, my crochet hook, and my yarn.

And then people started talking to me.  First, it was my 9 year old, and then it was my husband.  I could feel myself getting irrationally impatient and annoyed at the perceived intrusion.  (“CAN’T YOU SEE I’M CROCHETING HERE, PEOPLE?!”).  I answered them, but I was vague.  Distracted.  The truth was, I was really into what I was doing, and wasn’t taking kindly to being interrupted.

I did finally stop long enough to eat dinner but even then I was sort of “out of it.”  I’d stopped before I was ready, so my brain was still focused elsewhere.  I wanted to get back to my project.

And it wasn’t because I’m “addicted”, and it wasn’t because crocheting is “bad.”  It was simply because I’d gotten super involved, and sometimes it’s hard to immediately shake out of that.

I fail to see why playing video games, watching movies, or browsing YouTube is any different.

And yet it’s such a common refrain among those who are new to the idea of unschooling:

“He gets so angry/irritable/frustrated when we tell him it’s time to stop playing”

“Every time she watches videos for too long, she just zones everyone and everything else out.”

“We have to limit his time on the computer or he’d never do anything else.”

“When she’s wrapped up in a game, she doesn’t eat, won’t take a break, and barely gets up to go to the bathroom.”

Short translation:  Activities involving screens are harmful and addictive.

But there is literally nothing in the above statements that couldn’t also be applied to someone who was super involved with crocheting.  Or reading.  Or drawing. Or gardening.  We all have our outlets, and we all have our activities that demand our full-attention.  Maybe we’re creating.  Maybe we’re learning.

Maybe we’re using all our brain power to solve the puzzle and save the princess and make it to the next level.

Getting involved to that extent is normal, especially if the activity is new.  If I can get inpatient, frustrated, and irritated when interrupted while crocheting, why is it unacceptable for children?  As an adult, I can generally handle such feelings without taking it out on the people around me.  But kids feel the same frustrations, and don’t have the years of experience or maturity to know what to do with their feelings.  The solution then is understanding and assistance …. not taking the offending activity away.   Help them, don’t punish them.

“He gets so angry/irritable/frustrated when we tell him it’s time to stop playing”

Yup, I’d feel all those things if I was suddenly and unexpectedly made to stop doing something I enjoyed too… especially if it was something like a video game, that could not be saved at that particular point.  Give plenty of warnings and advanced notice.  Help them plan their time, and understand what’s happening when.  Transitions can be hard, especially for little ones.  This is not the fault of the video game.  Work with them on transitions, and over time, they’ll get easier.

“Every time she watches videos for too long, she just zones everyone and everything else out.”

I love the feeling of getting so lost in a good book or a good movie that everything around me disappears.  It means the author or filmmaker did their job well.  We all – every one of us – are allowed to “zone out” sometimes… whether it’s to a good book, a movie, a song, a TV show.  IT’S OKAY!  Getting lost in an activity helps us relax, rest, and reset.  I would frankly be more concerned for the kid who was denied the opportunity to regularly zone out for awhile.

“We have to limit his time on the computer or he’d never do anything else.” 

When something is limited, it becomes more attractive.  Like the proverbial forbidden fruit, it starts to be more enticing, more alluring, and disproportionately important.  It’s just human nature.  Any child (or adult for that matter) who is forbidden from using something is going to appear to be unhealthily obsessed with it when they do get the opportunity.  Not knowing when they’re going to get to use it again, they feverishly devour it while they can.  When the limit is lifted, and the initial inevitable binge moment has passed, it becomes just one of a million different choices they can make in a day.  When they truly trust that you won’t take it away, their interest tends to “normalize”, and you realize that they aren’t so obsessed after all.  My kids all use their computers daily (often for hours).  They also write music and poetry, read, bake, make things with their hands, hang out with friends, act, sing, play musical instruments, hike, research, make YouTube videos….

“Never” is an extreme and loaded word.  It is highly unlikely that your child would honestly and literally never do anything else if his computer time wasn’t limited.

“When she’s wrapped up in a game, she doesn’t eat, won’t take a break, and barely gets up to go to the bathroom.”

So this is a real thing.  When I’m lost in a good book, I lose all sense of time.  It’s not often that I get the opportunity to read for hours, but when I do, it often ends in a confused, dehydrated, starving stupor.  It doesn’t even have to be something that I’m enjoying now that I think about it.  The other day I was deep into my math class (College Algebra is my Everest), getting crazy frustrated, and refusing to do anything else.  When Mike suggested I take a break, I just about bit his head clear off.  I was committed, dammit, and I was going to see it through*.  I know the feeling of not wanting to take a break.  I’ve seen it in my kids, in my husband, and in myself.  The solution?  Connection.  Understanding.  HELP.  Instead of vilifying video games, and grumbling that they make your kid neglect their own needs… meet them where they’re at.  Chat with them about what they’re playing.  Ask if you can bring them a snack.  Help them deal with any frustrations.  And yes, gently suggest a break if things are getting too intense.

Screen time is not the evil that it’s so often made out to be.  It’s just not.  It’s simply one (actually many – since “screen time” is a catch-all term that refers to an infinite number of activities) of a million different pursuits that one can dive into, learn from, grow from, and get lost in.

It’s like crocheting. 

And if your kid gets frustrated in their pursuit of learning to crochet, you help them.  You don’t vilify the very thing that they’re trying to learn.

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*I did eventually heed his advice to take a break.  And it helped. 🙂

 


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The Holidays Are For Giving, Not Manipulating

Let me paint a picture for you.

You’re 6 years old.  You just came off the excitement of Halloween.  Thanksgiving is coming, followed by Christmas just a few short weeks later.  You’re going to holiday parties and special events, your schedule is all out of whack, and you’ve been eating all kinds of rich, sweet, and complicated foods.  You’re spending time helping to decorate, and make gifts, and make cookies and other treats.  You’re probably not sleeping very well because you’re excited and everything’s thrown off, and your six-year-old self is buzzing with restless energy, anticipation, and – if we’re being honest – likely some exhaustion and over-stimulation too.

And then, right at the breaking point, right at that moment when what’s needed most is some collective down-time, some deliberate slowing and reconnecting and a heap-load of grace….. your (probably well-meaning) parents tell you that a magic old man is watching your every move, that if you make any missteps he’s going to know about it, and that if you’re not good enough, you’re not going to get any presents at Christmas.  And then, lest you don’t believe it, they install cameras, just to be sure you’re properly submissive.  Or afraid.  Or both.

Surely I can’t be the only one who realizes how completely manipulative, not to mention illogical, this is?

In Christmases-past, I’ve written about my issues with the Elf on a Shelf, but I’m new to the whole concept of Santa Cams.  When I first heard about them, it was in the context of ornaments for the tree.   Cutesy little balls painted like cameras, sold by about a million different vendors on Etsy.   The premise is as simple as it is creepy; Santa watches you through the camera, and if you misbehave (a word I can’t stand, but am using for the sake of illustration), you won’t get any presents.  As if those weren’t bad enough, someone recently brought my attention to the more insidious – and much, much creepier – version: cameras that are meant to mount on the child’s bedroom wall or ceiling.

You guys, I cannot overstate how disturbed I am by these Santa Cams.

Because there are just so very many things wrong with them, and because I think better in lists, here are my top five reasons to – at a bare minimum – carefully consider whether or not you want to instill (and install) something like this in your own home.

1. It teaches that giving is conditional

Let’s just start there.  No one should ever have to “earn” their gifts, Christmas or otherwise.  By definition, a gift is something that is given freely, without condition, and without expectation.  Something that – ideally – comes from the heart and the generosity of the giver.   Teaching your kids that they need to behave a certain way in order to get Christmas gifts not only destroys and mocks the whole premise of giving, it ensures that their future relationship with giving will be a warped and unhealthy one.  I want my kids to give because they want to give, not because someone jumped through some requisite hoops in order to be deemed worthy.

2. It encourages behavior that is driven by extrinsic (rather than intrinsic) motivation

So let’s get this question out of the way.  Do Santa Cams “work”, in terms of getting children to behave in a certain way?  Quite possibly, depending on the kid.  But just to be clear on what’s really happening:  They’re being driven by something external. They’re performing strictly because of the promise of reward and/or the fear of punishment.  That’s it.  It doesn’t actually teach them anything, except that gifts are conditional, that it’s okay to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do, and that the only reason to behave reasonably is because a jolly fat man might take away your stocking if you don’t.  Take away the promise of presents, and what motivation do they have then?  People, of any age, should act according to their own inner sense of right and wrong, their own innate wisdom that informs them how they want to behave, and how they want to treat others.  Children by nature are incredibly giving, and loving, and kind.  They are, by nature, good …. until and unless that natural inclination is squashed and skewed by things like punishments and rewards.

3. It’s manipulative.

As parents, we know that there is no literal Santa Claus that lives at the North Pole.  We know that if our kids are going to get presents, we’ll be the ones providing them.  We know that the Santa “camera” is nothing more than cheap plastic (and, if we’ve splurged on the fancy one, a set of AA batteries for an LED blinking light).  We know that our children are already overtired, under-rested, and all hopped up on sugar and adrenaline.  The kids know none of that.  They just know that they’re excited.  They know they want fun new presents on Christmas morning.  They actually believe that Santa is watching them, because that’s what their parents told them.  Parents take advantage of that trust and that naivete because they know that by controlling them through the threat of punishment and the promise of reward that it will make their lives just a tiny bit easier.   It is the very definition of manipulation, and manipulation isn’t nice.  Which brings me to:

4. It is damaging to your relationship

Nothing good ever comes from taking advantage of and manipulating someone in a relationship.  Ever.  In fact, people spend entire lifetimes trying to recover from being manipulated by parents, partners, siblings, friends, churches ….

Relationships, including, or especially!, between parent and child are precious, and need to be treated with care.  Once trust is broken, it’s a tricky tricky thing to repair.  That is not to say that wounds can’t be healed, or that wrongs can’t be righted.  Sometimes they can, and sometimes the damage is just too deep.  But given the preemptive choice to do the unkind, manipulative thing, and to… well, NOT do it, the latter is always the better option. The age-old adage still holds true:  treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

5. It raises some serious and confusing messages in the realm of privacy and consent.

I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most disturbing, and the one most likely to prompt people to say, “Oh come on, you’re taking this way too far.”  But I beg you to hear me out.  Hearing that this was something that people were actually hanging in their children’s bedroom raised major, major red flags for me.  In this current climate under a president who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” I think it’s safe to say that there’s a really grossly blurred line when it comes to privacy and consent.   I think it’s also safe to say that it’s more important than ever to talk about these issues at home, whether you have boys or girls.  Kids need to know about privacy.  Kids need to know about consent.  So I ask you, in all sincerity, where does a peeping, spying old man fit into a healthy model of consent?  How do you ever reconcile sending your young kids the sickening and confusing message that it’s okay if someone watches you undress and sleep if they hold the power to give or withhold presents??  Yes, they’re not actually being watched.  But the kids don’t know that.  The kids believe they’re actually being watched.  They believe their parents know about it.  And they believe it’s okay because it’s a benevolent old guy with a magic sack of gifts.

It’s creepy.

It’s disgusting.

It’s dangerous.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of where you stand politically (I’m already wondering if I’m going to kick myself for including the Trump reference, not gonna lie), regardless of how you do or not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus … I hope that we can agree that the holidays should be about love and kindness, giving and generosity.

Which should never, ever include manipulating the people we love the most.


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Filed under control, holidays, mindful parenting, respect

Making Peace With Self-Care (Again)

Last night, someone was mean to me on the internet.

And when I say someone was mean to me, what I really mean is:  I got my feelings hurt.  In a big way.  Because they were not “mean.”  Incredibly condescending, but not mean.    I’ve (mostly) learned to deal with it when people actually are mean.  When they swear at me, I can laugh it off.   Tell me I should I die?  Cool.  Tell me that my kids are going to grow up to be ax murderers and drunk drivers and rapists because I don’t spank them?  Whatever.

But admonish me, however politely, for not being a good enough human?  To use patronizing language to call my character into question?  To tell me, as a stranger, that I need to do better, to be better, no matter how well intentioned… holy hell.  HOLY HELL, does that cut deep.  I’m pretty sure that I have the years of damage from my fundamental Christian upbringing to thank for that.  The great irony (because my life is one big example of irony) is that I was being chastised for not having enough grace for people.  That I never knew what someone else was going through – which, of course, is absolutely 100% true – so I shouldn’t judge them based on one unkind and nasty snippet on the internet.  What I wonder is if this person would have shown me more grace if they knew more of my story?  Because yeah, I overreacted.  But there was a reason.  It doesn’t excuse it … but there was a reason.

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

It’s only been 3, 4 weeks now I think.  Usually it takes a couple of months before it causes a complete mental break, which means if I can get on top of things, there’s still time to catch it before I end up where I was in July: suicidal and threatened with involuntary hospitalization.

Anyway, I haven’t been sleeping.  First because of mania, then because of anxiety, then … I don’t know.  And I’ve learned that nothing, nothing, unravels me faster than lack of sleep.  I could eat nothing but junk food for months on end, sit on my couch like a sloth, ignore everyone and everything and still manage to function (relatively) normally.  But take away my sleep?  I start to slip.  Like rapidly, rapidly, down-the-rabbit-hole free-fall.  If I’ve learned nothing in this past year and half, it’s that I need to watch my sleep.  You’d think that I would have learned that sooner, having been a chronic insomniac on and off since my early twenties, but… sometimes I’m a slow learner.

So I haven’t been sleeping, and I got my feelings hurt on the internet, and last night I found myself rather violently cleaning the kitchen at 9:00 PM, just to give myself something to do with my angst.  It was the second night in a row that I’d gotten swept up (Swept up.  Ha.  See what I did there?) swept up in the act of rage-cleaning before bed.   Second night in a row that I’d gotten into bed depressed, and anxious, and jumping out of my skin.  I’d deleted the offending post and all its comments on my Facebook page, but I still felt gross about it.  And I realized as I was slamming the sixth plate into the dishwasher that it was at least the fourth time this week that I’d deleted something because I’d gotten my feelings hurt.  Or felt shamed, or embarrassed, or angry.  Which made major alarm bells go off, because I only start doing that when I Am Not Okay.  Or at a very minimum, on the verge of Not Okay.

And rather than trying to push through – which never works.  Which never, ever works – today I’m sitting with my not-okay-ness.  I’m admitting it; I’m saying it out loud.  And I’m breathing, and I’m being gentle with myself, and I’m working out what has to change in order for me to start sleeping again, in order for me to start interacting like a reasonable human again.  Letting go of my own self-care, letting myself get swallowed by the Big Black Hole, and then couching it in, “It’s not my fault; it’s the bipolar!” helps no one, least of all myself.  Or my kids.  Or my husband.  Or anyone who has the (mis)fortune of being within a 50 foot radius when I am as jacked-up as I am right now.   Whenever I feel myself starting to slip, self-care is the very first thing to go…. and the very first thing that I should turn to.  I know this.  I know this.  And yet, here I am, once again.

It’s time to make peace with self-care.  If I can’t do it for myself, I can at least do it for my kids.

And so, to the person who (rightly) reminded me of the importance of giving people grace last night:  Thank you.  You were right.  I absolutely do need to give people more grace.

But today I have to start with myself.


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Filed under about me, anxiety, depression, mania, mental health, self care

Conference R & R

It’s been almost a month since our fourth Free to Be Conference.  I would say fourth “annual” conference, but I don’t like the word annual.  Too much commitment.  🙂  It’s always been a new decision every year.

Last year, the conference was… well, it was honestly painful in a lot of ways.  The program itself went well, I think.  All the talks, workshops, etc pretty much went off without a hitch.  But the hotel hated us and threatened to kick out our group on the very first day, there were behavior issues, and there was personal … ickiness.  (Ickiness, by the way, is the technical term.)  We were very certain that we weren’t going to do it again.  Except:

We had to.  We needed a do-over. We needed a Hail Mary.  We chose a new hotel, looked at it as a fresh start, and hoped for the best.

Still, I didn’t know what to expect.  I really didn’t.  After 2016, I almost didn’t want to have any expectations. Registration was highly stressful this year because so many people waited till the last minute.  (Was it a mistake to do it again?  Was no one going to register? Were we going to end up in the poor house because of this?) And then, one month before the conference the bottom fell out of my own life, so it was all I could do to keep afloat, let alone think about anything conference related.

But then it came – funny thing about planning things like that.  They come whether you’re ready or not – and it was… well, it was magic.  I honestly could not have asked for a better conference.  Or attendees.  Or experience.  Were there tiny wrinkles?  Sure.  Were there little issues, complaints, comparisons to other conferences?  Of course.  That’s all part and parcel of hosting an event for 400 people.  But overall it was largely, and overwhelmingly… OVERWHELMINGLY… positive.  And the amount of healing it brought?  Ridiculous.  It was truly a redemptive year for us.

And the thing is, we don’t do it for us.  We do it for the money (KIDDING!  We don’t make any money to speak of.)  We do it for the attendees.  We create the vision and the framework; the speakers, the funshop hosts, and the volunteers bring it to life; and then the whole thing is gifted to the attendees, to do with what they wish.  This year though… this year, it was gifted back to us.  And it was beautiful and it was healing, and it was honestly one of the most positive and empowering feelings I’ve ever experienced.

People keep asking if we’re all recovered.  People have actually been asking since a few days after it ended.  And by all means, I feel good, and I feel peaceful.  But recovered?  Well, no, I’m not.  Mike, being the more logical, business-minded of the two of us, says that he’s back to normal.  A couple weeks back to work and he was good to go.  But me… I invest way too much emotionally to be recovered in a couple of weeks.  Plus, it was a year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears.  You don’t just get over that in a couple of weeks.  Especially when life doesn’t stop in order for you to do so… when you have to get right back to school, and life, and appointments, and running kids around.

I know that just attending the conference is exhausting and requires its own recovery.  For real. We’ve been on that end of it, too.  A four day event is no joke, no matter how smooth it is.  You’re running around like crazy, you’re sleep deprived, you’re not eating right. But it’s still not quite the same thing as planning, executing, and running said event.  (Um, on that note, my apologies to those I may or may not have grumbled to – I hope good natured-ly – when they complained to me about how tired they were.  Do you know about the ring theory of venting?  Ever since I learned about it, my venting mantra is “Never vent IN”.  I miss the mark sometimes I’m sure.  But I try.  Really really hard.)

And now it’s been a month, and I’m still working on re-entry.  A weekend at my cabin would be lovely, but … real life beckons.  And so, rest and recovery is happening in the pauses.  In the quiet mornings on the days when I don’t have anyplace to be.  With my happy playlist, and a venti cup of coffee in the car.  With a good book and a long bath.  In the stolen meditative moments of chopping vegetables for dinner, or washing my hands longer than necessary in the bathroom.  In the smiles brought by a rapid text exchange with a trusted friend.  In the hibernating.

In the breathing.  Always in the breathing.

I will rest, and I will breathe, and then I’ll be ready to do it again for 2018.  In the meantime, I will watch this.  And I’ll remember.  xo


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6 Things My Kids Have Gained From The Internet And Social Media

I remember when the internet was born.  I was in my 20’s, newly married, and thought it was the Coolest. Thing. Ever.  The ability to browse for information, talk to new people, and communicate through email… all from the safety of my home, in my pajamas?? An introvert’s dream.

And as the internet grew, I grew with it.

I remember when everyone had dire warnings about meeting up with people you connected with online.  Stranger danger!  Now, all of my closet friends are people I met online.

I remember when everyone was afraid to shop online, for fear that it wasn’t secure and that their credit card numbers/identity/life would be stolen.  Now I shop for everything online… from prescriptions, to Amazon, to Etsy.  We even order our groceries online.

My kids never knew a world without the internet.  How lucky they are!  Like it or not, we live in a digital age now, one in which everything you can imagine can be learned, bought, consumed, transmitted, created, and communicated online.  It doesn’t replace 3D life of course (and the intricacies and experiences and connection that go with it) but good grief does it enhance it.  I feel so fortunate, and so glad for my kids, that there are such endless opportunities to explore, to learn, and to connect, right there at their little fingertips.  For years the big joke has been the math teachers from years ago saying, “You need to learn to do this manually!  You won’t be carrying around a calculator in your pocket.”  Now, not only do we carry calculators in our pockets, we carry powerful computers.  Portals, if you will, into an entire other world, a world that is seamlessly integrated into our physical lives.  Pretty cool, right?

This is 2017.

Which is why I’m surprised and well… saddened… at the number of people who still want to so tightly control and limit when it comes to the internet and social media.  At the number of negative, fear-mongering articles that still come across my Facebook news feed.  At the amount of disdain aimed at apps, programs, and websites that allow kids (and adults) to express themselves in creative ways.

There is still so much FEAR.

But it can’t be overstated… this is the world we live in.  The internet is only going to continue to grow, so it only stands to reason that we should equip our kids to grow with it.  Case in point: A friend of mine has a son who was rejected for a program he really wanted to take.  Why?  Because he didn’t have a big enough digital footprint.

Now, is there yucky and dark and stuff to potentially stumble onto on the internet?  Sure.  Does  learning to navigate social media in a healthy way require an involved and connected parent, someone who’ll stay close and present as they figure things out? Of course.  But keeping them away is not the answer.  Especially in a time when there is so very much for them to gain – important things for them to gain! – by letting them explore and learn from the digital world and everything it has to offer.

Here are 5 things my kids have gained or are gaining from the internet and social media (and this is by no means a comprehensive list!)  In no particular order:

1) Knowledge  This is an obvious and broad one, but it couldn’t be left off the list.  Remember growing up with those sets of Britannica Encyclopedias?  Well, the internet is just like a million different sets of those encyclopedias.  On steroids.  In Disneyland.  On the fourth of July.  It is a constantly updated, ever expanding, veritable treasure trove of information.  Want to know how far a person sprays when their sneeze goes uncovered?  Google. (200 feet, in case you’re curious).  Want to see a detailed map of the world, of your country, of your town?  Google. Can’t remember the name of the guy in that movie with the song you like? Google. Want to learn a new language?  Google. Want to learn how to knit, how to build a shed, how to bake a souffle, how to apply a perfect cat eye with eyeliner?  YouTube.  I’ve finally learned to stop asking my kids, “Wait.  Where’d you learn that?”, as the answer is always and inevitably somewhere in their travels on the interwebs.  There are websites for everything.  There are more formal classes if that’s what they like (lots of which are free!).  There are tutorials and history lessons and peer-reviewed articles. As long as you can figure out the right search terms, you can learn about anything your heart desires.  Which brings me to,

2) Critical thinking skills Learning to navigate the internet means learning the nuances of searching and browsing in general. And you may not have looked at it this way, but these are critical thinking skills that are easily transferred to other areas in life.  These are the skills that help us to be clear in our thoughts and in our questions.  These are the skills that help us to be discerning.  To learn how to scan, discard, and sort information. To think about what it is we’re learning, and how it does or does not apply to our lives. To make decisions about what we do or do not want to be filling our heads, and where we do or do not want to spend our time.  It teaches us to ponder, to question, to go deeper.  To jump down that rabbit hole of vast, intense learning, and smoothly and expertly ride down all the never-ending little trails and offshoots it has to offer, stopping only when we’ve had our fill, and picking it all up again (or not) when we are ready.

3) Enhanced relationships. My daughter is the biggest example of this, but no one in this family is excluded.  The only extrovert in a house full of introverts, she lives for and thrives on her play dates, and theater practice, and sleepovers.  But when she can’t be with her friends in person?  Skype to the rescue!  She learned to navigate Skype at an extremely young age, and my house is always filled with the sounds of her and various friends chatting, playing games, and singing together.  And if a friend does not have Skype?   No problem.  They just email.  Dozens of emails shot back and forth, in real time. (This is a great starter email for kids, if you’re looking for one. It’s parent-moderated and extremely user friendly) And my boys?  My oldest has been in two long-distance relationships online.  He regularly chats with, and games with, friends from all around the country.  He watches movies, virtually, with friends who are thousands of miles away.  My younger two boys recently made friends with two sisters at our unschooling conference.  They spent hours and hours and hours together at the conference, playing board games, and strategy games, and bluffing games  (This feels important to mention, as some detractors of giving kids freer reign on the internet think that it causes them to be unwilling/unable to play and interact in person, without a screen in front of them.  Not so much.)  They live just down in Tucson, so meeting up in person is not at all beyond the realm of possibility, but in the meantime the internet – and Discord in particular – have allowed them to continue to grow their friendship online.  They have spent pretty much every evening together, chatting, laughing, and playing cooperative games together.  And for me personally?  I have one invaluable group of women that laugh with me, cry with me, and give me honest advice … all mostly within the confines of a private Facebook group.  And last month, one of the hardest months I’ve had in a long time, I had one friend who just refused to leave me alone (in a good way).  She doesn’t live particularly nearby, so she texted and messaged me daily.  To check in.  To encourage me.  To push me.  To remind me to get dressed and take care of myself.  None of that would have been possible if we didn’t live in a digital world.

4) Conflict resolution. Lest I give the impression that digital interactions are always smooth sailing, this is the real world.  Stuff happens.  I’ve helped my kids navigate disagreements, deal with unkind behavior, and understand the nuances of playing and interacting with large groups of strangers.  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer that they go out into the world already having this foundation of knowledge to stand on, and letting them interact digitally allows them to do just that.  They’re able to figure it all out at home, with me by their side… whether it means involving me or my husband to help sort the problem, or talking things through, or standing up for themselves, or – in some cases – utilizing that “block” button.  My kids are far more adept at skillfully and confidently handling any interpersonal problems that crop up than I ever was (heck, than I am at the present time as well), largely because of their ability to practice online.

5) Entertainment. People are really weird about this one, as if there is no inherent value in being entertained for entertainment’s sake.  But as a lover of all sorts of creative arts, AND as someone who’s worked really hard to learn how to protect my mental health, I can tell you that it’s not only okay to let yourself be entertained, but vital to a balanced and healthy life.  And the internet makes it so easy!  From streaming movies, to satire websites, to the ubiquitous funny cat videos, they is no shortage of ways to relax, reset, and enjoy the hard work and creative output of others.  My 13 year old loves to cook, and he’s been watching a YouTube channel that is part comedy, part recipe tutorials.  I love walking in to the room to find him laughing over its latest funny antics.  (Side note here:  As parents, we’re not always going to understand or appreciate the same sorts of things as our kids.  That’s okay!  We can still enjoy it through them, and appreciate their appreciation, and share in their excitement.)  It always breaks my heart to hear a parent talk about their child’s interest as “stupid” or “a waste of time.”  If they find it valuable, it’s valuable.

And finally,

6) A creative outlet to express themselves. You know those apps like Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat, and Musical.ly that so many people love to hate, and choose to fear?  They can be amazing tools for expressing yourself, for interacting and sharing with your peers, and for staying connected with others in a fun, real-time, meaningful way.  If I wasn’t able to follow my kids on social media, to see what they have to share, and how they choose to express themselves, I would be greatly missing out!  It has allowed me to see and appreciate a whole new facet of their personalities that I might not have otherwise gotten to enjoy.  It gives them an easy way to create.  To communicate.  To stretch their social muscles.  The argument, of course, is that those apps are dangerous.  And I mean, can they be used in harmful ways?  Can they give them possible access to people with less than positive motives?  Well sure.  But that’s not unique to digital interaction!  When I was in junior high, I was horribly bullied.  I once had a group of girls chase me into the bathroom, where I hid in a stall, and they proceeded to lean over the walls and spit on me.  I had no “block” button.  And I wouldn’t have had the confidence and emotional fortitude to use it even if I did.  My kids though?  They have confidence and emotional fortitude in spades.  And they possess this confidence in part because of apps like this, not in spite of them. The answer isn’t to live in fear and forbid these apps (because, let’s be real for a minute, if they want to use them they’re going to find a way.)  And would you rather that decision be an acrimonious one, filled with resentment and secrecy?  Or a transparent one, happy and respectful?  The answer is open communication. If you’re worried about a particular app, ask your kids about it!  Do they use it?  Do they want to? How does it work? What do they hope to get out of it?  My kids are always more than happy to talk to me about what they’re using.  And because I know that 1) they have a healthy amount of self-respect and personal boundaries, 2) they’re skilled at navigating interactions in a healthy, constructive way (see point #4), and 3) that they would be comfortable coming to me if they ever did encounter a problem, I truly don’t worry.  Instead I’m genuinely happy and grateful that they have so many fun ways to communicate and express themselves, and that they are so savvy in a world that didn’t even exist when I was their age.

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The internet isn’t going anywhere.  It’s something to embrace, to enjoy, and to learn to use responsibly.  It’s not the boogeyman. It’s a valid and useful (and important!) tool, for both the present and the future.  In the very wise words of my friend:

 


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What 24 Years Of Marriage Are REALLY Like

 

Last week, Mike and I celebrated 24 years of marriage.

We’ve never been ones to really jump on the train of public declarations that start with things like, “24 years ago, I married my best friend”… in equal parts because it’s just not us;  because it seems somewhat strange and.. insecure, maybe?… to paint a public, rosy, perfect picture about something that is private (and also, if anyone’s been honest, not at all rosy or perfect); and because we find it all sort of nauseating.  Nauseating too strong?  Annoying.  We find it a little annoying.

Still, it’s been 24 years – which is twice as long as 12, and just one shy of 25 – so I thought it deserved a little more than a passing mention.  Not of the, “I married my best friend” ilk, but the real-life variety: where people fart and pets die and you live through a wheel flying off your car at 75 mph on the highway.

Here’s just a small, uncensored sample of what 24 years of marriage has really looked liked (one for each year of wedded bliss, plus one more for good measure):

1. Working a combined 3, 4 and at times even 5 jobs to put food on the table and keep the lights on

2. Spending a summer living in a camper (with a toddler) at a long-term campground so you could save up enough money to buy a house.  Living with no running water for 9 long months at said house, because your well runs dry and you can’t afford to have a new one drilled.

3.  A dog that got into so many non-edible “foods”, and caused so much trouble, that you could fill a book with her vomit stories alone.  And… crying together in the vet’s parking lot after you had to have said dog put to sleep.

4.  And speaking of pets:  gently and compassionately and respectfully dealing with your wife’s cat’s body (a cat you hated with a passion) after it died in her arms

5. Staying up all night with crying kids and puking kids and middle-of-the-night sheet changes

6. Dealing with cancer scares, and shoulder surgeries, and kidney stents and 5 day hospital stays (when you have a newborn baby, no less.)

7.  Sometimes going to bed angry, because despite the oft-touted rule of marriage that says, “Never go to bed angry”, sometimes in the real world… you just go to bed angry.

8.   Occasionally justified and often ridiculous fighting about pets, and about politics, and about asparagus.  Getting to practice, again and again, the art of “I’m sorry.”

9.  Wading through four pregnancies…. two fairly text book, one with hyperemesis gravidarum (and its accompanying 9 months of vomiting and weight loss), and one with a self-destructive gall bladder and too many ER visits to count.

10.  Camping trips and upscale vacations to beautiful places like Bryce Canyon and Pagosa Springs, Colorado… that are mostly spent indoors because all four of your kids come down with stomach bugs.  Can I just stop right here and note the fact that 4 of the first nine points had to do with vomit?? 

11.  Hurting when your kids hurt, and wishing you could do anything – anything – to take away their pain

12.  Navigating the tricky path, and the highs and the lows and the really really low lows, that comes with a spouse with mental illness.

13.  Broken appliances, broken cars, and leaky roofs… sometimes all in the same week.

14.  Middle-of-the-work-day phone calls to tell you that your spouse has heroically saved a stray dog from certain danger, and that he’d stay just long enough to find his owner, and that, oh, by-the-by, his owner still wouldn’t be found three years later.

15.  Getting talked into getting a cat (and while you hate most pets, you particularly hate cats), and dogs and chickens and rats and snakes and fish and mice and hedgehogs…..

16.  Not realizing until after you’re married that you’re pretty much polar opposites… in politics, in personality (a very strong thinker, and a very strong feeler), in strengths and weaknesses (numbers and words, puzzles and ideas, practicality and creativity).  And yeah, have I mentioned the pet thing?

17.  Dealing with an extended family who thinks you’re utterly crazy for making the decision to homeschool, at which point you realize that your differences, those strengths and weaknesses, actually work very well together, and fit together like pieces of a puzzle … a sensible, creative, beautiful mess of a puzzle.

18.  Making the even crazier decision to uproot your family and move across the country, only to find that despite the ups and downs, hard days and really hard days, that Phoenix makes you happier than any other place you’ve ever lived, by a factor of a hundred.

19.  Making yet another crazy decision to start a homeschooling conference together, and again being pleasantly surprised at the ease of which you collaborate together, even four years in.

20.  The red wine and Fireball incident.

21.   Living through car accidents, rip tides, getting straight-up-lost in the middle of a mountain hiking trip, and the aforementioned red wine and Fireball incident.

22. Spending your anniversary at home, eating take-out, because one spouse just wasn’t up to going out… and being okay with it.

23.  24 Christmases, and 24 Thanksgivings (there was some vomit involved there, too), and 24 years of birthdays … 24 years of regular days and quiet days and boring days … 24 years of vacations and road trips and sporting events and rock concerts and movies …  20 years of celebrating and enjoying and rooting for your kids … 20 years of scouts and football and t-ball and basketball and gymnastics and dance and theater….

24.  20 years of collectively raising and watching and loving four gorgeous humans so much that it actually physically hurts.

25.  Knowing, in your heart of hearts, in the deepest part of your soul… that you wouldn’t change a thing.

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Rock Bottom

A happy photo for a not-so-happy post

Note:  The following is a raw, honest, mental-health related post.  I know some of you don’t like those.  I write this for three reasons:

  1.  It is crazy cathartic for me.
  2. It helps me feel less alone
  3. It helps others feel less alone.

If it’s not your sort of thing, no hurt feelings if you skip it.  Otherwise, grab a cuppa and read on:

_______________________________________________

One week ago on Tuesday, my therapist recommended I go to the hospital for stabilization.  I wasn’t allowed to leave the clinic until I saw a psychiatrist for a “risk assessment.”  I sat in the waiting room, terrified out of my mind, for 2.5 hours to wait to see her.  Sometime during this time period, he called my husband (something he’s only allowed to do if he feels I’m in imminent danger) to tell him how concerned he was.

And then the bottom dropped out of everything I’d been trying so hard to hold together.

I ended up declining the hospital – with the support of both the psychiatrist and the PA who’s my normal prescriber – but I (gladly) accepted a new medication for sleep, and I (gladly) accepted an increase/change in my regular day-to-day meds.  It was time, and I needed it, and I knew it.

The past week has been horrifying and messy and painful, but….

I’m glad it happened.

The entire situation, especially the call to my husband, rang a bell that couldn’t be un-rung.  I’ve known I’d been spiraling since the middle of June.  And I kept pushing, kept holding it together, kept pushing some more.  And I spiraled more and more and more until I said the things to my therapist (Tony.  His name is Tony) that made him concerned, that set off this whole chain reaction that just made everything …. stop.  It dropped me to my knees.  It forced me to admit that at the present time I AM NOT OKAY.  I am safe – it feels important to make that clear but I’m not okay. I’ve hit rock bottom.  The lowest rock bottom I’ve ever hit.

For the first few days after that appointment, the world came to a standstill.  I slept and I cried.  For about 5 days straight.  I cancelled a chat I was supposed to do; I cancelled all plans; I emailed my professor to ask for an extension (and she was wonderfully kind and gracious about it);   I had Mike run the kids to their activities;  I had Mike deal with all the conference stuff that came up; I had Mike deal with, well, basically everything.  And I just let myself be there, in that deep, dark, scary place.  Again, I was safe.  But I stopped trying to pretend that I had everything together.  I stopped trying to pretend that I was okay.  And I’m slowly, so very very slowly, starting to make motions to heal.  The overwhelmingly positive thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up.

As for today?  I’m still not okay.  I’m still not able to deal with most of life.  I’m not able to deal with people needing me (good God, all the emails!).  I’m not able to deal with questions. I’m not able to deal with extraneous noise.  I’m not able to deal with anyone or anything else but me.

That sounds selfish, I know.  But depression is selfish.  It is a selfish, selfish beast.  And I’ve decided that it’s selfish for a reason.  It’s selfish because when it gets to this point, you HAVE to be selfish.  You HAVE to be selfish in order to get well.

So in the interest of selfishness:  I’ve gotten dressed four days in a row (which sounds silly, but if you’ve ever been depressed, you know it’s a really big freaking deal).  I’m getting up.  I’m making myself do things around the house.  I’m writing this blog post!  The meds are starting to kick in, though at the moment they’re mostly making me drowsy and a little bit – or a lot – out of it.  I hope I’ve written in complete sentences.

I have a couple of friends I’ve been texting with, but if I may, a little bit of honesty:

I want to be left completely alone.
Except I don’t.
I want to hear reassuring words.
Except I don’t.
I want someone to remind me to put on pants and get myself some tea.
Except I don’t.

In short, I don’t know what I want.

The only thing I know for super sure that I want (and this is actually something I said to Tony the day this all went down) is for someone to SEE ME.  I have never felt more invisible in my entire life.  And I pick up my phone, and I scroll through my contacts, and my thumb just hovers.  This one is not very good at listening; this one would probably rather talk about herself; this one is very anti-psychiatry and psychotropic meds and there would be thinly veiled judgement; this one minimizes everything and would likely think I just need a good night’s sleep.  So I set down my phone, and I text no one.  And these are friends!  People I love!  It makes me feel terrible, and…. selfish.  But, well, see above.  I feel selfish, and alone, and just want someone to see me.

Yet at the same time, I’m pushing everyone away.

Depression is a terribly manipulating monster. But I’ve beat it before, and I’ll beat it again.  It’ll take time, and effort, and patience, and gentleness, and grace (so much freaking grace).  It’ll take faithfully taking my meds that I often hate myself for having to take.  It’ll take even more visits to Tony that I often hate myself for having to make.  It’ll take ACCEPTANCE, for who I am, and what I am, and where I’m at.  Even if no one else can see me, I can see me. Right here.  Right now.

And I’ll do it.

A quote I recently saw that resonated so deeply it hurt:  It helped me, so maybe it will help one of you.

We’re going to be okay.


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Filed under bipolar, depression, mental health