Posted in mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Poking around in people’s brains

Asking questions from a place of curiosity (as opposed to from a place of judgement) isn’t invasive.

How can we ever get to know people and grow relationships if we can’t ask questions?

If you’re a safe person to me, I am reasonably sure there aren’t any questions you can’t ask. (If you’re not, that’s another story entirely.)

Poking around in people’s brains is one of my favorite past times—though it’s been missing-ish in my recent years of too much to do and not enough socializing—and I am grateful to people who don’t keep walls up to prevent it.

When in doubt, avoid questions about hot-button topics, but really, any question (or comment) can be a button-pusher for the right person. We can’t possibly know what are sensitive subjects for people, especially if we don’t know them very well. “What made you move to Arizona?” is a pretty common question around here, but if the person you’re talking to was escaping an abusive situation, that question is a lot more emotional than someone who just wanted a change. No way to know unless you ask.

We get to know people through talking to them. (Sometimes simply through spending time with them, but there are a lot of asterisks on that.)

Academically, I learned in grad school a process that probably has a formal name but basically deals with self-disclosure. In order for two people to form a positive emotional relationship (not limited to romantic relationships), mutual self-disclosure is required.

One person needs to disclose something about themselves at a level appropriate to the depth of the relationship, the disclosure needs to be met positively, and the process needs to repeat in reciprocity.

The whole process isn’t exactly a tit-for-tat, one-to-one series of interactions, but the relationship quickly becomes imbalanced if only one person is doing the disclosing, or if one’s disclosures are substantially deeper than the other’s.

So. Reveal yourself. Ask questions. Answer questions. Build connections. At the end of the day, those connections are where our fulfillment is.

Posted in about me, mental health, thoughtfulness

About your friend who’s depressed

I have, at times, been a difficult person to love.

I struggle with depression and have been suicidal a handful of times over my decades.

I’ve done that dance enough times that I know that getting enough sleep, staying connected to people, eating well, and exercising every day in a way that raises my heart rate substantially (looking at you, running and bleachers) will prevent or reverse a downward spiral.

I also know that sometimes things just hit out of nowhere, or there are enough things that hit simultaneously that without warning, I’m in the pit.

When I’m depressed, I am unpleasant and frustrating to deal with. And I know it, but I also desperately need people. But people really don’t want to be around me (and truthfully, I don’t blame them). As people disengage, I become more frantically needy. It’s a horrible cycle that I’ve experienced more times than I care to recall.

I’m on the other side of that friendship right now. A friend’s wife left him without warning and he’s devastated, to say the least. He’s also unemployed, which adds a stressful layer of financial complication. He’s definitely depressed, having trouble functioning, having trouble seeing out of the hole he’s in. It’s totally understandable.

We were texting the other night, and he said, “Don’t get frustrated with me please. I am trying. Even when it seems like I’m not.”

I told him I’m totally frustrated, but it’s not a bad thing, because I understand where he is. It’s the kind of situation where getting out of bed and taking a shower is a major accomplishment—not in a joking meme sort of way, but a serious burn on energy and focus.

I get it.

I also get that if you’ve never experienced that, you might think they’re (we’re) exaggerating or “just wanting attention” (that phrase makes my skin crawl) or wanting other people to do their work for them.

Certainly there are people who exaggerate or are lazy, but in a depression situation, that’s not what’s going on.

Your friend needs you. Even if they’re ridiculously uncomfortable to talk with. Even if their reason and rationalizations are mind-boggling to you. Talk about other stuff if you need to. Tell them explicitly that you want to help them stay connected to people, but you need to talk about lighter and/or different things.

Create boundaries and stick to them, but be loving and assume positive intent. (If you say that you need to talk about lighter things and they continue not to, remind them—explicitly, not hinting—that this is what you need to be able to talk to them right now, and if they can’t respect the boundary, then cut off the conversation. If they need to talk about their stuff, they’ll need to talk to someone else right this moment.)

Depression is insidious. Be a good friend. Take care of yourself, but be a good friend.

Posted in differences, meandering, mental health, vulnerability

Hurt people hurt people

My biggest question is: how do we fix it?

People’s past experiences predict how they’ll treat people currently.

People who treat others badly have a history that leaves them with wounds that prevent them from behaving in pro-social ways.

All of these anti-social people (ASPs for ease in the rest of this post)—from sexual predators to KKK members to your verbally abusive aunt to the bully on the playground—have a history of trauma. Their experiences aren’t all the same, and, in some cases, their experiences administered to a different personality wouldn’t even be traumatic.

Doesn’t matter.

Given that bad behavior is a result of trauma, we should, as decent human beings, have sympathy or empathy for what has brought ASPs to this point.

But as adults, we’re responsible for taking care of our own baggage, so ASPs are responsible for working out whatever it is that makes them like that; they don’t just get a pass because bad things happened to them.

But as humans, if we’re so triggered by our pasts that we can’t give benefit of the doubt to people or we can’t be open to learning about other people’s experiences, then we’re certainly not in a place to own our own shit and subsequently work to clean it up. So ASPs aren’t in a place to be able to take ownership of their behaviors.

But also as humans, it’s our responsibility to stand up for people who can’t do it for themselves—which means standing up to ASPs on behalf of those who they’re trying to cut down.

This goes back and forth forever.

So how do we give enough love to ASPs for them to feel secure enough to look at themselves, realize they’re behaving badly, and get a damn therapist while not at the same time condoning or enabling their behavior?

I have no answers. But I’d love to have a conversation. What do you think?

Posted in about me, differences, know better do better, mental health

Traveling through life on a different train

This is something that I’ve thought of in defensive and angry contexts but am now thinking about when I’m not triggered…

Some people who I talk to totally understand weird crazy shit in my brain. I can talk about a reaction to something that I know isn’t a rational or logical reaction, and they get it.

Some people…don’t.

It’s fine that they don’t. In fact, how unsarcastically amazing for them that they can travel through life without this thing in their brain that makes them not react in unhealthy ways.

That wasn’t one of my cards. Am hyper-aware of that. Done lots of therapy. Am relentlessly working on myself and trying to heal wounds from decades past that keep getting ripped open by assholes present.

I suspect, at this point, that this will be a lifelong process.

Part of me is envious of people who don’t have this problem.

Part of me wonders if they’re just lacking self-awareness and don’t know they have this problem. (Unlikely.)

Part of me knows that they have other problems and we just don’t happen to talk about those, or those aren’t problems I have and am therefore not hyper-sensitive about, so they don’t set off the same reactions.

Part of me is grateful for my path, because while it has been really hard much more often than I’d like, it’s made me a hell of a person now. And I know that all hell I go through now or recently or soon will only serve to make me better.

Because I’m introspective. Because I’m resilient. Because I own my shit, learn from it the best I can in the moment, and move on to the extent that my crazy brain will let me.

Which is not to say that people who have had a mentally easier life can’t or don’t have any of those qualities—anyone could have any of those qualities. And the act of living through struggles doesn’t grant you introspection or learning—we all know people who have been through hell and are bitter, nasty, judgmental people as a result.

I was recently introduced to a podcast: Armchair Expert. Dax Shepard, a person I was previously unfamiliar with, chats with a different person each week. I’ve only listened to a few episodes, but I’m enjoying it. Easy on the brain, which is what I was looking for. (Most of my podcasts induce a lot of thinking, and I wanted something…different.)

Anyway, he sat with Jay Leno on a recent episode. What was striking to me about it was how differently they’ve experienced certain similar things. Dax points it out several times—”so that’s how a mentally healthy person thinks about that” (or similar). Which is what got me to thinking about it. Even though this is supposed to be a podcast that doesn’t make me think.

Oh well.

 

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

An African proverb

The tree remembers what the axe forgets.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

I can, as the quote states, tell you stories about being a tree. Sometimes the giving tree (codependency much?). Sometimes a tree in a razed forest. Sometimes, um, a tree that fights back? Hahahaha the analogy only works for so long.

I can remember, though, some instances of being an axe, and in many of those cases, I’ve at least tried to apologize, even if it’s years later.

I’m sure there are others I forget.

But more important than either of those is this: when people tell me that I hurt them, I believe them.

I read somewhere else: “If someone tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

True story.

Because that resonates with me so deeply on the receiving end—the biggest hurts I’ve endured have been dismissed by perpetrators—I do my best to acknowledge being on the giving end.

I’m not flawless at it. And if I’ve been your chopping block over and over, you’re much less likely to get that bit of vulnerability from me. Right or wrong, it is what it is, and for now, I’m OK with it.

What’s your experience?

Posted in gifts, mental health, mindset, motivation, physical health

Gratitude for pain

So … I climbed on Tuesday until my hands wouldn’t hold onto the rocks on the wall any more.

My forearms (from gripping) and lats (from pulling) hurt for two days.

On the second of those days, I had a session with my trainer. Leg Day.

My legs were hurtin’ the next day. And, from all of the weights I held and moved in addition to just legs, my lats and forearms were unhappy an extra day.

How glorious!

My body is strong enough that I can try to climb fake rocks until I physically can’t any more. I can train (hard!) with a trainer. I can walk around at work all day, noticing that I’m sore. I can run 5Ks and ride my bike and play on the playground with my kid and move furniture and carry laundry.

Lucky me.

Why do it? Because you can.

A friend’s mom recently completed her first 5K. Except that she has a degenerative disorder, making walking long distances painful. She walked it. With a walker. Took WAY longer than everyone else. But she did it.

There are countless examples of people working through massive obstacles to be able to walk or run or lift or climb. (I’m sure there are examples in other sports, too–those are just the ones on my radar.)

Do it! Because you can!

Posted in mental health, mindset, vulnerability

Suffering in silence

You don’t announce a pregnancy until the end of the first trimester, because you want to be as sure as possible it’s a viable pregnancy first. Everyone knows this.

I hate this rule, and I think we should get rid of it.

For many women, miscarriages are extremely emotionally painful.

Why would we want to suffer in silence? Suffer without the help of our village to lift us up?

I know so many women who had a miscarriage and talked about it months or years after the fact, and about how horrible it was.

We grieve publicly when other members of our family die. Is it really only because everyone already knows them?

(Don’t read into my politics on this post. I’m talking about personal experiences, not legislation.)

There are so many personal things I’ve posted about, often on Facebook but sometimes here too, and I get texts or emails in return: thank you for talking about that. I don’t talk about it, but that’s me, too.

The whole #metoo movement highlights this.

How many women have a story of trauma that they don’t tell? How does this secrecy affect them in any or all other areas of their lives?

But let’s not leave out the men in this one, either, because in our culture of toxic masculinity, men aren’t supposed to talk about feelings at all. No good comes of keeping all of that inside.

(The rest of this post is written in hetero-normative language. I’m aware, but making it otherwise made it clunky to read.)

I’m not saying that every time we feel something, we need to have a conversation about it. But men (and, indirectly, women) are done a disservice when taught not to talk about things that hurt.

(How many women complain that their male partner won’t open up? How many women have been emotionally or physically injured by a man who sees women as property—whether they articulate it that way or not? These are some indirect consequences.)

People—all people—we need to learn to be more vulnerable. And we need to learn to take care of each other in our vulnerability. Listen. Hug. Be present. Let ourselves hurt when we connect all too well with other people’s pain instead of throwing up judgements in self-defense. Keep the walls down.

This is how we build emotionally healthy people. Of all ages. Of all genders.

Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is strength—because it’s scary, and we do it anyway.

Ladies, announce your pregnancy at 8 weeks and let us grieve with you if you lose the baby.

Men, find someone who is safe and talk to them about what’s going on with you. If your marriage is volatile, your wife might not be emotionally safe. (Don’t make it another lady who you then connect with…)

Ladies, if your man is finally ready to start to be more open, let him. Even if an eye roll and “finally” is your initial (internal) response. Better now than later (or never), right?

Posted in about me, ebb & flow, exercise, food, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, physical health, thoughtfulness

Accountability to self

Who are you doing it for?

Are you doing it to better yourself? (In what way? Why?)

Are you just trying to impress people?

When you eat junk hiding in the bathroom, or tell your people you went to the gym when you didn’t, or pretend you ran faster than you did… why?

There are a lot of things I’d like to do every day. Even with time off, I’m not doing all (or even most) of these things every day.

So I decided to make a chart. It’s on my dresser and tracks a week at a time. About me. For me.

On it, there are all of the self-care things that I need to do every day and all of the things that in theory I would do every day but realistically don’t have time for. But I could do all of them a couple of times per week.

Exercise. Stretch. Foam roll. Meditate. Work on my book. Spend time with friends. Eat produce every color of the rainbow. Sleep. (Enough.) Put stuff on the stupid plantar wart.

This just helps me to monitor, and to keep things a little more in the forefront of my mind.

There are a lot of things on there. I decided before I made it that it’s not a daily to-do list; that would just be stressful. More of a “how am I doing this week?” list.

Things change when you monitor them, and I believe this will spur change for the better. We’ll see.

I also have sweets and caffeine on there, just to keep track of my intake of those. Many (not all) of the teas I drink in the cold mornings are caffeinated, and I don’t have much issue with that. But if I have too much or drink it too consistently, then I get a withdrawal migraine when I stop. And I don’t want to drink enough caffeine to go into withdrawal.

Sweets is just to make sure that what I think I’m doing and what I’m actually doing match, and it includes all of ’em. Even if I just take a Peppermint Patty out of the candy jar at work. (Oddly, those have been tempting. No other candy is. Though I’m typically only at that school during my fasting period nowadays anyway, so it’s irrelevant.)

Nuts and bolts for copycats: I made the list, organized it, wrote it on a sheet of white-lined paper, and put it in a picture frame. You can write on/wipe off dry erase markers on glass. It’s so much nicer looking and uses less plastic.

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Voices in our heads

I saw a meme that said:

May you never be the reason why someone who loved to sing, doesn’t any more. Or why someone who dressed so differently now wears standard clothing. Or why someone who always spoke of their dreams so wildly is now silent about them.

May you never be the reason of someone giving up on a part of them because you were demotivating, non appreciative or – even worse – sarcastic about it.

There are details we could squabble about (is sarcastic worse and/or different than demotivating?), but the point is: don’t be an asshole.

Decades later, I can still hear my mom’s criticisms of how I look when I look in the mirror sometimes. (I have the skills to shut it down most of the time.)

“What makes you think you could…?”

“You know This Other Kid is really good at This Thing You Work Really Hard At.”

“Why don’t you spend your time on something worthwhile?”

In some cases, I can see where I was standing or sitting, where they were positioned in the room, where the furniture was.

Don’t be that parent. 

I’m not saying that telling your kid that they’re great at something they suck at is the answer. But the “you suck, other people are better, why bother” attitude is soul-crushing. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (It’s been how long since my parents have said any of these things to me??)

You’re the adult. Be the adult. Nurture the kids. Help them discover what they’re interested in, even if it’s not what you’re interested in, or what you’d like them to be interested in.

It’s your job to help them be them, not to help them be who you wish you would have been.

I have been told by dozens of people that they can’t sing, that they were told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing, in some cases, being told to lip sync.

People who, as kids, were explicitly told by their art teacher that they’re not good at art, and they believed it and don’t do it any more.

People who were told in school that they’re never going to be a writer, to choose something else.

Don’t be that teacher.

Your job is to teach kids and to help them the best you can given where you are in the moment. Even if you can’t help them—some circumstances make that so—don’t hurt. Don’t blame them for things that are out of their control or shame them for not being more responsible than a kid their age should be expected to be.

I remember conversations with people with regards to any of my leaps: switching from flute to trombone in college; moving across the country; starting a business; getting National Board Certification; writing a book; going back to school. It’s not always easy to find people who are supportive. (It’s not always difficult, either, though the larger the stakes are, the harder it is, from my experience.)

Don’t be that friend. 

In short: apply the campsite rule — leave people better than you found them. If it was you who was learning to dance or starting to paint or offering a new service or playing basketball for the first time or opening a store on Etsy, would you want the people closest to you to be supportive or dismissive? Would you want the people in your class or in your niche to be helpful or to snicker?

(Same rule applies as to kids: there’s a difference between “I think it’s cool/brave/amazing that you’re starting/trying this” and “Wow—you’re really good at [this thing that you’re not at all good at].” One is at least potentially sincere; the other is known by all to be insincere.)

Take care of your own baggage so that you don’t take it out on the people around you.

When you find yourself being critical, see if you can find what part of yourself is made vulnerable by their endeavor.

For example: my mom was one of the people I know of who was told she can’t sing. My mom was one of the first to make fun of how I sounded when I practiced singing for auditions. My endeavor brought up whatever hurt she endured by being put down by her choir teacher.

Easier said than done, for sure. But if we all endeavored to be a little more emotionally generous—with people we incidentally interact with, with other drivers, with people we interact with regularly, with people we like and people we don’t—then we would all be a little better off.

And if no one around you seems to be doing that, why don’t you take the lead and demonstrate how it’s done?

(And thank you to all of the people through my life who have modeled this for me, both before I was aware of it and since and still. You help me to make myself better.)

Assume you’re going to be the voice that sticks in someone’s head. What do you want to be remembered for?

Posted in ebb & flow, food, hope, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health, tips

The path and the results

Yesterday, I posted more or less the transcript of my session about sugar, and I promised you that today, I would give you advice on dealing with all of that information and what you can expect as a result of your hard work.

Read labels. (Ask me if you don’t know how—I’ll teach you.)

Use a journal or an app or whatever works for you to keep track of how much sugar you’re currently taking in. All of it. Read ALL of your labels. There is sugar hiding in so many foods that aren’t sweet.  This is not to judge—it’s to know where you’re starting.

The current WHO recommendation is less than 18 grams per day of added sugars.

If you’re over that, look at where you can start shaving it down.

If you’re like me, “moderation” is bullshit and you need to just cut it until it’s under control. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

If you’re like me, you’re an emotional eater and you need to make a plan for what you’re going to do when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re stressed, when you’re whatever state of being causes intense sugar cravings.

Overeating sugar is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM. There is no shame in this. You are not alone, and anyone who judges you is wrestling with the same problem and can’t face it yet.

Your value as a human being has no connection to how much junk food you eat.

I’m not gonna lie—quitting sugar is hard. Partially because we have been trained to believe we deserve it (see decades of being rewarded by parents, teachers, etc. with candy, ice cream, etc.). Partially because it’s ubiquitous, so it’s difficult to avoid contact/temptation. Partially because sometimes people in our lives react badly to us trying to live better and make it harder for us. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

But it’s worth the work.

When you quit sugar and it loses its hold on you, you experience liberation that you didn’t even know you needed.

You stop thinking about food all the time.

You stop shaming yourself for eating crap all the time.

You save time and money by not seeking out and buying junk all the time.

You don’t spend so much time feeling guilty.

Your moods are better.

Your energy level is higher.

And eventually, you can have a sweet here or there without it becoming all-consuming.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m saying it will be worth it.

And I challenge you to instill eating habits in your children that will help them not to have the same struggles that you have.