The Power of Shame

Shame is a pit in the ground. When you’re young, if your shames are small, then the pit starts out shallow. If your shames are large, then the pit starts out deep and dark. But no matter how it starts, over the course of our lives, all of the shame we experience makes the pit bigger, deeper, and darker.

For years, I admitted to myself only the shallow shames, the ones that kept me up at night, but not the ones that kept me silent. I compartmentalized my shame, convinced myself that there was no shame in my past that I needed to face. And then one day, an issue in my marriage brought me face to face with a shame experience from my past that I had never faced before.

I started exploring shame in counseling and I started reading Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. Brown writes, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Once I started talking about the experiences that made me feel shame, my feelings of shame increased exponentially. I explained it to my husband like this, I had begun by shining light onto one experience in my pit of shame, but inevitably this light uncovered other shame experiences and now I have to face them all.

At first glance, this feels like a terrible thing. I am more symptomatic, in more pain, then I was before this whole thing started. I am experiencing increased anxiety, loss of time, and out of body feelings. But I have to believe that in the end working through these shame experiences will result in becoming a healthier and more emotionally integrated person.

Brown’s brook is a crash course in shame management and developing resilience. She writes, “We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we can’t use shame to change ourselves or others.” We must process and resolve our shame in order to grow into the better versions of ourselves we all want to be.

We can help each other do that by listening compassionately and empathically to each other’s stories without letting our own fear and shame get in the way. Brown explains, “If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.”

I encourage you to stretch your empathy muscles toward yourself and your loved ones today. The world needs more of it.

We Are All Grieving Something

What do we associate with the word grief?

For a lot of people, death is the first thing that comes to mind. The loss of a loved one or beloved pet. But death is not the only cause of grief, and I would think, not even the most common.

The role of grief in our lives is so much larger than I think most of us realize. We experience grief for the death of a loved one, of course, but also for the loss of a loved one by other means – through divorce, geographic loss, distancing of a friendship. Any time we experience a sense of loss, grief can help us heal. The loss of a job, a hope, health, an opportunity, an expectation, missing a treasured event, etc. – all of these are losses that may need to be grieved.

Several years ago I was suddenly, unexpectedly, and indelicately removed from a position at a company that I absolutely adored. I was offered the chance to stay with the company in a different capacity, but without all the parts of my job that made me excited to go to work every day. I left the company shortly after.

I was devastated by this experience – the loss of this thing I loved to do, of daily purpose and meaning. I was terrified of going back to work and experienced severe anxiety, depression, and frequent bouts of agoraphobia for almost a year afterward. But even while I was experiencing all of that, I felt guilty and ashamed. I blamed myself for the loss of the job and for being unable to “pick myself up” and go back to work. It took me years to realize that I had never given myself permission to grieve, or even realized that what I needed to do was grieve.

The loss of that job completely changed the course of my life. I had worked at the company for only two years, but I had begun to see a path for growth and a future for myself there. I had begun to form an idea of what my life might look like. When I was fired, that future vanished in an instant along with any grasp I had on what my future might look like at all.

Five years later and I still have not gotten over the loss. This is the first time I’ve ever talked about it openly. Five years later, it is still a loss I am grieving, easier now than at the beginning, but as with all grief – a loss that may never completely go away.

I work from home now because of the wound inflicted by that loss. I have severe anxiety about getting attached to a job, about loving my work, about negotiating relationships with coworkers and bosses. The latter of which, in part, led to my dismissal.

I hope someday to find work that lights me up in the way that job did, that makes it possible for me to leap the hurdle of my anxiety and fear and have coworkers again. But this grief will take as long as it takes to heal. I can’t rush it no matter how much I might want to. And no one else can rush it either, no matter how much they might not understand it.

No matter what kind of loss you may be experiencing or have experienced, remember that in this way, all loss is the same. It requires time and room for grief before you will be able to successfully move on. And though the pain of the loss may ease, you may never completely get over it.

No one else can tell you how or how long to grieve, only your heart knows that. We are all grieving something. You are not alone. small-heart

Loneliness When Connections Are Everywhere

I am alone a lot. I work from home and E works long hours. He gets up between 5 and 6am every day and leaves for work before I’m even awake. He works long hours, made longer by other activities several days a week.

I have no friends of my own in Tucson (which is totally my own fault) and only see other people I know once or twice a week. Sometimes I go to the store just to be around other people.

I have a sweet and sometimes snuggly dog that I love very much, but she can’t talk to me. I talk to my family and friends on the phone regularly. But people on the phone are no substitute for a community of people right in front of me.

Anyone who has moved to a new place knows that making friends is hard on your best day. But having a mental illness can make it even harder to find a new community and new friends. Sometimes I hold my illness up as a shield, an excuse to keep from having to put myself out there and do something that makes me uncomfortable. And sometimes, my illness disallows me from making friends – my anxiety stops me, or my depression keeps me inside.

Those days, it is even more important for me to find other ways to connect with people. And so, I write this blog and I connect with people on Twitter.

My point is this, find a place, wherever it is, and make connections. You don’t have to make them in person. But you need connections to survive. Find a community – people who are interested in things that you are interested, whether it’s a hobby, a topic, or something else.

There are groups for everything on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram. And there are people all over the world who are looking to connect on these platforms as well. Social media has shrunk thw rold to your computer screen. Take advantage.

Bullet Journaling for your Mental Health

Have I mentioned my new obsession Bullet Journaling?

I have written in journals on and off since I was a very young child. In our recent move, my ver first diary surfaced with only twenty small pages filled out. Many of the journals I used in my teenage years are packed full of scrawling ands notes.

But in the past few years I’ve written in journals only very intermittently. Even as I have not journaled regularly, I have missed it.

So when my sister and then my mom both told me about bullet journaling inside of a week, I decided to look into it. They had started a pinterest board with ideas for their bullet journals. Once I read about them at bulletjournal.com, I pulled an unused journal off my shelf and jumped in with both feet.

Why Bullet Journaling is Good for your Mental Health

The idea behind the bullet journal is to keep all your notes, appointments, lists, and whatever else in one place. There’s an index at the front so you can easily find what you’ve put in your journal. Every time you put in something new, you log it in the index. You can log page by page or use categories to group entries together.

The central purpose of the bullet journal is the daily log and rapid logging. It employs key symbols to log your daily activites. Here’s what mine looks like:

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But for me, more important than helping me get organized, the Bullet Journal helps me stay focused and mindful. I can keep a long term list of things that need to get done on my future log, weekly log, or on some other master list page, and only put on my daily log the things that I think I can achieve that day. This helps keep me from getting overwhelmed, shutting down, and getting nothing done.

The other really helpful aspect of my BuJo has been the Gratitude page and the Goal Tracker. Here is what my goal tracker looks like:

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At the top of the layout I have the days of the month. This is my very first goal tracker and it included the last week of February, which is why it’s so squished. On the right hand side I have a list of the habits or goals I would like to do/achieve every day. My tracker includes: taking my medication every day, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, spending time in the sun, playing with my dogs, going for walks, blogging, working on my book, gratitude, days gone without eating sugar, spending time with husband without screens, drinking enough water, calling or spending time with a friend, writing journal pages.

You’ll notice that I’ve been more successful with some of these than others (I’ve eaten sugar every day since I started this for example…). The idea is not to shame yourself for not succeeding, but to give yourself credit for when you do. For me, it has been motivating to look at this and see, ‘Wow, I haven’t spent any time outside in a week, that’s not good. Let’s go outside right now.’ or ‘Hey look, I’ve logged what I’m grateful for every day for the past week, I’m going to try to keep up that streak! How cool would it be if I logged gratitude for every day of the month?!’.

What If I Have No Goals and I Stay in Bed All Day

I may have been a little overly optimistic when I created my habit tracker. Lots of people only track a few things and there are a lot of different ways to do it. You can track anything, taking a shower, getting out of bed, days without smoking or doing some other harmful habit, exactly how much water you drink, days you managed to leave the house, etc. Wherever you are in your life right now, the habit tracker can help you achieve whatever goals you have.

And if you don’t have any goals at all? Well, then the habit tracker is even more important for you. If you can’t think of any goals you want to track for yourself, think about the goals that your counselor, friend, or family member has expressed for you. Write that down, and even if you only achieve it one day out of the month, you can look back at that and see that you did indeed accomplish something.

More About the BuJo

BohoBerry has been my favorite place for information and inspiration. She has some great ideas of her own and also does a great job of curating other people’s bujo ideas.

I started out be following the simple instructions at bulletjournal.com. After the first week, I started to see what worked for me and what didn’t. I kept looking for inspiration and changed up my monthly, weekly, and daily layouts to make them work for me.

My new favorite layout is the Calendex, developed by Eddy Hope. Heres what mine looks like:

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It’s my first attempt, so I’ve had some trial and error with doing it “correctly”. (You’ll note the rnadom line drawn through the bottom quarter of the Calendex. This has no meaning and was drawn by accident when I was creating this page while watching TV. A lesson in mindfulness…) I use the colored dots for things like Birthdays and Holidays that I have in one place at the beginning of my BuJo. And then I use colored boxes with page numbers for the events on my calendar. One other change I made is that when I have an event that lasts two or more days, I put it on the left side of the month so that I can make one long block, like this:

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The purple block in the second column denotes a three-day trip my hubby and I are taking. The Calendex acts as both my future log and my monthly log and my regular layouts are weekly and daily logs.

And this is my favorite weekly log, which is sort of an amalgam of a bunch of other weekly logs that I found on Pinterest:

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I found that I needed more space for Notes for the week and Next week then I did for the individual days, which is how I ended up with this.

Bullet Journaling is a great place to get a little daily creativity into my life and it also helps me be more mindful. I hope you will get inspired and join the BuJo community!

 

How Our Screens Divide Us

Life has gotten busy around here. Since joining the ConquerWorry.org team, my head has been non-stop buried in my computer. I spend a lot of time on social media anyway because of my day job, and now I’m spending even more time.

My typical day looks like this:

  1. Get up, take care of dogs, make breakfast.
  2. Eat breakfast while checking in with my email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest accounts and watching TV.
  3. Leave TV on in background while working on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and checking all notifications as they come in.
  4. Miss all natural occurrences of the day, including proper time for meals, the sun coming up and going down, using the bathroom at regular intervals, etc.
  5. Erik comes home and looking up at him as he walks in the door is a revelation in non-digital reality.

So, my challenge is this: How do I get interaction with the world when my commitments (and enjoyment) require me to stare at screens all day?

I have no coworkers and no friends that are available in the middle of the day for company. Occasionally, I will call a friend or family member during the day to get some human “contact”, but most days these people are busy with their own lives/jobs.

The funny thing is, when I try to set limits on the amount of time I spend staring at a screen, I feel guilty for “relaxing” instead of working.

Last night, E and I were laying in bed each on our own personal devices. I noticed what we were doing and started thinking about what my parents’ nights must have been like when I was a kid. I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, before cell phones and tablets were ubiquitous. My parents had a TV in their bedroom so they might have watched that when they went to bed. But if they didn’t watch TV, what did they do? Did they wait to go to bed until they were absolutely ready to close their eyes and go to sleep? Or did they have before bed rituals or activities that they looked forward to? Reading a book, writing about their day, or maybe enjoying each other’s company without distraction? (That last one is pretty unlikely considering how unhappy my parents were together. But that’s beside the point.)

I’ve tried, in the past, to banish screens of any kind from our bedroom, or at least our bed, but it never lasts for very long. We are both very attached to our phones. But I do find myself wondering if maybe our marriage and our individual lives might be better served by limiting the use of our devices near bedtime. Of course there are plenty of studies that enumerate the ills of blue light before bed. But more than that, I wonder what the social consequences are of allowing ourselves to be separated and isolated by devices that were designed to connect us.

ConquerWorry

On Wednesday, I mentioned a new project I’m working on and promised to tell you about it. And then I forgot. So here’s making up for lost time.

I was browsing through my twitter feed last week when I came across some suggested posts from ConquerWorry. I had never heard of them before, but I enjoyed the posts I read, so I went in search of more posts. And I found this:

I started this blog to help fight the stigma of mental illness by being honest about my own struggle. I love being able to honestly share what my life is like and hearing from others how they can relate. Mental Health advocacy is such an important cause in a world where suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds. Nothing is more heartbreaking than a world where children decide to kill themselves.

ConquerWorry.org was started by a husband and wife team, Jay and Chris Coulter. It has been a labor of love for both of them, and they recently reached out looking for support to keep the site going. I offered my services up to help wherever I could and found a kinship with Jay. I have taken on ConquerWorry’s pinterest account and have been helping with the website ConquerWorry.org and organizing the new ConquerWorry Leadership Team.

I am honored and proud to be a part of the ConquerWorry team and encourage everyone who reads this to check out the website, find ConquerWorry on social media and get involved in #ConqueringWorry. One in Four adults struggle with a mental illness. Think about that? If you know more than four people, one of them struggles with mental illness. If you could help them in any way or just understand them better, wouldn’t you want to? Visit ConquerWorry.Org to learn more today.

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A Badgered Groom

Today is my 4th wedding anniversary.

When we woke up this morning, after the sweet stuff (Happy Anniversary, I love you, etc.), I said to Erik, “I’m so glad I badgered you into proposing.”

Five years and three months ago, Erik and I met online (eharmony) and started dating. Three months later, we moved in together. And three months after that, Erik proposed.

This may sound like a whirlwind fairy tale, but here’s what really happened.

  1. Erik and I met on eHarmony and hit it off from the first date. We started spending a lot of time together very quickly and almost immediately hit our first relationship road block. I wanted to spend more time together, Erik thought we were spending enough time together. Upon further discussion, I realized that Erik had a specific idea about the pace of relationships. (Read: slow, abominably slow.) And I was of the opinion that as long as you’re enjoying each other, who cares at what pace you move? My logic won out and we started spending more and more time together.
  2. Around three months into our relationship, I rather suddenly lost my job. Shortly after I met Erik, I had moved into a rather expensive apartment right near my office building and upon losing my job could no longer afford it. We were essentially wasting apartment space anyway, because one of us slept at the other persons apartment almost every night. So, when I lost my job, we moved in together.
  3. We had managed to successfully combine our physical stuff and things were going well. We were both in school and as such were spending a lot of time hanging around the house together. We negotiated time alone and space to ourselves rather well (if I do say so myself) and after an unknown, but brief amount of time, I started thinking I wanted to marry him. And if I wanted to marry him, why wait? This is where things got complicated. (re: #1, Erik’s ideas about the pace of relationships.) What was the rush? We had only been together for a few months. But I didn’t see any reason to put it off. I wanted to start our life together as soon as possible. After probably two or so months of badgering him, Erik took me camping and proposed. (When we told his family, I very quickly discovered where he had learned his ideas about the pace of relationships.)
  4. We set the date of the wedding for a year and a half later, which gave us plenty of time to satisfy anyone’s notion that we hadn’t been together long enough and that people should be engaged for a year before marriage. But then Erik enlisted in the Air National Guard. And we were told he could be sent to basic at any time, wedding be damned. Our July wedding became a rather rushed January wedding. We got married in front of about 50 people and lived happily ever after.

Darling, I am so glad I badgered you into marrying me.

Happy Anniversary!