An Eye For An Eye Leaves The Whole World Blind

This video recently went viral.  Now, I don’t know who Caidyn Bennett is, but this is an adorable child.  Truly.  Absolutely endearing.  Sweet.  Funny.  Sassy.  Everything I love.

Having said that….

Nooooo. No. No. No.

I think it’s telling that this is the second time in just a couple of weeks that I’ve felt compelled to write about bullying.  Bullying is a BIG issue right now.  And it’s not just in schools, either.  We’ve got parents bullying kids, spouses bullying spouses, strangers bullying strangers.  This is for real.

And honestly?  I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I think like most things, it is multi-faceted, and needs to be looked at from lots of different angles.

I do believe… strongly, very very strongly… that it begins at home.  That it begins with how we treat our children.  How we treat others in the presence of our children.  How we talk about others.  How we talk to others.  How we build each other up, instead of tearing them down.  How we give our children a sense of pride, a sense of positive self-ownership, a sense of confidence, a sense of selflessness, a sense of kindness, a sense of humility …. so they won’t want to go bullying anyone in the first place.

What we don’t want to do is to teach them that might makes right.

Which brings me back to little Caidyn.

Caidyn says if little Johnny is going to punch him in the face, then little Johnny’s gonna “catch these hands. Cuz Johnny’s gonna learn to keep his hands to himself.”

So,  Johnny’s going to learn to keep his hands to himself by getting punched by someone else who can’t keep his hands to himself? I don’t really expect someone this young to see the irony in these words, but as adults we certainly should.  Hitting in response to hitting is the height of hypocrisy.  (Much like spanking, but that’s another topic for another day)  It escalates instead of deescalates.  It sends the exact opposite message of the one you wanted to send:  that hitting is wrong.

And make no mistake.  I am not in any way suggesting that you should just sit back and let yourself be hit.  But standing up for yourself, and yes, even defending yourself, does not need to involve hitting.  In fact, if you’ve ever taken a self defense course, you would have learned that hitting is actually a last resort.  You learn blocks, you learn holds, you learn defense.  Hitting is what happens when you need to go on the OFFENCE, and it is not the answer for a one-off hit from a school yard bully.  Without knowing any specifics, a simple and confident, “I don’t like that,”  “That hurt”, or “I won’t let you hit me,” might be a good place to start.

So no, I haven’t taught my children to hit back.  What I have taught them is that violence isn’t the answer (and that includes violent words as well).  I’ve taught them to be kind, to show love for themselves and others, to live as peacefully as possible with the people around them.  I feel like focusing on them, and focusing on what kind of people they are, will yield a much greater return on investment than making them practice their right hook.

And if they do ever find themselves on the receiving end of someone else’s anger?  I hope they stand up for themselves.  I hope they try to deescalate.  I hope they start with words.  I hope they remember that much like harsh words, a punch can never be redacted, and should never, ever, be used as a first resort.

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BPD: Another Coming-Out Story

I first posted this over on my Patreon page, to see how it felt. I sat with a few days, and decided to post it here too.
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I first told my bipolar story two and a half years ago (it’s been two and a half years already!) You can read about it on my blog here. In a way, it was kind of anti-climatic. I’d known in my heart of hearts that it was bipolar for SO LONG before I had the official diagnosis. What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t know, was that it didn’t exist on its own. I didn’t know that even as I was getting better – and I was… the depression was getting shorter and less severe, and the mania was getting less, well, manic – I didn’t know that there was something else there. Something that was not getting better. Something that was in fact getting worse.

That something was Borderline Personality Disorder. Scary words, right? They’re right up there with Schizophrenia and Dissociate Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder). And as an aside, you know what? People live productive lives with those disorders too.

But despite the weight of the words themselves, learning it was BPD was one of the most freeing, AHA, light bulb moments of my life. The more I researched, the more I went, “Ooooooooh.” It made sense. It made So. Much. Damn. Sense. I was reading about MYSELF. I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t just “too sensitive”. I wasn’t failing at getting better at bipolar. My bipolar was actually under control. There was just this … thing. This thing that was still ruling my life. This thing that I had no idea had to handle. And it was destroying me.

The list of possible BPD symptoms is lengthy. In order to be diagnosed, you need to exhibit 5 of the 9 main criteria.

What follows are some of the bigger ones of which I am painfully and intimately familiar. These are the things that made me ask – even as I went through therapy (which turned out to be the wrong kind), and took my medication and did everything I was supposed to do – “What is WRONG with me? Is this supposed to be SO HARD?”

1) Fear of abandonment. Every relationship I’ve ever had, romantic or otherwise, has been marked with my severe, irrational fear that I am going to be abandoned. That I am eventually going to f**k it up. This fear made me clingy, paranoid, and overly attached. It’s made me pick fights so that there’d be some reason for them to eventually leave me, other than that I was just an inherently unlovable person.

2) Unstable relationships. This is kind of the hallmark of BPD. I am BAD at relationships. I get quickly attached, and quickly unattached. Like noted above, I have an intense fear of being abandoned. Even with this fear, I often have no problem walking away myself. I idealize someone one second, and then rapidly devalue them or get angry or hurt at the slightest infraction the next. I get irrationally paranoid. My feelings are hurt. Often. I worry that I’m hated, even by people who, in a lucid moment, I know love me. I worry that I said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing or thought the wrong thing. While lots of people can relate to some or even all of the above, I cannot overstate how extreme it is in BPD. It takes over. It rules my whole mind. I love hard. I feel hard. I hurt hard. My relationships are intense. Crazy intense. Fleeting. Unstable. I don’t know how to do relationships like “normal” people.

3) Impulsivity – Risky behavior, substance abuse, self-harm…. Check. Check. Check.

4) Emotional instability and inability to regulate emotions – This is the thing that tripped me up for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I was still having so many emotional problems even as we got my bipolar under control. Emotional instability is of course a symptom of bipolar as well (this seems a good a time as any to point out that they share a lot of symptoms, and they do often co-exist) but they’re different in the two. With bipolar, it’s like a roller coaster. Sort of swoopy, sometimes even predictable ups and downs that might span weeks or even months. With BPD it is a day to day, minute-to-minute dysfunction. I can be feeling on top of the world one moment, and then someone will say something that triggers me (I hate the word triggered, but regardless, it’s the right word), and I am sliding down a shame-filled, self-loathing spiral like none other. I hate myself, I hate the other person, I hate everything and everyone, with the fire of a thousand suns. And then I’m cool again. Over and over and over all day long. It is intense, scary, and more exhausting than words can possibly explain. It’s like it takes over, and I have no control over it.

5) Suicidality – Self-explanatory, and another one that’s shared with bipolar. Yes, I’ve been there. Boy howdy, have I been there.

6) Disturbance of self-image and self-concept – Anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time knows this about me. I struggle with this. A lot. A lot a lot.

In a nutshell, I think BPD is best described by the quote up above. I have no emotional skin. I have raw nerve endings all over my body, and everything hurts. Things that would just brush off most people’s backs are excruciating. Which is why, it never ever helps a person with BPD to be told that they’re just being too sensitive. I stand before you to tell you it actually makes it much, much worse. In fact, it probably needs to be said that in almost all cases of BPD, the person grew up in a home where their feelings were continually invalidated. And invalidation of my feelings, or feeling like I’m being talked down to in some way, has always been, and continues to be, my absolute biggest trigger into breakdown territory.

The good thing? I don’t tell you this to excuse poor behavior. I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy or to convince you you need to walk on eggshells around me. I mean, yes, it’s helpful for me if you understand a little bit about why I am the way I am, but make no mistake:

I’m working on it.

I’m learning how to handle my emotions. I’m learning how to have healthy relationships. I’m learning how to respond like a “normal” person. I’m working with my psych on symptom management. I’m practicing the principles of DBT (the gold standard of treatment for BPD)

I’m working on it.

My God, I am working on it.

And now I’m talking about it too, because it’s important. It’s important to put a face to these things. It’s important to fight the stigma, it’s important to encourage people to get help, it’s important to reach even ONE person who can say, “I’m not alone. And if she can do this, I can too.”

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Bullying the Bully

via ABC News

bul·ly
ˈbo͝olē
noun
-a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.
synonyms: persecutor, oppressor, tyrant, tormentor, intimidator;
verb
-use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.
A few days ago, BuzzFeed ran an article about a mom’s “unique” parental move to punish her son.  He’d been unkind to kids at school, so she made him wear a t-shirt that said, “I’m a bully”, both front and back.

(Unique, by the way, is in quotes because, Buzzfeed?  This sort of public shaming is anything BUT unique.  It’s – unfortunately – one of the most popular parenting trends out there, and one I’ve written about several times.)

Mom has, as expected, been widely praised for this decision, with few people failing to recognize its sad irony.  The biggest problem with this type of parenting tactic (and make no mistake, there are plenty) is that it is teaching the child that it is okay to do the very thing you don’t want them to do!  Read the definition of bully again.  “A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.”  Or as a verb: “to use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”  This mom, by very definition, is bullying her son, for….. bullying.  She is in essence telling him that it’s okay to use force, intimidation, and humiliation to make your point.  She is telling him that it’s okay to negatively use your position of power and authority over someone to make them do what you want.  She is telling him that it’s okay to throw a child’s mistakes in their face, chastise them for their bad decisions, and publicly shame them for their poor choice in judgment.

Is what the boy did wrong?  Absolutely!  But as the proverbial saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right.  Mom’s bullying of the boy does not in any way absolve either one of them of their behavior.

I can’t pretend to know why this particular boy chose to bully.  What I do know though, is that people have a tendency to act as well as they feel.  There’s a reason why the expression, “Hurt people hurt people” is so often touted to explain poor behavior.  Someone who is hurting, or feeling unloved, or unseen, or unappreciated, might lash out and hurt others.  Someone who feels badly about themselves might look for flaws in others to make themselves feel better.  Someone who feels weak might pick on someone who seems even weaker.  Someone who’s bullied may very well turn around and bully others.  People who are hurting inside hurt others.  It is a sad truth, but it’s one that can’t be ignored.

And make no mistake, bullying should never, ever be excused.  Unkindness of any sort should always be addressed, and discussed, and navigated together as parent and child.  It’s a particularly … yucky  (for lack of a better word) part of parenting, but it’s an important one nonetheless.  In fact, just a few days ago, I had to help one of my children around a bullying situation – my child was on the receiving end – and I walked away with many feelings, one of which was gratitude at how it was handled by all parents involved.

Kids are still learning.  Their brains are literally still forming.  They’re human, and sometimes they mess up.  Sometimes they mess up badly.  And yes, sometimes they might be unkind.  It’s not our job as parents to respond to unkindness with more unkindness!  Our job is to set a boundary, yes, but to also offer unconditional love (which, in its absence, may be the very thing causing the bullying in the first place.) Our job is to show them how to treat others.  Our job is to be the ultimate models of kindness to all people… starting with our own children.

And when your child IS the bully?  It comes down to compassion, and understanding, and finding out the WHY.  That “why” is so important!  Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  People aren’t unkind for no reason.  If your child is a perpetrator, or for that matter a victim, of a bullying situation:  look for the why, and then go from there.   Responding to bullying with more bullying will only make the situation worse.  Talk to your children, but even more importantly, listen.  They’ll tell you what you need to know.  Once you have a frame of reference, you can form a plan and move forward with a solution.

No shaming t-shirts necessary.

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I Take A Pill

Every day, I take a pill

Actually I take a few different pills, but for the sake of brevity….

I take a pill

The pill is not a happy pill, nor is it a magic pill

It’s not an “easy out”

It’s not a substitute for taking care of myself

Or for eating well, or getting enough rest, or getting out into the sun

It’s not (no matter how much others try to make you believe otherwise) a sign of my ignorance, or my lack of research

It’s not (no matter how much others try to make you believe otherwise) about blind faith in a flawed and corrupt system

Are pills over-prescribed?  Yes

Do pills come with risks?  Yes!

But still I take a pill

I take a pill because I value my life

I value the quality of my life

I take a pill because without it my life was the very last thing I valued

I take a pill because for some reason (or two reasons or a hundred reasons) my brain just doesn’t quite work like yours

And it’s okay!  This weird, different, twisty brain of mine is okay

But not when it’s lying to me

Not when it’s telling me I’m not enough

Not worth the space I take up

Not when it’s overcome with darkness, or mania, or anxiety

So I take a pill

And the pill doesn’t fix me

But it allows me to fix myself

It allows me to function

It allows me to enjoy instead of just exist

It allows me to see colors where there was once only black and white

It allows me to move when I was once immobilized

I take a pill

I take a pill for me, but also for ALL the people who are shamed away from seeking help

Shamed away from saying it out loud

Shamed away from pills

Or doctors

Or therapists

Shamed away from putting a label on something that is NOT shameful or bad or ugly…. but just different

I take a pill because I need the help

I take a pill because all the fresh air and exercise and essential oils and kale in the world did not fix the broken

And I’ll say it again..

The pill doesn’t fix the broken either

But it allows me to fix the broken

It allows me to believe that the broken is fixable in the first place

It allows me to believe that the broken is WORTH fixing

So despite the voices

The voices from family, from friends, from strangers

Dear Lord the constant voices

The voices that yell DO NOT TAKE THE PILL

Every day, I take a pill

And every day I’m thankful for it.

 

There is no shame in doing what you need to do to stay well.

 

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Filed under about me, anxiety, bipolar, depression, mania

An Honest Day’s Work

In case you missed it:

Last week, a shopper at a Trader Joes in New Jersey recognized the cashier.  It was actor Geoffrey Owens, who played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show back in the ’80s.  She snapped some photos, sent them to a tabloid, and a media firestorm erupted.

Thankfully, the vast majority of people came to Owen’s defense.  Here was a successful actor and family man, who through either choice, circumstance, or a little of both, was paying the bills by working at Trader Joes.  I use the past tense because the undue attention caused him to have to quit his job (although, to their credit, Trader Joes told him to consider it a leave of absence and to come back whenever he’d like), and a national conversation about “job shaming” came to the surface.

All honest work has dignity and worth.  Let me just start there.  It bothers me on a deep level, for example, every time someone makes an off-the-cuff remark about someone only being qualified to “flip burgers.”

Flipping burgers has dignity and worth.  Flipping burgers puts clothes on people’s backs, and food on their tables.  So does running a cash register, bagging groceries, and stocking shelves.

A few years ago someone asked me a series of semi-hostile questions about unschooling, culminating in wondering if unschoolers could go to college or if they could “just work in a trade.”

(Yes, unschoolers can go to college if they so choose, which is another topic altogether.)

But JUST a trade?  When did we become such vocational snobs?  We need people working in trades!  We need plumbers and mechanics and electricians just as much as we need doctors and lawyers and engineers.  Who gets to decide that one is worth more than the other?  Who gets to decide that one is worthy of more respect?  Of more dignity?

The fact is, we’re surrounded by hard workers on a daily basis, many of whom continually get taken for granted.  In the past couple weeks alone, we’ve utilized a car rental company, an auto shop (fender bender, anyone?), a pool repair man, waitstaff, various cashiers, a doctor, a pharmacy tech, customer service, and a whole host of staff members at a hotel.  The common thread?  People earning an honest living.  People working hard to put food on the table.  People working hard to support themselves, their loved ones, their children.  Some are working these jobs as a pit stop on their way to something else, some are working these jobs to support themselves while they pursue a less financially stable craft, some are working these jobs as long-term careers, and some are working these jobs simply because they enjoy them.  All are okay.  All are honorable.

Including, but not limited to, Geoffrey Owens working at Trader Joes.

As an interesting post-script to the story, all the publicity surrounding Owens prompted  producer Tyler Perry to offer him an acting job (which he accepted) on the seventh season of The Have and The Have Nots.   So one lady’s moment of poor judgement ended up leading him to a new opportunity, one that I truly hope he will enjoy and be enriched by.

But if that wasn’t the way the story had gone?  If he’d continued to work at Trader Joes, along with or instead of acting?

I’d at least hope he’s buoyed by the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people who heard about the story, and took a stand.  Hardworking people from every demographic out there.  People who won’t tolerate a fellow human being disrespected.  People who know the value of hard work, and know that not one of us is better than the other.

People who speak up at injustice, who stand on a wall at say, “Not today.  Not on my watch.”

To Mr Owens, I see you and I wish you well… no matter where your next job ends up taking you.

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Reality Check

There’s a new list (read: harsh edict) floating around Facebook, and it’s being touted as a “must-read” for every teacher and parent, particularly those of teenagers.  While I’ll concede right up front that some of these are true, the entire list is steeped in negativity.  It is cold and uncaring, and sounds as though it were written in anger.  Honestly, lists like this kind of baffle me.  I assume the goal is supposed to be to change one’s behavior…. but if life is really as terrible as this describes, what exactly would be the incentive to do so?

Here is the original list, along with my response:

1. You WILL NOT be rewarded for bad behavior.

You shouldn’t do anything, good or bad, for extrinsic rewards.  Rather, I want you to do things because they align with your own sense of right or wrong, good or bad.  While you may not be rewarded for certain decisions, you are a human and you are allowed to make mistakes.  You will still be loved and accepted, unconditionally.

2. Being told “No” is a part of life.  GET OVER IT.

Being told “no” is unfortunately a lesson that life will teach us all at some point or another.  Life does this all on its own, so I will never manufacture a “no” for the sole purpose of driving the point home.   Don’t ever let life’s “no’s” define you, either.  Because you know what?  Life will tell you “yes” sometimes too.

3. You are free to make your choice, you ARE NOT free of the consequences. 

This is another one that life will in fact teach us on its own.  Consequences for our actions are one of life’s big teachers, to be sure.  Our job isn’t to be threatened by them, but to trust them, and to empower ourselves to learn from them.

4. Life IS NOT fair.

(This seems as good a time as any to point out that excessive use of caps and underlines doesn’t exactly command respect.  Instead it conveys anger and insecurity)

Yes, sometimes life really doesn’t feel fair.  And when that happens, it’s a time to be mad if you need to (you’re allowed to be mad!), regroup and move on.  And when life isn’t fair for one of your friends or loved ones?  Be their soft spot to land on, and their constant port in the ever changing world.

5. You are not the boss.

Not the boss of who?  Yourself?  Damn skippy you’re the boss!!  Personal autonomy is one of the most important gifts we have in this life.  You make your decisions.  You forge your path.  You choose what kind of person you will be.   No matter what a day may be, it begins and ends with you being your own boss.

6. The world does not revolve around you.

The world doesn’t revolve around any of us.  Or rather, the world revolves around all of us, working together…. which is never going to happen if we’re constantly shaming and demoralizing each other with angry “reality checks.”

7. Respect is EARNED, it is NOT just given.  

I actually think it’s the opposite.  I think respect should be the default.  Respect should be given freely and without condition.  People will show us if they don’t deserve it.

8. The world owes you NOTHING.  Work for it.

Hard work is wonderful.  So is being kind, to yourself and to others.  So is acting with integrity, and decency, and self-respect.  Who does or does not owe you anything is irrelevant.

9. Fits and tantrums will get you NOTHING. Stop wasting your time.

This made me chuckle a little bit in its irony.  The entire tone of this original list is that of a tantrum.  And I agree, in this particular case, that it gets you nothing.

10. You put yourself here.  YOU need to fix YOU.  

Not a one of us put ourselves here.  Let’s just start there.  To be blunt about it, we’re here because two people procreated.  It’s our choice what we do with out lives to be sure, but it’s not our choice to be here.  The onus on us is to live our best lives and be our best selves, not be so shouldered with so much guilt and unnecessary responsibility that we don’t even want to bother.

11.  Shut your mouth, open your ears.

Here’s the thing.  Even if I’d agreed with the entire list, you’d have lost me with this one.  It’s unkind and unnecessary.  We don’t influence behavior, win friends, or gain respect by telling people to “shut their mouths.”  And on the contrary, lots of forward progress has been made in this country, and in this world, precisely because people did not shut their mouths.

Life has some harsh lessons sometimes, this much is true.  But the answer is never, ever more harshness.

 

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Filed under gentle parenting, life, lists, parenting

Dear Trump Supporter: How Are You Still Defending The Indefensible?

source: Twitter

It’s 12:00 on a Friday, I have nowhere to be, and I’m laid up with a migraine.  So naturally I’m passing the hours by thinking about…. Donald Trump.

In all fairness, I try not to talk or write about the president too often.  It’s as frustrating as all hell, it’s not considered polite dinner conversation, and John Pavlovitz is doing an amazing job saying all the things I want to say in a more eloquent way than I could ever say them.

But this just needs to be asked, because I’m genuinely and deeply baffled.

How do you keep defending him?

It feels like that question should have been preceded with a nicety like, “With all due respect,”  but I just couldn’t make myself do it.  Because the thing is, I don’t respect a decision to support the president.  I don’t.  I know it’s not very PC to say that, and God knows I often talk about the importance of respect myself.  But the fact is, while I respect a LOT of people and ideas and opinions that are different than my own, I just can’t respect unkindness.

Or misogyny.

Or bigotry.

Or arrogance.

Or name-calling.

I can’t respect a man who brags about sexual assault.  I can’t respect a man who spends his days disgustingly disparaging everyone who disagrees with him on Twitter.  I just can’t do it.  And the thing I can’t stop thinking about, the thing I keep wondering, is: Do you, Trump supporter, respect those things?  Are they okay with you?  Do you find those traits to be admirable? Do you find this man to be someone to emulate?

Those (mostly) rhetorical questions are for all of you, but most especially for my fellow Christ-followers.  Because I can not, not for the life of me, understand how someone who purportedly wants to live like Jesus lived, could defend and support a man who does everything but.  Donald Trump is like the universe and God and the spaghetti monster all got their collective little heads together, and asked, “Okay, who can we think of that’s the LEAST Christ-like candidate out there?”  And in walks Donald Trump.  And they saw that they’d done their job, and they delivered him on a platter… and the people just ate him up.  Lock, stock, and barrel.

And the rest of us stand with our mouths open, and say, “Wait.  WHAT?  What just happened?”

Because it makes absolutely no sense.  It makes no sense how otherwise kind, compassionate, and reasonable people could buy what he was selling.  It makes no sense how they could overlook what kind of person he is.  What kind of person he continues to be.  What kind of person he’s proud to be.  Because make no mistake.  Donald Trump isn’t just a regular flawed human being who’s made some errors in judgment but is doing his best to right his wrongs.

He’s a man who takes great pride in doing, and saying, horrible things.  He’s not your savior.  He’s the antithesis of a savior… a person who would not only let you drown, but laugh at you while he watches.

So again I have to ask, how can you keep defending him?   Defending his actions?  His words?  His demeanor?

There’s a saying that goes, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”  My friends, Donald Trump has shown you who he is.  Not just once, but over and over again.

And I’m confused and I’m tired and I’m angry and I’m sad.  I want to believe – I have to believe – that there is an explanation.  I want to understand, but I’m afraid that there IS no understanding.  There is simply no understanding the defense of a man like Donald Trump.

So I think my question is really this:

Do you truly not see the kind of person he is?  Or do you simply not care?  Because as far as I can tell, at this point in time, those are the only two possible explanations.

 

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Filed under politics, rant

Unschooling, As Told Through Pie

Everett (14 at the time of this writing) loves to bake.  He really enjoys cooking too, but baking is his first love.  He’s always been fascinated with baking, ever since he was little, and he’s continually adding to his baking bucket list.

Last night he baked his first pie.  It was a cherry pie, with homemade crust and everything.  Now, I’m not even typically a big fan of cherry pie…. but it was amazing.  Like, I had-to-stop-myself-from-licking-the plate amazing.  Flaky crust, delicious filling that was not too sweet and not too tart, and cooked to absolute perfection.

I credit unschooling.

There is a danger among eager parents and unschoolers, particularly when they’re just starting out, to take their kids’ interests and sort of steamroll over them… looking to force a preconceived notion of learning, or simply overloading them with information.   With the very best of intentions, parents will bombard the child with resources, with loosely related subjects, or with ways that their interest can teach them math or history or social studies.

This often backfires in a big way, squashes the child’s natural love of learning, and makes them lose interest all together.

The beauty of unschooling is that you have the time and the space to let their interests unfold and expand naturally.  You can support them and encourage them without feeling the need to push.  Without feeling the need to create arbitrary constraints or conditions on their learning.  Without feeling the need to turn it into an artificial “teaching moment.”

When unschooling is done well, living and learning are seamless.   Life is play.  Life is work.  Life is learning.  There is no separating the day or the moment into math, or science, or history.  It’s all intertwined, and it’s all there for the taking.

Which brings me back to Everett and his pie.

He has learned a lot through his baking, and he will continue to do so.  He’s learned practical skills as well as stretched a creative muscle that can serve him well in all sorts of different pursuits.  For our part, we’re constantly buying him his requested ingredients, answering his questions, and supporting the interest in any way we can.  Our job is to act not as teachers, but as partners and facilitators.  But one of the most important things we can do for him, and for all of our kids, is to give them space to play and figure things out and experiment on their own.  Sometimes the best thing to do is just trust the process, give them the appropriate amount of freedom, and then get out of their way.

If we’d seen his interest in baking, and grabbed onto it too tightly, we very well could have pushed him away from it completely.  Instead, he’s organically moved through the basics to more and more complicated projects.  He’s not intimated by new things, and he places no limits on his abilities.

The really cool part?  I get to watch.  It is truly one of my favorite parts about unschooling.  I get to be there.  I get to see the skills develop, and the light bulbs go off, and the pride of accomplishment settling in.  We’ve designed our lives in such a way that our kids have the time and space to pursue their interests with no arbitrary time constraints, and no parent-imposed hierarchy.  Everett’s baking is as important as Tegan’s acting as is important as Paxton’s music as is important as Spencer’s yard work.  If they wanted to spend a whole entire day, or a whole entire month, on one specific thing …. it would be welcomed and encouraged.

They are getting to learn in the way I’d always wished I could learn myself:  In a way that makes sense for them.  Not for me, not for their father, not for a teacher, but for them.

If I could only give one piece of advice when it came to uschooling, it would be this:

Let them live.  Let them play.  Let them learn.  And for goodness sake, let them make pie.

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Moving And The Bipolar Brain

I am dashing this post off quickly, the deal I made with myself that I could only write as long as my coffee lasts. Today is our last official day in this house. We closed on our sale yesterday, and we close on the new house today. When Mike gets home from work, we’ll bring over our first load of stuff (and get our first look at the house as its new owners!), and we’ve rented the U-Haul for tomorrow.

This has been a wild ride. Yesterday, after I finally got to the point in packing where it felt like we were almost done, was the first day I let myself get a little bit excited. Daunted – do you have any idea how much stuff a family can accumulated over twelve years?! – but excited. As I wrote in my last post, MOVING IS STRESSFUL. And it occurred to me yesterday, as I was bawling to a friend about how overwhelmed I was, that my bipolar does not help.

So listen, I don’t want to be, “Oh, it’s HARDER for me than most people!” But, well, I really think it’s harder for me than for most people. For a myriad of reasons, really, but for two big reasons in particular.

1) Lack of predictable routine.  One of my biggest triggers (perhaps tied for first place with people who are condescending) is when my schedule is all out of whack.  Even happy occasions, like the vacation we took a couple of weeks ago, are HUGELY stressful.  It’s not that every day needs to be exactly the same, but more like I need to know in advance  what the day is going to entail so that I can adjust.  I need to take my morning meds at this time, my evening meds at this time, I need to go to bed at the right hour, I need to have enough time alone.  When sleep is short, like it has been lately, I start to unravel.  Throw in unknowns that come with packing and showings and contractors and appraisals and inspections and dates that are up in the air, and I struggle not to fall apart.  And I get that it would be stressful to a lot of people (indeed, stressful to MOST people), but perhaps not to the level of, “OH MY GOD I NEED TO SEE MY DOCTOR. MY MEDS NEED ADJUSTING. I CAN’T HANDLE THIS.  NO, IT’S NOT YOUR MEDS, IT’S JUST STRESS.  YOU’RE OKAY. YOU’RE OKAY. YOU’RE OKAY.” Ad infinitum, day after day. It has taken a LOT of positive self-talk to get through, as well as so, so much reassurance from my trusted people that tell me, “It’ll be okay.  YOU will be okay.”

2) The emotions.  And yes, I wrote about this in my last post too, but it can’t be overstated.  My emotions are RAW.  I mean, bipolar is a mood disorder… my emotions are usually raw.  But right now?  They’re like exposed nerves, excruciatingly painful to even the slightest touch.  All the packing and sorting and emotional letting go has been devastating to my equilibrium, laying bare everything I’ve carefully kept hidden.  I’m an open wound.  (And, again, I’m usually an open wound), but at the moment that open wound is gaping.  And boy howdy is that sucker bleeding. I’m on a hair trigger, angry one minute, consumed with grief the next, getting my feelings hurt at the slightest provocation, paranoid about every last spoken word, gesture, and relationship (the latter of which probably has more to do with the BPD than bipolar, which is… a post for another day)  But suffice it to say, the emotions have been intense.  Preparing to leave this house has been intense.  Buying a new one has been intense.

And don’t get me wrong.  I love the new the house.  I’m excited to move into it and start making it home.  But in the meantime… I’m struggling.  I will be okay!  But I’m struggling.

I am thankful for (in no particular order)

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Having an amazing realtor who made it all as smooth as possible
  • Having friends who’ve let me boo-hoo all over them when it got to be too much
  • Calming tools I’ve learned in therapy, to get myself out of my head, back into reality, and back into the present.  (And in the present there are no problems to solve)
  • A family who really does try to get it

We are so close!  So, so close.

My coffee mug is almost empty, there are clean clothes to be folded, and last minute odds and ends to be packed.  I can do it.  I can do tomorrow too, complete with all its craziness.

And when all is said and done, it’ll just be another little blip.  Another tiny notch in the totem pole that says, “Here was this thing.  It was hard, but I did it.”

P.S.  My blog just recently got a spot in this Top Ten Parenting Blogs About Bipolar list. (Which is pretty cool, and the reason I was inspired to write about bipolar today).  Check out the rest of the list!  And if you want to support my work, Patreon is a great way to do that.  You can pledge as little as $1, and help feed my prolific coffee habit to keep me writing.

See you from the NEW HOUSE soon!!

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packing. moving. healing.

A start

So if you follow me on any of my social media accounts (handy-dandy buttons are right over there on your right if you don’t), or if you know me in 3D life, you know we’re in the middle of moving.

Moving. Is. Exhausting. The kind of exhausting that you feel in every pore of your body.

But I’ll get back to that.

This move is one that’s been a long time coming.  For those who don’t want the story, and want the quick little primer:  We bought this house in 2006 as an investment.  It was never meant to be a long term home, or really a home at all.  We were going to completely remodel it (which we did), live in it temporarily (temporarily is such a relative term!), and then flip it.  But… because this is life, and because we’re us, this is when the market completely tanked, home values dropped into the toilet, and we went upside down in our mortgage almost overnight.   Now, in 2018, we’re finally able to sell.  Our little short term investment lasted us 12 years.

Now, I’m convinced that there’s never actually a good time to move.  It’s a massively huge, stressful undertaking, no matter when you do it.  But doing it right now??  While it was a good time when it came to the real estate market, it was decidedly NOT a good time otherwise.  We’re in the final stages of planning our conference, which has had far more than its normal share of hiccups; I just finished another semester of school last week; I’m dealing with the changes and side effects that come with adjusting 27 medications (Not really 27.  But it might as well be)  Oh. And.  We’re leaving on an 11 day road trip TOMORROW, less than one month before we close… just because Mike happened to have a work thing, and we happened to think it’d be a good idea to tag along and see the sights.  All the stress, all the emotions, all the fatigue, wrapped in a neatly labeled banker’s box and tied with a bow.

And let me just say right here, before I go any further?  There is a reason that moving consistently shows up on top five lists of most stressful life events.  Right up there with losing a job, getting a divorce, and even having a death in the family.  It’s no joke.

Because here’s the thing.  Packing up a house you’ve lived in for 12 years is really, really hard.  It’s hard in the sense that it’s physically demanding, gross, sweaty, dusty work (which I realize does not reflect well on our house-keeping skills), but even more than that, it’s emotionally hard.  It’s mentally hard.  It’s like…. it’s like therapy, on speed, in Disneyland, on the fourth of July.  It hurts down to the center of your bones.  It’s conflicting work too, because at the same time that you’re having to tell yourself that it’s all just unnecessary “stuff” – and let it be known that we threw out dozens, DOZENS, of bags of old junk – you’re also brutally reminded that it’s not just stuff.  It’s memories.  It’s nostalgia.  It’s happiness.  It’s sadness.  It’s regret.  It’s touching these little pieces of your past that brings you back to the time at the place with the person with a visceral energy that’s so real it almost makes it hard to breathe.   Over.  And over.  And over again.  It hurts.  Moving hurts.

It’s about healing.  And it’s about finally letting go.  It’s about forcing yourself to finally let it go.

It’s painful.  The gifts from the people you’re no longer friends with.  The photos of the relatives that are no longer on this earth.

It’s puzzling.  WHY do I still have this coupon for Honey Bunches of Oats from 2007?

It’s exhausting.  It’s bittersweet.  The tiny shoes.  The baby blankets.  The little hats.  The photos. The early drawings.  The handmade Mothers’ Day cards.

It hurts.

Every single thing you lay your hands on, whether it gets lovingly packed, passed on to someone else, or is destined for the land fill… it’s all part of your story.  Every single bit of it.  For better or worse it all went into the elaborate tapestry that is today.  It all had meaning, no matter how vague, no matter how obscure.  Yes, it’s just stuff.  But it’s stuff with a history.   A rich one.  One that you must revisit, bit by bit by bit.

We had a big box that was tucked away in one of our lower kitchen cabinets.   It was affectionately referred to as… well, “the box”.  Whenever we had unexpected company coming, or otherwise had to pick up in a hurry, any sort of paperwork, mail, etc, got tossed in the box.  I don’t know how long it was there, but it was long enough to be falling apart.  One whole side had fallen away under the weight of its contents, the entire thing was sagging, and it had somehow expanded to include the space inside the box, as well as all the area surrounding it.

A couple of weeks ago, we dumped the box out on the table and started sorting.  We came across a Christmas card, and in it was a picture of one of the boys’ friends from what seems like a lifetime ago.  I’m not sure of the exact date, but it was at least 9 or 10 years old.  It’s a bittersweet picture, because we have not been friends with that family since probably very shortly after the photo was taken.   I don’t know what happened.  It was one of those weird life things in which we never found closure.  We were friends – good friends even – and then one day they left Paxton’s birthday party without saying goodbye, and never spoke to us again.  They just stopped being our friends.  I wondered for a long time what had happened at that party;  I wondered for a long time what could have been so egregious that she couldn’t answer an email, that we couldn’t have talked it out.  But I still don’t know.

And fast forward to today, and here’s this smiling face of a little boy who is now very likely in college.

We pinned it up on my bulletin board, because we thought it would be funny, and because we wanted to see how long it would take Mike to notice it.  It’s not unusual for us to pin pictures up there, though usually they’re the random headshots of people from political advertisements or real estate fliers.  (Is that weird?)  It amuses us, in any case.  This picture though… while not painful exactly, it made me… uncomfortable.  It made me think of the past.  Not just of them, but of every lost friendship I’d ever had ever.

And I’m so glad we put it up there.

I’ve walked by that photo every day for weeks now, and it’s come to stand for something important.  It stands for healing.  It stands for letting go.  It stands as a reminder that I can make it through the icky parts of life.  It stands as a reminder that I can do hard things.  It stands for one chapter ending, and another chapter (a good one!  an exciting one!) beginning.   A chapter that – no matter how very stressful it is to get there – I’m very much looking forward to.

New beginnings.  It stands for new beginnings.

And for a handful of really big reasons, and about a hundred and twenty seven little ones, I really need a new beginning.

When I finally get rid of that picture… that picture of the boy that was once lovingly sent in a Christmas card… When I get rid of that picture?  I’ll finally be ready.

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