Mental health

This is my watershed moment

I have spent the past month in the grips of an extremely disruptive and emotionally charged reckoning with severe trauma from my childhood. A flood of feelings and upsetting memories I thought stuffed down so long ago have come floating actually erupting to the surface of reality. I’m riding an emotional roller coaster from moments of sadness to rage and confusion. I also at times don’t feel anything but complete numbness. I haven’t felt like doing anything at all, this past week I have been especially depressed.

My mind is constantly vacillating from what I can control and that which I can not. In my past I would’ve made a rash, spontaneous and emotional decision to do something that was not in my best interest in the long term but that would’ve allowed me to escape my uncomfortable emotional state. This time however I can recognize and give myself some credit in choosing to ride out this emotional turmoil. Sitting in it, enduring every moment. Recognizing I only have control over my response to these uncomfortable feelings.

I was reminded recently about the concept of a watershed moment. Google’s definition is the following:
A watershed moment is a turning point, the exact moment that changes the direction of an activity or situation. A watershed moment is a dividing point, from which things will never be the same. It is considered momentous, though a watershed moment is often recognized in hindsight.

My life right now is in the midst of this exact shifting. In the first two weeks of attempting to get a handle on my intense emotions and memories I kept thinking about how content and perfect seeming my life was. Why did I need to remember and acknowledge this life changing traumatic event from my childhood now? My therapists reminded me again of the onion. Life unfolds in ways that allow us to learn even when we think we have dealt with all of our “issues”.

It’s within these times, moments of crisis and inner turmoil that we are presented with an opportunity to dive deeper, evolve more and yes learn some major life lessons. In this case, I am learning more about myself and why I have made the decisions I have throughout my life.

A few sentiments I have reflected on and which truly define my actions are as follows….

Courage is not the absence of fear-Courage is being afraid and anxious and showing up anyway.

80% of life is just showing up.

Don’t wait until you are perfectly recovered to be happy and enjoy life. It’s OK to be happily imperfect.

Finally this statement really rings true for me and something I have unfortunately let drive my decision making throughout my entire life….. When we make decisions out of fear-they are usually not in our own best interest.

I have attachment issues stemming from my upbringing. Attachment to anything positive or negative creates suffering. I am also someone who wants to run away from my emotional problems. Whether I self medicate, cover up or actually run away from my problems all of these choices have resulted in some very undesirable consequences for me and the ones I love.

Wallowing in my perfectionism, I have two modes. Trying to keep the outside looking pretty and good while on the inside I am shaking with fear and grappling with the rage aimed towards myself for the missteps I have made. Both are counterproductive and aren’t beneficial to my life in the long run.

I had another energy clearing session too. I was advised to manifest grounding by visualizing myself as a tree. Immediately my favorite tree and the one we had on the corner of my childhood home sprung to mind. I adore weeping willow trees. After my session I painted a picture of one I call, “Enchanted Willow” and I wrote this poem.

For now, I will do my best to stay grounded by actively working on recreating some inner peace so that I can let go and move on. Baby steps 👣

Mental health

Little Ms. Perfect

What is perfect? There are two separate definitions. Using it as an adjective means this, “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be“. When used as a verb, perfect means “make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible”. Either way it’s used I have suffered from perfectionism my entire life. In psychology, perfectionism is described as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

My Mom has told me that when I was younger she used to find me obsessively organizing my room. I loved to neatly arrange my books, toys and knick knacks. Cleaning and straightening a room, tidying up things brings me a peacefulness and calm that’s hard to match by other activities. It’s also something that has made me feel strange and weird.

There was a period in my life when I literally couldn’t sit still or overlook a piece of lint on the carpet without having to immediately stop whatever I was doing to pick it up. After the birth of my first son, I found myself in a perpetual state of motion, always wiping a countertop or vacuuming a room that was already spic and span to everybody else’s eyes. I got caught up in routines that kept my in a “loop” for hours. So many routines and rituals had to be achieved compulsively and repetitively. Some days I got so stuck I didn’t even leave my house. Looking back those were dark days.

I’m a shift supervisor at a Starbucks and at 41 this is the first time I accepted a management position. In the past, I had been offered/recommended this role but I always turned it down due to my overwhelming fear of failure. Truth be told my perfectionist ways have plagued me throughout my life. Recently at work my manager challenged me to stop working like a superwoman. She asked me to examine my leadership skills by holding others on my team accountable for certain tasks. At first it felt awkward delegating the things I have been doing alone without help. Lately however I can feel an important shift taking place.

A favorite quote of mine by Maya Angelou is,”Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Boy does this sentiment ring true in this regard!

I’ve always been an analytical thinker, wondering why things are the way they are and trying desperately to make sense of the world around me. I had this book as a kid called, “The book of why” and I loved it. I’ve especially been intrigued by my own emotions and the emotions of others. That intense curiosity has sometimes kept me up at night.

A former therapist once told me to disengage myself from the outcome of a certain problem I was having a difficult time finding a reasonable solution for. My perfectionist ways and drive to control a situation can leave me breathlessly spinning my wheels. Despite my efforts I end up feeling exhausted mentally with no end in sight.

When I start to feel my old ways creeping back into my daily choices, I try and recall his words. Letting go of the outcome and maintaining an open mind sounds logical enough but my heart stands stubbornly doubtful.

Establishing a connection within myself has been key to easing off my perfectionist attitude. Grounding myself really quiets my mind and eases my fears. Whether these fears are real or hypercritically blown out of proportion, I can often find myself overwhelmed and grasping for my idea of perfection. I’ve learned I’m only hurting myself when I put this kind of pressure on myself.

For there is no such thing as perfect my dear reader but perfect imperfections throughout life. Try shifting your perspective taking a closer look at yourself. Deepening your own connection within your soul. Becoming your own best friend, saving yourself from yourself. Like Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true”.

Mental health, Spirituality

Learning to see the forest for the trees

I’m a highly detail oriented person who naturally takes everything in without a filter. Certain things come easy to me while others are more of a work in progress. Emotional intelligence is an area that I have worked hard to understand and master at a young age and I feel is crucially important to one’s well being. Seven years ago while I was in the thick of dealing with many complications from Complex PTSD, I took part in an outpatient therapy called DBT or dialectical behavioral therapy. This psychotherapy is the creation of psychologist Marsha M. Linehan. I enjoyed it so much and (needing reinforcement) I attended it four times! I fondly refer to it as emotional college. I was in a classroom of sorts in a separate wing of the psychiatric hospital I did many inpatient stays at for an entire week, 9AM until 5 PM with only a break for lunch. Our class was small, only 6 or 7 other ladies. We had reading assignments as well as homework. After completing that week I was invited to join an aftercare support group for an entire year.

In many ways those ladies saved my life, helped me learn some tough life lessons about myself and aided me in realigning my mindset, body and soul. Taking an introspective look at oneself is difficult and the desire to change one’s behavior takes lots of patience and practice. At first it was confusing and awkward but after my fourth time going over the educational materials, reading some self help workbooks focused on DBT and spending 2 hours every Wednesday evening with my support group I reemerged with a fresh outlook.

I learned that my intense emotions can sometimes drive me into certain behaviors that are self harming and self defeating. Continuing down that path creates more suffering. Learning and incorporating DBT principles into my life has changed the game!

Like everything in life, it only works if you work it! Over the past few years I like to open that workbook up and give myself a refresher. The main principle that I work the hardest at is definitely Radical Acceptance. DBT uses both behavioral science and Buddist concepts like acceptance and mindfulness to teach better coping methods for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It has proven highly effective for many mental health disorders as well.

This is Google’s definition of dialetical behavioral therapy:

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to identify and change negative thinking patterns and pushes for positive behavioral changes. DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors.

In a nutshell it taught me that I can coexist between two mindsets, see both sides of an issue, be both comfortable and uncomfortable in any given situation. The definition of dialetic is this:

Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ; related to dialogue), also known as the dialectical method, is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.

For me the bottom line is that one principle I mentioned earlier, Radical Acceptance, is the key to ending my suffering. On most days I can clearly and easily achieve the understanding that even though I may not like something or think it to be ok, it still is. It is what it is. I have the choice to respond or react, always taking my emotions into account.

In this last week I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities. My fiance and I mingled with some A list former professional football player friends of his, had an overnight in a phenomenal luxurious lakehouse and on Sunday I met Mariel Hemingway at a small movie watching party and interview session.

I have admired her life and career for a long time. I even gave her my poetry book, “Emotional Musings” that she asked me to sign! A real “pinch me” moment that I will cherish forever. To be able to meet such a kindred and emotional spirit is so profoundly powerful.

Despite the years of psychotherapy, DBT classes, numerous sessions of EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) and reading shelves of self help books I still struggle with my core belief that I’m not good enough. I do however understand that I can chose to change that tape that plays relentlessly on repeat through my mind, unpack that emotion from that invisible backpack I wear daily along with the other intense emotions I cope with or I can suffer. Intellectually and logically I get it. Sometimes the disconnect is to my soul. The memories, the flashbacks and unfortunate nightmares that will plague me for life.

At the end of the day, I am growing and evolving everyday. I am blessed and humbled. I have people around me who love and understand me. I’m able to see the many miracles of humanity being an empath. Life is good ❤

Mental health, Spirituality

That monkey on my back

Every once in awhile, here it goes again. Wide awake in the wee hours of the morning knowing that I have a big day ahead of me. Not sure if it’s hormonal or subconscious anxiety but I’m not a fan my friends of this latest development.

I have been working a lot at the coffee shop and feeling pulled in all directions as a supervisor. In fact I had to have a few difficult conversations this week with my partners. I’m not one for confrontation and I’m definitely in flight mode rather than fight. Yet they say change and growth can be painful. I guess that’s what’s up right now. Just those growing pains of evolvement.

I am a classically trained dancer in ballet, tap, jazz, modern and contemporary dance styles. I started when I was just two years old. My biggest dream was to dance on Broadway. My sister and I were on a competitive dance team that traveled and took classes in New York City. I pursued this up until I was sixteen years old. That was when some harsh realities became too much to bear and I quit dance all together. I did rediscover my passion for it after my oldest son was born and I started attending adult classes. What’s the point of me writing about this you may ask? Here’s some truth to that question.

Since growing up and striving to be some part of the very competitive dance world, I definitely developed this perfectionist side to my personality. Everything had to be just right. My parents tell me they would catch me organizing my room by stacking up my books just so. Arranging my Smurfs figurines in a particular order. Everything had to be straight and neat. I even carried this over into people pleasing and being quite passive in my intimate relationships.

Fast forward to present day and I can feel when this shift tries to take the wheel again. This time in a more destructive way. I start becoming very strict with myself. I get overly angry with myself when I make even a small mistake. I start reverting back to old habits that I know aren’t healthy for my positive outlook. The tiny voices in my head that whisper, you’re not good enough start to get louder as if someone turned up the volume on that old tape. I thought I threw that one out years ago in the midst of my healing from the traumas. Here it is again playing louder than ever, boombox style.

One of my downfalls is that I have always been my own worst enemy. More than most other people are I think. The original diagnosis from my psychiatrist on my first visit was that I have OCD with PAD (panic anxiety disorder). I had decided I’d had enough of the unexplained anger and anxiety surrounding the way my environment appeared to me after my oldest was born. I was constantly cleaning and was absolutely consumed by this drive to have everything look perfect. I found myself stuck in these crazy routines of cleaning things over and over again to the point where I wasn’t leaving my house. I developed these phobias surrounding having to clean incessantly or else. What you may ask…….even today I’m unsure. I had a dark burgundy formica countertop in the kitchen at my first house. I used to wipe it so much that it changed colors in some spots. Definitely a bit too obsessive.

So, when I feel that itch coming back again this is what I do. I restart the positive self talk in my bathroom mirror. I allow myself to feel the uncomfortable feeling of understanding that I am imperfect. I give myself permission to feel uneasy. That sounds like a simple enough statement. Boy, is that a hard pill to swallow during these spells. That’s what I like to refer to it as, a spell. Like some greater force has taken over my mind, body and spirit.

Quieting that harsh inner negative dialogue can be tricky once mixed with a heavy dose of anxiety. The “not good enough” imaginary police are breathing down my neck. You are nothing, you will never be anything, you are a loser…. their sirens wail loudly in my head. I steady myself as I ride this wave of uncomforbility. Assess what I actually can control, what to attempt to let go of and what next behavior will serve me the most. Some days are of course better than others. Add in our recent moon cycle and there you have it…….that nagging need to be perfect.

At the end of the day, I accept it will always be that invisible monkey on my back. It’s always there, lying right beneath the surface. Some days it’s quieter than others. Like everything in life I know it’s temporary. This too shall pass.